By virtue of his past, he is the icon of Minardi F1 Team. He led his M185, the first single-seater signed by the team from Faenza, to debut. He achieved the first world point in the US GP of 1988 and raced 104 in 120 Grand Prix, alongside Gian Carlo Minardi. We are speaking of Pierluigi Martini whose prize list also shows his win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999. He has continued the couple Minardi-Martini of the 70s when his uncle Giancarlo raced in Formula 2 for Passatore and the Everest stable that belonged to a very young Minardi.
“I had known Minardi since I was a boy because I attended my uncle’s races in Formula Italia and Formula 2. In 1983, precisely along with Gian Carlo, driving the Minardi-BMW F2, I achieved the second place at Misano after winning also Formula 3 title. He wanted me at his side for his debut to Formula 1 in 1985”, Pierluigi Martini remembers on Minardi.it. “It was an experience as difficult as important because being the sole driver all the responsibilities were on my shoulders. Anyway, that was a positive season because even if I was a novice, we achieved the eight place in Australia. According to today’s score, this result would have gave us the first world points. At the end of season our paths diverged. I came back to F 3000 and I conquered the second place of the Intercontinental World Championship in 1986. Then, with great pleasure, Gian Carlo called me back by his side for the Detroit grand prix in 1988. I repaid his confidence with the first world point thanks to the sixth place. A wonderful relationship started and lasted till my retirement from F1 in 1995, with just a parenthesis in ’92 with the Scuderia Italia. After a break, the vitory arrives at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with BMW in 1999”.
How would you describe the “romagnolo” Gian Carlo Minardi?
He is a unique person. Thanks to a bit of “temerity”, which is a result of intelligence and passion for this sport, he built something that is really incredible for Romagna. He has been able to launch a lot of drivers, and also top level engineers and mechanics. Nobody is like him.
Do you have any anecdote related to its figure to tell us?
Now no special anecdote comes to my mind. Surely, we are talking about a person that was very attentive to observe the group and protect it from external attacks. A great family man.
What teachings have you gained with Minardi Team?
Having raced with teams like the Scuderia Italia, Williams and BMW at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Master GP, I have realized and appreciated the organization of Minardi team. When you are in F1 with restricted resources, you learn to optimize your force and synchronize all your sections. Without any doubt, I can affirm that Minardi Team was really a great stable, a perfect one. It lacked only the engine. Contrary to what happens now, in those years an “old” engine was able to pay also 200 hp compared to competition.
We know that engineer Chiti used to call you “Little Pheasant”. How does this funny nickname come from?
He used thisnickname to gain sympathy and to hide from the “blunders” that he committed. With that nickname he usually tried to defuse a difficult situation.
Along with Morbidelli, you have been the very first driver to have a Ferrari Client engine. Which aspect of the engine from Maranello impressed you ?
Unfortunately, that engine was born to match an automatic transmission, which we lacked at that time and so it created problems with the clutch. The sound was certainly great, but to become protagonists it would have been nicer to have the appropriate reliability.
Speaking with you, the incredible accident in Monza in 1993 comes to our mind. What happened and what Minardi told you in the pit?
At that moment, I was protecting my seventh place. Up to 10 laps to go I was in fifth position, but the breaking of the fifth gear made me loose some positions. I tried to defend myself from the attack of Christian and I moved on the right, but he followed me. I then heard the hit at the rear. With its wing he touched my rear wheel. Not seeing him anymore in my mirrors, I thought the worst. The returning lap was quite difficult. I was afraid he were finished among the audience. Fortunately, everything went out for the best for him. Even in that circumstance, Gian Carlo has been very good at handling the situation. The telemetry pointed out that I had not committed any impropriety. Therefore, the fact was dismissed as a racing accident.
With which driver you founded a special friendship, and who has been the harder competitor?
I founded a deep friendship with Paolo Barilla. With all the others, I had a great esteem and a healthy rivalry. The harder was JJ Lehto during my period in the Scuderia Italia.
104 F1 grand prix with Minardi Team. What have been the memorable moments?
I had lot of good times. From the first world point in Detroit, to the lap ahead of everybody in Portugal, or the fourth place in Estoril in 1991. The times spent to develop the car along with engineers Tredozi and Costa are memorable. In those years, the chronometer was the only thermometer to judge developments. When you found the right direction, it was a great satisfaction.
The most difficult times?
Without any doubt, the demise of Ayrton Senna that convinced me to end my F1 adventure the following year. I would add some accidents: at Nurburgring, Montecarlo and Imola when I broke my leg.
You have mentioned Ayrton Senna.
He was the greatest driver that I had the pleasure to meet. He was always able to bring out the best from the team. He gave the 120% and was able to involve the all group urging it to give its 110%.
Due to your strong relationship with the team from Faenza, and to the fact of belonging to Romagna, were you involved in the choice of your team-mate?
Minardi made his choices. He was always looking for drivers who could put me in trouble. This made me a bit angry but at the same time, it was a great stimulus.
Did you use to enter the factory to talk with the engineers and see “the birth” of the machines?
I lived in the factory. I liked very much to see the engineers’ work on the car. From there you could take off 2-3 tenths of asecond from your lap time. Those have been fantastic years.
This year you were back under the wheel of the M186 and the M189 in Austria and in Goodwood. What did you feel in those moments?
I realized how we were crazy to run at 300 km/h with those cars. However, I feel like the time hadn’t stopped. I immediately felt comfortable. I drove the M186 just during a test and I must say that it is an extraordinary, competitive and well-balanced car. With a Cosworth engine it would have gave a great satisfactions to the team.
The M189 was a customized car that gave us two fifth and two sixth places, the first row in America and the head of the race in Portugal. It has been pleasant come back in the cockpit.
In the last months you have anticipated us the project of a Minardi-Day. We know that now a great expectation is growing among true enthusiasts. What can you tell us, are preparations going on?
Along with Minardi, I am working to prepare the program, also asking advice for costs. The period should be at the end of June, but we will know something more only next months. Our aim is to bring back at Imola all the single-seaters built by Gian Carlo, with other F1 cars. Our intention is to recreate the old amazing and memorable atmosphere.