Former perpetual backmarkers Minardi were frequently praised for three things; having the best coffee in the paddock, their ability to extract so much performance from such little resource and their desire, where possible, to bring at least one talented driver into the team for any given season. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, we’re going to look at some of their higher-quality drivers during their 21-season history and give our verdict on the greatest Minardi Formula One drivers. We use the term ‘greatest’ in it’s broadest sense, encompassing the ‘fastest’ and ‘most successful’ drivers into one completely subjective list.
10) Justin Wilson (2003)
Racing opportunities were sometimes hampered by Wilson’s height in his early career, but as the 2001 Formula 3000 champion, his place on the grid was duly deserved. He partnered the experienced Jos Verstappen in a strong Minardi line-up for 2003, where the rookie Briton would occasionally out-qualify and out-race his team-mate. His performances and links lead to a call-up to the Jaguar team when a seat became available in the second half of the season, where he would score his one-and-only career point. Lack of funds prevented a continuation in the sport, but became a success in the racing scene over in the United States.
9) Jos Verstappen (2003)
The other half of Minardi’s bullish 2003 line-up, ‘Jos the boss’ put in some accomplished performances, one of which almost yielded points finishes in what was the slowest car of the 2003 grid. He was running high into the points at the very wet Brazilian Grand Prix when he crashed out part-way through the race, and took a ‘Friday qualifying’ pole position on a drying track at the French Grand Prix. Ultimately, he became dissatisfied with driving for a back-of-the-grid team, so left for 2004.
8) Giancarlo Fisichella (1996)
As dominant Italian Formula Three champion, Fisichella was earmarked early on for a bright motor racing future. After a year as test driver for Minardi, he was promoted for the 1996 season to race alongside future endurance racing ace Pedro Lamy. He was quick to get the better of Lamy, despite only being given what would turn out to be an eight-race stint, owing to a lack of funds. His skills were recognised and he was soon signed up by the Jordan team for 1997, and would compete across fourteen seasons, achieving three wins.
7) Gianni Morbidelli (1990-1992)
Morbidelli’s on-off Formula One career began at Minardi, racing alongside Pierluigi Martini, Christian Fittipaldi and Alex Zanardi across his three-season involvement with the Faenza team. Whilst he never enjoyed the headline point-scores, he put in some impressive showings during a golden time for Minardi, sometimes out-qualifying his more experienced team-mates and securing four top-ten finishes on raw pace. He can consider himself unlucky not to have lasted the distance in races of high-attrition during a competitive time for Minardi.
6) Andrea de Cesaris (1986)
The move to Minardi for 1986 could be, in hindsight, declared as a big gamble. The team were in their second season in the sport and were equipped with overweight, underpowered and unreliable cars in what was unquestionably the team’s worst season. The only saving grace for the team was their young, fast driver line-up of de Cesaris and future race-winner Alessandro Nannini. For this season, de Cesaris had the better of Nannini, often out-qualifying the rookie and occasionally dragging an unwilling car into some strong positions. Notably, he was running on the fringes of the points at the Brazilian Grand Prix before his car ground to a halt. Unsurprisingly, he left at the end of the season.
5) Jarno Trulli (1997)
German Formula Three champion Trulli was brought into the team for the 1997 season and was instantly competitive. Easily having the upper hand on experienced pilot Ukyo Katayama, Trulli would race alongside the drivers from the Stewart, Tyrrell, Arrows and Prost teams in the early part of the season, finishing in the top ten twice in his seven races for the team. When Prost driver Olivier Panis was injured at the Canadian Grand Prix, Trulli was offered the seat until Panis’ return seven races later. He went on to a complete a 15-season Formula One career.
4) Christian Fittipaldi (1992-1993)
Nephew of the great Emerson Fittipaldi, Christian broke into Formula One after a title-winning Formula 3000 campaign, securing a drive for Minardi for 1992. Across his two-year stint, he scored six points for the team, with a best result of fourth-place (equaling Minardi’s best-ever result). One of Minardi’s frequent top-half runners, Fittipaldi finished in the top ten in eleven races, outpacing most of his team-mates. His time, however, may be better known for his dramatic last-lap flip when he ran into the back of his team mate at the 1993 Italian Grand Prix.
3) Fernando Alonso (2001)
One of Minardi’s most gifted youngsters, Alonso broke through into Formula One at a young age with the backing of manager Flavio Briatore, signing for Minardi for 2001. He dominated both of his team-mate (Tarso Marques and Alex Yoong), impressing many in the paddock with his raw pace, demonstrated in many qualifying sessions and an eye-catching display at the Japanese Grand Prix, where he beat several midfield runners to finish eleventh in what was widely-regarded as the slowest car on the grid. He moved on to a test driver role at Renault for 2002, which would evolve into a race seat.
2) Mark Webber (2002)
A man who almost never received a debut due to lack of funds, but a dream 5th-placed debut for Minardi at the Australian Grand Prix encouraged Australian team owner Paul Stoddart to retain his services for the entire year. Although points opportunities would never appear again for the rest of the season, Webber’s two points were enough for Minardi to beat Formula One’s big-spending newcomers Toyota that year. He continued to dominate team-mates Alex Yoong and Anthony Davidson throughout 2002 to cement his reputation as a rising star. The impressive Aussie moved up the grid to Jaguar for 2003.
1) Pierluigi Martini
A man who spent almost his entire ten-season career with the Minardi team, Martini is easily the most decorated in the team’s history. Having joined in 1985 for their first season in the sport, he helped the team to their early-nineties peak, securing their first points at the 1988 Detroit Grand Prix, driving them to their first ‘lap in the lead’ at the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix and securing their only front-row start at the 1990 United States Grand Prix, missing out on pole position by just over half a tenth of a second. He twice achieved Minardi’s best finishing position of fourth place, both during the 1991 season at the San Marino Grand Prix and the Portuguese Grand Prix, which secured them their best Constructor’s Championship position of seventh. Except for the 1992 season, he spent every year between 1988 and 1995 with the team, scoring in every year except 1990 and 1995, his final year in the sport. His abilities were underlined by winning the 1999 24hrs of Le Mans.