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Lorenzo Bandini

2021-03-31 00:00

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Lorenzo Bandini

Lorenzo Bandini, one of the most beloved Italian pilots, was born in Barce, in the Libyan colony of Cyrenaica, on December 21, 1935, to Italian parent

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Lorenzo Bandini, one of the most beloved Italian pilots, was born in Barce, in the Libyan colony of Cyrenaica, on December 21, 1935, to Italian parents who had moved from Emilia Romagna to the African country to seek fortune. It is here that Giovanni and Elena Martignoni meet and get married. From the union was born a daughter, Gabriella, and a son, Lorenzo, who when he was only six years old fled with his family from Africa due to the conflict, and moved to San Cassiano di Brisighella, in the province of Ravenna, the town of father's origin.

 

Lorenzo spends his early Italian years without problems because his family owns two houses and a hotel. His hardest moment came in 1944, when Lorenzo was just nine years old, due to the disappearance of his father, kidnapped and shot by the partisans, and the destruction of the hotel due to bombing. The Bandini family is in ruins and her mother, desperate, decides to move with her children to San Cassiano Reggiolo, in the province of Reggio Emilia. During this period Lorenzo worked as a mechanic apprentice in the workshop of Elico Millenotti, a motorcycle mechanic.

 

After the conflict, Bandini prefers to leave the small province to look for work in a large northern city: this is how, at the age of fifteen, he joins his sister Gabriella in Milan. Thanks to his character, Lorenzo immediately found work at the Garage Rex, in Plinio Street. This opportunity to work will represent for him the most important turning point in his entire life, since the owner of the garage is Goliardo Freddi, father of Margherita, his future wife. Goliardo represents for the young Lorenzo that father figure that the cruel fate of the war took away from him, and it is thanks to him that he begins to love the world of racing.

 

Bandini continues in his work as a mechanic becoming better and better, but at the same time he feels inside him that the passion for motoring is growing more and more. Lorenzo received his first support at the beginning of his racing career from his godfather, Goliardo, and on June 10th, 1956 he made his debut in the world of Motorsport by taking part in the Castell'Arquato-Vernasca race, at the wheel of a Fiat 1100 TV that Freddi loaned him for the occasion.

 

In his first race he finishes fifteenth but is not discouraged, because he understands that it takes time before he can achieve success. Lorenzo, in fact, will have to be patient to get noticed, and the achievement of the most important categories will only get him after a long apprenticeship and great successes. Bandini takes the start in all the races in which he can take part, worrying little about the result but taking care above all to gain experience and awareness of his skills. Lorenzo took part in the Bolzano-Mendola finishing twenty-third, but on September 9th, 1956, he obtained an extraordinary second place in the Lessolo-Alice, followed by an equally excellent third place in the traditional hillclimb Pontedecimo-Passo dei Giovi. He gets these placings at the wheel of a two-liter Fiat 8V.

 

The following year he obtained another second place in the Garessio-Colle San Bernardo, and a fifth place in the Pontedecimo race. Lorenzo's first important career success was picked up just two years later: it was 1958 when, driving a Lancia Appia Coupè Zagato, he ranked first in his class, the 2000 Gran Turismo, at the Mille Miglia. In the following years he always obtained excellent results including a fifth place in the Intereuropa Cup in Monza, a third place at the Coppa d'Oro di Sicilia, where he competed in his first single-seater race with a Fiat-Volpini of Formula Junior, and the victory in the 500 class at Monza in the Ascari Trophy, at the wheel of the unknown Berkeley in 1959.

 

Also in 1959 Lorenzo continued his experiences in Formula Junior with Volpini first and later with Stanguellini. In total he will get three victories, on the occasion of Catania-Etna, in Innsbruck and the Madunina Cup in Monza, a second place in the Pontedecimo, a third place in the Coppa d'Oro di Sicilia, and two quarters in the Gran Prix de Monaco Junior and in the S. Ambroeus Cup in Monza. Finally his tenacity was rewarded in 1960, when he became an official Stanguellini driver. Strengthened by this agreement, Lorenzo obtained two great victories, at the Grand Prix of Freedom in Cuba and in Monza, where he made the acquaintance of another young motor enthusiast, Giancarlo Baghetti. The season thus continues between ups and downs, and it is in this period that Bandini realizes how difficult it was, despite his commitment, to be able to distinguish himself from the immense group of good gentleman drivers who try their hand at car racing.

 

But the big opportunity will still come in 1961, when Ferrari makes one of its cars available to the young man who would have distinguished himself most during the season. Lorenzo's dream is to have a Ferrari in his hands to be ever closer to the world of Formula 1. The commitment is enormous but once again his will is rewarded, because Lorenzo wins the absolute first place in Monza, on the occasion of the Junior Cup. With this result, Bandini hopes to be selected by Ferrari, but the latter opts for Baghetti. The disappointment is burning but someone had noticed that young talent that was emerging: Mimmo Dei, owner of the Center-South team.

 

Bandini is offered the drive of a Cooper 1500 powered by the Maserati engine. The debut in Pau is very good, with third place behind the almost unbeatable Lotus Climax driven by Jim Clark and Joakim Bonnier. Given the more than positive performance of Bandini, Mimmo Dei decides to enter him in the first Formula 1 Grand Prix that would have taken place in Belgium, on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Thus, on June 18, 1961, the young Italian made his debut in the top open-wheel category. However, this is not a lucky debut, because Lorenzo is forced to retire sadly during the twentieth lap. The season will be stingy with results, as Bandini will see the checkered flag only in Great Britain, where he will finish twelfth, and in Monza where he will finish eighth.

 

But in the meantime Bandini is the protagonist of a great victory at the 4 Hours of Pescara. This success, achieved at the wheel of a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, finally represents the right opportunity, and as a result many teams are looking for it. Among these was also Enzo Ferrari, who followed the performances of the young talent from Romagna, and in December 1961 decided to call him to Maranello to offer him a job. In this case, Mimmo Dei turns out to be a great man as well as a great manager, as he frees Lorenzo to marry Ferrari. Bandini thus became an official Ferrari driver for 1962. A very positive season.

 

The debut takes place at the Pau Grand Prix, in a race not valid for the world championship where he is fifth, while at the Targa Florio he wins second place paired with Giancarlo Baghetti. Lorenzo has an incredible desire to show Enzo Ferrari all the value of him, and his results certainly do not prove him wrong. Subsequently, he wins the Mediterranean Grand Prix in Enna and comes third at the Monaco Grand Prix, behind McLaren and teammate Hill. Ferrari, however, uses it little during the Formula 1 season, so much so that Bandini disputes only two other races, one in Germany and one in Italy, at Monza, where he collects an eighth place.

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The 1962 was also the year of his - unfortunate - debut at Le Mans, which ended with a retirement. The following season will be stingy in Formula 1 results, as he will only get three fifth places as best result. At the same time, however, he triumphed at Le Mans paired with Ludovico Scarfiotti, at the wheel of the Ferrari 250 P. The victory in the French race, combined with other excellent results, contributed to obtaining the important title of Italian Absolute Champion. Ferrari is not indifferent to Bandini's great performances, and decides to offer him the place of official driver for the 1964 Formula 1 World Championship, to be raced alongside John Surtees. The first full year in the world championship turns out to be very positive for Lorenzo, so much so that on August 23, 1964, he wins his first and only career victory in Formula 1, on the Zeltweg circuit, winning over him Ginther and Bob Anderson.

 

The third place in Monza will then be the antiphon to the further podium conquered in the last race of the season, in Mexico, where Bandini comes third at the finish line, after having given a valid contribution to his teammate John Surtees, having kept behind for several spins the latter's direct rival for the title, Graham Hill, with whom he also has a small accident. Surtees wins the title thanks also to the contribution of Bandini, who in the overall standings stops in fourth place, with 23 points scored. A few weeks after the end of the world championship some drivers complained about Lorenzo's behavior in the last race, and Peter Garnier and Jo Bonnier, respectively secretary and vice president of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, send him a letter accusing him of lack of respect towards the opponents and unsportsmanlike behavior.

 

Bandini denies the accusations, and explains that the contact between his car and Hill's in the last race in Mexico was only the result of a trivial accident. At the same time, paired with Surtees, Lorenzo tries to hit the encore at Le Mans but the Anglo-Italian crew only gets a third place. The 1965 season will instead be a not very brilliant year, in which the only positive result remains the victory obtained at the Targa Florio paired with Nino Vaccarella. The season is made difficult by the combination of Lotus-Clark, which proves unapproachable for anyone. Lorenzo will not go beyond second place in the Monaco Grand Prix, and his second-best result will materialize in Monza, thanks to a fourth place obtained at the Italian Grand Prix. At the end of a year characterized by not exactly exalted results, Enzo Ferrari's sharp judgment will also come, describing Bandini as follows:

 

"For now we have a rider and a half: given that the test engineer Parkes works with us, bound until 1967, and also given that we have a rider, John Surtees, now unfortunately injured, and who is engaged with us until December of the 1966, we declare our willingness to train Italian drivers, as we have already started. Bandini is like another, we will continue to make him race, we will continue to test him. If Bandini goes faster than the others, obviously he will always race. When one has two cars, you have to that you entrust them to the two who are faster: with this I do not mean to underestimate Bandini, but I also do not intend to create immovability for anyone who rides on a Ferrari. We will put above those who will give us more confidence".

 

In a nutshell, even the victories were not enough for Lorenzo to be considered a staple of the tean from Maranello. But he does not give up, and on the contrary he wants to prove with the results on the track that Ferrari's judgment is wrong. The start of the 1966 World Championship is encouraging, so much so that Lorenzo, thanks to his second place in Monaco and third in Belgium, is at the top of the world championship. Then, however, a series of unfortunate events will force him to desist from any limelight initiative, and to have to be content with picking up two sixth places in the Netherlands and Germany.

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Various unfavorable circumstances, as mentioned, often accompany him in the rest of the season: in the third race, on the occasion of the French Grand Prix, Lorenzo gets the pole position and leads in the lead for two thirds of the race, before being a victim of a cable break. accelerator. The driver, who tries to remedy the failure by using a wire taken from a wire mesh on the track, ends the race in eleventh place, eleven laps behind the winner, Jack Brabham. And also in Monza various unfavourable circumstances are raging against Lorenzo. The Ferrari driver takes the lead, but on the second lap he is forced to return to the pits: when he returns to the track, he will be the victim of a fuel pump failure that will force him to retire.

 

Despite this, Lorenzo is among the favorites at the US Grand Prix and, at the end of qualifying, he is third. In the race he will then be the protagonist of a long duel with Jack Brabham, but, perhaps due to the excessive effort required of his car, the engine gives way just when the Italian is leading the race. At the end of the season Lorenzo is therefore only ninth in the standings, with 12 points.

 

The 1967 season must be the year of the turning point: in this regard, Bandini won two resounding victories respectively at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 1000 Kilometers of Monza, both paired with Chris Amon at the wheel of the beautiful Ferrari 330 P4. Lorenzo has finally won, after years, the trust of the whole team and of the Ferrari engineer: now he is the top man of the Scuderia Ferrari, the driver who has become the darling of all the Ferrari fans.

 

Before him there is yet another opportunity to do well, the Monaco Grand Prix, valid as the first round of the Formula 1 World Championship. But the consecration contest will turn into tragedy. The race seems to start in the best way for Lorenzo, who immediately takes the lead of the group immediately gaining a couple of seconds on Denny Hulme. However, Lorenzo remains at the head of the Grand Prix for only a few laps because, after a few laps, he loses several positions following a spin caused by the passage of the tires on the oil left on the track by the car of Jack Brabham, himself a victim of engine problems.

 

The Ferrari driver is passed by Hulme and Jackie Stewart, but manages to stay ahead of a fierce group of competitors made up of Surtess, McLaren and Clark. This unfortunate as well as harmless episode marks Lorenzo’s race, who from this moment begins to push more and more, convinced that he will be able to grab that victory that without that wildfire no one would have been able to snatch him.

 

Later, thanks to Stewart's retirement, the driver climbed back to second place, reaching just over seven seconds from the top. To divide him from Hulme, however, there are also two dubbed, Rodríguez and Graham Hill. The former immediately steps aside while the latter, who perhaps has not yet forgotten the episode that took place in Mexico a few years earlier, hinders him for two laps, bringing the gap back up to twelve seconds.

 

After passing the English driver, Bandini appears visibly tired, so much so that the delay continues to rise passing between the sixty-fifth and the eightieth laps from twelve to twenty seconds. Lorenzo is driving through lap eighty-two when his Ferrari arrives at the chicane after the tunnel at an inexplicable speed, far greater than that with which one normally takes that corner. The driver can do nothing more to control the car, which begins to bounce several times from one side of the track to the other, before rising into the air and capsizing.

 

The car, already in the throes of flames, continues to crawl on the upturned asphalt for over thirty meters, and all those present in the place immediately realize the severity of the accident. Rescues are slow and chaotic, also because the commissioners and firefighters, seeing the banners torn off the track, initially believe that the driver was thrown out of the car and ended up in the water, as happened to Alberto Ascari in 1955. Many of them, therefore, scan the waters of the port.

 

Within a few minutes, noticing the inconclusiveness of the rescuers and realizing the true nature of the accident, Prince Juan Carlos di Borbone and Giancarlo Baghetti, present and not far away, climb over the barriers and draw the attention of the firefighters to the single-seater in flames. To extinguish the fire and straighten the car, the firefighters will take another three and a half minutes: only at this moment will it be discovered that the driver, now in a comatose state, has been trapped inside the Ferrari. Lorenzo is extracted from what remains of his Ferrari, and is rushed to the Princess Grace hospital in Monaco.

 

But it is immediately clear that the situation is desperate. The plates penetrated the driver's left side causing severe injuries to his spleen and lung, and sixty percent of his body suffered severe burns. Lorenzo is operated on, but on May 10, 1967, after seventy hours of agony, his heart stops beating. The one of the numerous Ferrari enthusiasts who had seen him as a man, even before being an exemplary rider, will never stop. A symbol of the tenacity of those who have experienced personal suffering and the hardships of the apprenticeship to get there, one step away from definitive consecration.

 

On the day of his funeral, in Milan, May 13, 1967, his wife Margherita, daughter of the first man who believed in him when he was still a complete stranger, is accompanied by thousands of people who have come to the Lombard capital to pay their homage to one of the most loved Italian pilots. Since 1992, in honor of the late Ferrari driver, the municipality of Brisighella will establish the Lorenzo Bandini Trophy, which will be awarded to the emerging Formula 1 driver with the exception of 1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of Bandini's death, when the trophy will be awarded to Luca di Montezemolo of 2003, when it will be received by Michael Schumacher, of 2013, 2014, when it will be assigned respectively to Piero Ferrari, the Mercedes AMG F1, and of 2017, since it will be granted to Scuderia Ferrari.

 

Simone Centonze

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