The little-known Giorgio Francia – one of the first professional F1 test drivers – is today celebrating his 65th birthday!
Born near the Italian city of Bologna, Francia was a comparatively late starter in motorsport, taking him until his mid-twenties before he graduated to the Italian Formula 3 championship in 1973. He switched to the German championship the following year, comfortably winning the title with six victories.
In 1975, he kicked off what would become a long association with aspiring F1 team owner Enzo Osella, which would itself lead to a lengthy relationship with Italian carmaker Alfa Romeo.
But his open-wheeler career stalled in the late 1970s, and approaching 30, he switched to sports car racing, dovetailing this with work as a test driver for Alfa Romeo.
That was not before he’d earned a surprise call-up to drive a third Martini-sponsored Brabham Alfa Romeo BT45B at his home race, the 1977 Italian Grand Prix.
Despite the competitiveness of his car, Giorgio’s lack of recent open-wheeler mileage showed. In the first qualifying session, he was over three seconds slower than anyone else, and a whopping 11.59 seconds off the pace of provisional pole-sitter James Hunt.
He clearly needed much more time in the car, and – perhaps mercifully – when team-mate Hans Joachim Stuck’s car failed, Francia was forced to relinquish his car and he went down in the record books with a DNQ.
It looked as though that may be his one and only shot in F1, but Enzo Osella came knocking in the lead-up to the 1981 season – his second as a team owner in F1 – and offered Francia a drive as team-mate to Beppe Gabbiani.
After delays getting his super license sorted – FISA had rejected it on the basis of his lack of recent race miles – Gabbiani finally made an appearance at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama, the race famously won by Gilles Villeneuve with the ultimate display of defensive driving.
But it was a horrible case of déjà vu for Francia. Again being comfortably the slowest qualifier, he was forced to relinquish his car when Gabbiani crashed out in practice. And that marked the end of his F1 career.
Despite this, Francia remained a loyal servant to Alfa Romeo’s stop-start F1 program, while continuing to split his work between endurance racing and touring cars, with the latter steadily becoming a more prominent focus towards the late 1980s and early 1990s.
After competing in a host of top-line touring car championships – including the German, Italian, Spanish, European and World championship categories – Francia finally called it a day at the end of the 1995 season, still proving extremely competitive in his mid-forties.
[Images via Bloggslot, F1 Nostalgia, F1 Rejects, Klub Alfa Romeo, Racing Sports Cars]
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