Celebrating his 60th birthday today, former Grand Prix driver Bruno Giacomelli was a popular and endearing character in the paddock during his Formula 1 career, which totalled 69 starts.
To team managers, his speed was impressive. To the press, he was extremely approachable and obliging. And to the fans, he just looked very cuddly…
Sadly for Bruno, he rarely had the equipment at his disposal to deliver on his considerable talent, and despite from promising opportunities early in his career, his star faded in subsequent years.
The Italian first shot to prominence in the 1976 BP Formula 3 championship in a March, where he gave Rupert Keegan a serious challenge for the championship, eventually finishing runner-up in the points’ race.
With support from Robin Herd and the March factory, Bruno moved up to Formula 2, claiming three wins, although poor reliability would cost him a crack at the title.
His F1 debut came that year in a third McLaren at his home event at Monza (spinning off when his engine blew), but he continued in Formula 2 for another year, winning eight of the first dozen races to claim the 1978 championship crown.
Five more outings with McLaren would also feature that year, and in 1979, he made his full-time switch to Formula 1, this time joining the Alfa Romeo squad. It was a steep learning curve for Bruno, but he didn’t seem to have taken much on board come 1980, often retiring on account of his own mistakes behind the wheel.
The mid-season death of team-mate Patrick Depailler was a tragic event for the team. Thrust into the role of de facto team leader, Bruno was a more rounded and mature performer, showing some of the old spark that was evident in his pre-F1 days.
Sadly, he was unable to tap into that kind of verve often enough. The next three seasons saw occasional flashes of the old Bruno, but there were also times when he seemed to be elsewhere. A switch to Toleman in 1983 didn’t improve matters…
Out of an F1 drive in 1984, he made occasional appearances – albeit usually with little impact – in endurance racing and Indy Cars.
It was therefore a huge shock that he was back in the pit lane in 1990, adding his name to the Life line-up as a replacement for Gary Brabham, who sensibly quit the team after two laughable failure to prequalify. Sadly, the outfit was a joke, and Bruno’s reputation was hardly going to improve if the car could barely last beyond the exit of the pit lane…
[Images via Corbis Images, F1 Facts, F1 Nostalgia, F1 Rejects, Motorsport.com]