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Why are there no Italian drivers in F1?
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Feb 2012   |  11:01 pm GMT  |  174 comments

The news that Jarno Trulli has lost his drive to Vitaly Petrov means that there will be no Italian driver in the F1 field for the first time since 1969.

For the country which gave the world Ferrari, Maserati, the Mille Miglia, Ascari and so many other motorsport legends, it’s hard to believe that there will be no driver on the grid in 2012. France, where the sport was born and which gave the name “Grand Prix” to the F1 events, went through the same thing recently. Now they are represented again with Grosjean, Pic and Vergne, while it is Italy’s turn to do some soul searching.

This situation has been coming for some time. When you speak to Italian drivers they always say that Ferrari is so powerful, such a dominant force in the country, that a driver will always been in its shadow. It’s very hard for them to get sponsors especially at the higher end. Far from being a rallying point for Italian motorsport, creating a culture of excellence in Italian motorsport, Ferrari is motorsport in the eyes of many Italians and it draws attention away from up coming talent and other team operators. Toro Rosso is based in Faenza, but only because that’s where Minardi was based. And when that team couldn’t carry on the struggle to survive any longer Red Bull bought it and decided to keep it there, not because Italy is a centre of excellence, but because the facilities were in place and it would be more trouble to move.

To their credit, Ferrari have recognised this situation for some time and have made efforts to address it in recent years, inducting young Italian drivers into the Ferrari Driver Academy. So far it’s not produced any real talents, but that’s not stopped them from continuing to plug away.
“I am very sad that, after so many there will not be an Italian driver in the Formula 1 World Championship field,” said Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali on the Ferrari website. “It’s a difficult moment for our sport, partly for external reasons. For a few years now, Ferrari through its Driver Academy, has established a long term plan to create a new generation of young drivers, which works also in collaboration with the CSAI (Italian motorsport federation) and I am pleased to see that just now, we can announce that two talented youngsters, Raffaele Marciello and Brandon Maisano will be given a great opportunity to progress in the sport.” The pair are being supported to race in F3 this year.

But of course this “impoverishment” as Jarno Trulli calls it, of Italian talent, is not just about the long terms story of Italian motorsport and business failing to establish a conveyor belt of talent. It is exacerbated by the financial crisis which Italy has passed through recently, meaning that even if there were some Italian companies who wanted to sponsor drivers, they would either not be able to afford it or would find it hard to justify. Many Italian drivers in the past were backed by Marlboro, but now that tobacco sponsorship is no longer allowed, they’ve been left without a leg up the ladder.

Trulli was very pragmatic about his situation and described the fate of current Italian drivers as “A problem which hasn’t just appeared out of the blue and with some people just closing an eye and letting it come about. In Italy there isn’t a system which helps drivers to emerge at high levels and it’s normal for things like this to happen. The talent is there, but if no one supports them, they have no hope whatsoever. I would like to see more involvement, on everyone’s part, but at a time of crisis like this in our country, I can’t see how a young driver can break through and find help in order to be considered by a team.

He went on, “I personally have no regrets. I was expecting a separation from Caterham, as I knew that the difficult economic situation would have prompted them to seek a driver with substantial sponsorship backing. The smaller teams have certain needs and contracts state this clearly. I hope that with Petrov’s contribution everyone who works there can have a more secure future.”

It is also a statement about the way that the global financial crisis is finally impacting on F1. It’s taken a while to work through, because many sponsorships were contracted forward, but now looking at the field and at some of the drivers, its clear that bringing a budget is a priority. But that’s a story for another time.

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Why don’t Ferrari (FIAT) fund a GP2 drive for Mirko Bortolotti who has only just turned 22 years of age.

He has always been quick in his previous F1 test’s with Ferrari, Toro Rosso and Williams. He won the Italian Formula 3 Championship in 2008 and totally dominated the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2011.

I have absolutely no doubt that Bortolotti would have done a far better job in the Ferrari last year than Massa.


Ferrari is motor-sport in Italy. Period. It’s legacy is such that it is motor-sport around the world.

If they decided to compete at Le Mans, or any other series, interest in that event would increase.

This isn’t conjecture, it’s fact. When the Ferrari 333SP was launched to race in American endurance events, the media and public interest increased. The only other team I have ever seen anywhere near this was Jaguar returning to Le Mans in the 80’s.

Despite Italy having the best karting infrastructure in the world, and I’ve raced at some of these tracks, motorsport begins and ends with Ferrari.

Only Rossi has transcended this phenomenon because no. 1 he’s on motorbikes, no. 2, he’s charismatic and no. 3 he is massively successful.

I think something that may be fundamental to the Italian mindset regarding F1, may be something as simple as, serious karters as mentioned above with Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso, had to travel to Italy to compete, leaving their homes behind and establishing themselves abroad, whereas the Italian racers are effectively at home and become “lazy” as a result.

Even Senna, back in 1979 ad 1980, used Italian equipment for his World Karting Championship bids.

Funny really, I have been a Ferrari fan all my life, and support Ducati in bike racing.

Yet I have never supported an Italian driver in F1, or wanted an Italian driver to drive for Ferrari.

In MotoGP, I love Rossi’s racer skills, like I loved Fogarty, and recently I wanted Rossi on a Japanese bike beating an Aussie on an Italian bike.

No Italians in F1? Who cares, I don’t.

They have all been relatively uninspiring during my life time.


Ferrari does compete at Le Mans via privateer teams with reasonable success, and arguably that may have contributed to the lack of Italians in F1. Why spend millions to become a F1/GP2 pay-driver when it’s possible to make a career elsewhere with the team that the majority of Italian drivers are most likely to want to eventually race with anyway?


This is a shame for the Italians, but hey, at least they aren’t Japan. There’s a country that has massive involvement in motorsport and plenty of financial backing for drivers (perhaps less so now than in the past), yet has never produced a top level driver.


Correction: the term “Grand Prix” is French, and it was in France that the term originated, its first regular usage being for the French Grand Prix of 1906, at Le Mans. The Italian equivalent is “Grande Premio”.


I think the problem is Ferrari create such a vaccuum that there just isn’t the opportunity for drivers that other nations get. If you look at Britain and Germany, they either have a lot of teams of the grid, or supply a lot of teams with engines which then affords young drivers tests and in some respects sponsorship.

There are massive benefits to Italy for having a strong team like Ferrari, but you can’t ignore the negative side of that too.


Thank God for this.

Trulli never been a good driver, in fact his Brazil ’09 actions really disgusts me.


With the whole discussion of karting/lower formula talents not being able to go higher due to the financial constraints, it’d be good to see established drivers ‘paying it forward’ a bit more, a la Mark Webber helping out Will Power back in the mid 2000’s (and Mark himself was similarly given a good $$ boost from David Campese in his early days).


Time to give in to the young drivers.

The Times They Are a-Changin’ as Dylan once said.


I guess the bottom line is indeed the bottom line. Formula One is a business, and the question of nationalities aside, it probably isn’t too hard to decide between an experienced older driver with no money and a good young driver with money. Yes, of course money is important, but I think to use that to obliquely disparage Petrov is not fair either. Furthermore, like other atheletes, drivers know their carreers will be shorter than other professions. It’s up to Trulli and the rest to plan for their futures, for the inevitablity that when they reach their late 30’s its highly likely that their services will no longer be required in Formula One.


Trulli seems to be lamenting the lack of a scholarship scheme in Italy. He’s a former Kart World Champion and raced in F1 for 15 odd years. He’s got a lot out of the sport and no doubt earnt a stack of cash along the way. Seems that a “Jarno Trulli Race Academy” is the natural solution to all this! He has a lot of inside knowledge, know’s what it takes to succeed and has time on his hands…


Just sorry to see Trulli go, especially as we won’t get a chance to say goodbye ‘properly’ so to speak – at a last race day.


Lots of talk about Trulli, but how about Antonio Liuzzi? He seems to have a reputation amongst the drivers with Alonso and Kubica rating him highly. Having beaten Schumi in a karting event, he had loads of potential as suggested in the following article:

Having not followed his career, I don’t know why it fizzled out. Is it because of too many shunts in a Force India? If given a quick car, could he get results?


He beat Schumi in the 2001 World Karting Championships.

Schumacher hadn’t raced competitively in Karts for 15 years by then.

Someone that Alonso, Button and Kubica rated as the Greatest Karter was Giorgio Pantano, yet he never fulfilled his promise.

Personally I don’t consider the Karting World Championship as that important.

A karting background is extremely important for any racer, but Senna didn’t win the World Championship in 1979 or 1980, yet he dominated in FF1600, FF2000 and F3 before getting to F1.


I recall a certain hybrid Italian winning the world championship in Andretti. Perhaps Di Resta and Ricciardo can fly half an Italian flag.


Andretti was born in Italy, Ricciardo was born in Australia.


Ferrari is more important that any king of driver, that may be the problem


I think Patrese and Trulli were both kart world champions.


While some drivers may not pay for their drive and get it on ‘merit’ does the team no harm with the sponsors having them on board. For example Button as well as driving the best he has ever been is also very good and smooth with the PR as seen when he is on BBC or at events. He is an engaging person unlike say Kimi who never seemed at ease when having to do Mclaren’s PR or sponsor’s gigs.

Likewise when Alonso joined Mclaren suddenly they got Spainish sponsors why? Simple because Mclaren know he is loved over there and they could get some cash for companies in that country. Damon Hill’s fee at Jordan was picked up by Benson & Hedges who then rolled him out everyway possible.

So while guys like Alonso, Button and Hamilton are hired for driving skill a team will target companies relating to that driver as a way of getting sponsors.


Trulli used to be very good in qualifying and exceptional in slowing down and keeping the best drivers behind him. For a number of years I hated him for that. But with such traits, imagine what he could have achieved for Italy had he been driving a winning Ferrari.

Personality differences perhaps?

But at least he won’t be on the grid in front of the driver I support for 2012!


They might have even called his driving ‘Di Resta esque’


I recall Trulli leading one of his first GPs for the Prost Team in Austria 1996. He looked exciting, but his years at middle rank teams seemed to blunt him. When he had his chance at Renault in 2004 he fell out with Briatore.

Like Fisichella and Alboreto, I wonder if he was too happy just to be in F1 rather than really compete.


When he had his chance at Renault in 2004 he fell out with Briatore.

>> just coz waters are calmer on the surface, doesn’t mean all was well beneath the surface.

Isn’t it surprising that after becoming race winner ahead of Flavio’s favorite Alonso at Monaco’04, suddenly Flavio started having problem with Trulli and Trulli started to fade from that point.

Anyways to do well in F1, you need a good car under you. You can outqualify the car and then fade in race and you can be jeered upon as “Trulli train”


You would think that with all the interest in F1 in Italy and the wealth of supercar manufacturers (Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborgini) that they could develop some talented drivers. That’s not to say that Fisicella, Trulli, Patrese etc did not have talent but none of them had the talent to challenge for the championship. Too many years since Ascari!

As to the dumping of Trulli in favour of Petrov, it is faily clear that Trulli’s talent was on the wane, but why Petrov? Has to be the Russian money. Pity they didn’t push him towards Murrusia to make it a more Russian team. I don’t rate him as a driver and, as an ex Caterham driver, am particularly dissapointed to see him in the Caterhan F1 debut year.


I think everyone on this forum complaining of drivers with talent lacking money is missing a vital point. A driver these days is about the WHOLE package. Talent, potential, results and marketability. They (in their junior careers) needed to be able to go chase after sponsors and after more senior teams support and would work their arses off to do this. Look at Senna who would fax is Formula Ford results to all the F1 teams after every race. He was clearly raising awareness and marketing himself. People who complain about lacking money are becoming victims of the system, not working hard within the system. I think this is a clear differentiating factor. I have spoken to drivers that competed with Mark Webber in Formula Ford in Australia, and they stated talent wise, he was not much better than them. What made the differenc effort him was the fact he was initially backed by his father’s motorcycle sales business but they were smart enough to seek further support through sponsors. This set him up very well financially for the season and made talent spotters take notice because he had the whole package. His competitiors complained he had the money, but to me he seemed better organised and had a business sense. Success in any sport is never about just pure talent these days as I have seen the politics in Taekwondo for elite athletes. A player may be more talented, but if the governing body want to support a fellow competitor because they are younger and have a better potential than the more talented player, they will go for them.

You have to fight for every opportunity you get to progress in Motorsport, I think every driver has to have talent and well as strong self promotion skills, yes money contributes to your promotability but you cannot be promotable without talent. It’s a package deal.


These days, pretty much every driver above a certain level uses most of Senna’s tricks to attract attention from F1 (the rest are either not likely to make it anywhere or already have their eye on other series and adjust approach accordingly). Most of them don’t have their own photographers but then that’s an expense most of them can’t afford.

The difference is that there are wide variances on the drivers’ accessibility to funds, even more so than in the 1980s and 1990s because the exponential rise in costs has forced many small and medium-sized companies to stop bothering. Many of the companies still in the game are already allied with a particular driver (this explains the Karthikeyan/Chandhok situation; there are at least 3 different “factions” of funding in India and if you’re allied with one, the others won’t help out). Chandhok was born into the “wrong” faction, so he was only ever going to be able to get funding from there, and the “international” sponsors simply have too many pre-aligned interests.

The few who aren’t already aligned struggle to pay the millions needed to get into GP2 (€4-5 m for the 2 seasons usually needed to get into F1). It’s a much smaller step to go from GP2 to F1 than F3 to GP2 or Formula One-Make to F3, hence why so many drop out at the latter transitions.

This is why Pastor had to resort to massive amounts of state funding to get his F1 seat. This is why there is nowadays usually one driver per nation coming through instead of the usual several. It’s why the three French rookies all had completely different funding routes (Pic allied with Renault/Elf, Grosjean with Gravity, Vergne with Red Bull). This is why places like Italy, where talented drivers can make careers in challenging but profitable areas of motorsport much easier than they can become F1 “pay-drivers”, are changing the focus of their sponsorship.


Very very well articulated. F1 is just another racing discipline, which has its own demands, including capability of driver to attract sponsors either through a F1 team or through his own initiative.

Just having talent and hoping that a F1 team will pick you up isn’t enough. If a driver really wants to drive in F1 so much badly, they need to be actively chasing the financial backers. Just complaining when other driver (maybe having lesser results than you) is able to attract sponsors, its wrong to belittle him/her as “its all about money”.

Name of Karthikeyan/ Maldanado comes to mind. Both of them are targets of F1 fans anger who very simplistically brush both the drivers as money mules, but conveniently forget that both the drivers have raw speed, both of them are winners every single seater formulae they have raced. Both have done well in feeder formulae. So to cry bucket load of tears for a Hulkenberg/Chandok who are talented but don’t want to go extra length to attract sponsors in their country (or elsewhere) is not fair to Narain/Pastor, who love F1 so much that they are ready to go the extra mile, when it comes to working with the sponsors.

In Chandok’s case, fans adore him because he is more “media savvy” but has anybody stopped and wondered if indeed that is the case, why are the mainstream Indian companies still favoring Narain over Karun?


Who cares, there are no New Zealand drivers on the grad and that doesnt seem to concern anyone so why does it matter that there are no Italians on the Grid?


The NZ driver, Brendon Hartley got pretty close, being a reserve for the RBR/STR cars. But RBR junior drivers are a dime a dozen – and are treated like such. His recent results in GP2 are have not left a mark.

He had to vacate the seat for another kid from across the Tasman sea (Ricciardo) – that must hurt 🙂


Brendon was fast but couldn’t fight for a title all year long. Ricciardo proved to be much better in 2010, in the world series. Anyway Vergne and Ricciardo deserve to be where they are, I’ll put my money on Vergne for the honorific title of rookie of the year.


… because Italy is one of the cultural homes of motorsport. From 12-16 most young drivers race karts in Italy and motorsport is a big deal in Italy. That’s why it’s newsworthy.


Wait for Stanaway.. We lose italie but France comes back, who is the heart of motorsport.


Stanaway is very exciting.


He reminds me of Hamilton in F3 euroseries with his ability to be so fast at the beginning of the race with cool tyres on. By the way, what’s his programm for 2012, 3.5 or euroseries ?


They’re too busy racing motorcycles.


In MotoGP they aren’t any good either. Not a single race won last year.


uh valentino rossi? and sadly no more marco simoncelli?


@webbo, it seems to be true of what they say of F1 managers and fans.

“You are only as good as your last race”

Poor Rossi, 9 championships, race wins to rival Agostini who rode a bike with a MASSIVE advantage for years and yet he’s obviously rubbish now…LOL!!


Rossi? How many races he has won on a Ducati? Simoncelli? how many wins for him?


Yes, and Dovizioso’s a quality rider too. Iannone is a regular winner in Moto2. With Biaggi and Melandri in World Superbike there’s definitely no shortage of Italian talent in bike racing. Who knows, even Alex Polita might do well in British Superbikes!


i think the part that cash plays in the F1 circus is going to become very clear to its fans in the next year or so.


Except for the top four, it will all be paid for seats (PFS)


Honestly people, I think sports like F1, the drivers should be picked not based on nationalities but on their talent, their ability to handle people & media and their financial backing.

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