The Scuderia Italia squad had had a pretty average 1991, despite Lehto’s headline-grabbing third place at Imola. Pirro’s point at Monaco in the next race looked like the start of a good season but was the only other points finish they had and the Italian failed to pre-qualify on three occasions (including Imola). For 1992, the team swap their underpowered Judd engines for 1991-spec Ferrari V12s from the Minardi team. Coming with them was driver Pierluigi Martini, who joins JJ Lehto.
21. JJ Lehto
The talented Finn scored his first podium position in 1991 with a fine drive at a wet Imola, and regularly outperformed his team-mate Pirro. Annoyingly for Lehto, it was his car that had the worst of the reliability problems and only finished five races. Lehto is another driver who has usually been better than his equipment, and will be hoping that Ferrari power for 1992 and increased reliability will allow him to be more consistent.
22. Pierluigi Martini
The diminutive Italian had become almost synonymous with the Minardi team over the past few years, had given them their only front-row start and their only lap leading a race but he had been disappointed with the team’s 1991 performance. With Ferrari power, he had been convinced that he could do better than the brace of fourth places he achieved. For 1992 he moved along with the Ferrari engines to the Scuderia Italia team in the hope of improving his results.
Like several other top teams, Benetton have a new car in development, which will make use of the latest evolution of the Ford HB engine, but for the flyaway races they have opted to stick with the B191 and the evolution 5 motor. The chassis has had minor upgrades to bodywork and suspension but otherwise all is as it was at the end of 1991 and the team will be hoping that the talent of Michael Schumacher can lift it above the crowd until the new car is ready. The German moves into the “lead” number 19 car, with Martin Brundle adding experience to the mix.
19. Michael Schumacher
The young German had been the revelation of 1991, and followed up an impressive (if short) Jordan debut with a string of points finishes in the Benetton. He begins his first full season in F1 as team leader of one of the top teams on the grid – already an impressive achievement – and has a real shot at winning races in his first year. He has massive talent, but he will also be under a huge amount of pressure this year and it is how he handles that that will determine how he does.
20. Martin Brundle
Brundle has been plugging away in the Formula One scene for years with very little success, and on a couple of occasions has taken a break to drive in sportscars – and ironically it seems to be this rather than his efforts in the sluggish Brabham last year that got him the big break he richly deserves. With his former Jaguar boss Tom Walkinshaw now deeply involved in Benetton, when the team wanted an experienced, solid number 2 for Schumacher, Tom remembered Martin’s form and here he is. He will want to make the most of the opportunity, but will have to work hard not to be overshadowed by Schumacher.
The team that had looked so promising a few years ago is now in disarray – with the imprisonment of chief backer Akira Akagi of Leyton House, the team’s main income stream is no more, both their original drivers have moved on and the car is still basically devoid of any sponsorship. Now back to their old name of March, the team has been sold to a consortium including designer Gustav Brunner, but with limited funds they will be using last year’s car with some minor tweaks.
There is one possible saving grace in the shape of a Mercedes connection: the Ilmor engine is produced using Mercedes expertise and Karl Wendlinger is a Merc man too; could the March team be the basis of a future F1 return?
16. Karl Wendlinger
The young Austrian may have been bought his drive by the Mercedes team, but he is a real talent – in fact, in sportscars, many think he’s a better driver than his team-mate Schumacher. He didn’t have much chance to show his stuff in his two 1991 races, and both he and the team will be hoping that the car will be good enough to allow him to shine and attract some sponsors.
17. Paul Belmondo
Son of actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, Paul first came to world attention in 1981 when at the age of 18 he was going out with Princess Stephanie of Monaco, but his ambition was to get into F1 and he won the 1982 “Pilote Elf” competition before moving into Formula 3 and then, in 1987, Formula 3000. He was never convincing in either formula, scoring just two points in his F3000 debut and one point in 1990. Nonetheless, he comes backed by the French Canal+ TV network, which not only brings sponsorship money but the promise of vital media coverage.
Fondmetal had had a reasonably successful 1991 by their own low standards, with the FOMET-1 chassis, designed by the “Fomet” think-tank in Britain formed expressly for the purpose, proving a decent little runner but still underpowered. During the off-season, Fondmetal’s money problems meant Fomet gained independence and sold the designs of the projected 1992 Fondmetal to the Larrousse team instead. Short of time, Sergio Rinland was commissioned to pen a new chassis, but in the meantime the 1991 chassis will be used, now renamed the GR01 (after team boss Gabriele Rumi) and packing the Ford HB engine. Gabriele Tarquini, past master at getting good performances out of bad machinery, is retained and partnered with Swiss debutant Andrea Chiesa.
14. Andrea Chiesa
Born in Milan, Chiesa first came to attention at the age of 18 in the Swiss Karting Championship. He won the title in his sophomore year, 1983, but opted to stay in karts a further year, placing third in the European series, before moving up to cars with a course at the CSAI Racing School in Italy. For 1986 he joined Italian F3 full time, racing with the Pino Trivellato team to 10th place overall despite an unreliable engine. 1987 saw him move to the Pavanello team and win the first three of four races, only for the wheels to come off his season later on and miss out on the title to Enrico Bertaggia by just four points. 1988 saw a move up to F3000 where he struggled initally but again came good in his second year, leading the championship at one stage before coming sixth. However, he was starting to run out of funding and after failing to secure an F1 drive in 1991, he endured a trying season with the backmarker Apomatox team. Nonetheless, he had come to the attention of Gabriele Rumi and was finally given his chance.
15. Gabriele Tarquini
After several years at the now-defunct AGS team, Tarquini has gained a reputation for getting the most out of limited equipment, and proved an instant hit with the Italian Fondmetal team when he moved there following the sacking of the apparently petulant Grouillard. Tarquini is definitely talented, and probably deserves better machinery, but Fondmetal showed signs of promise last year and if they can deliver, then he may yet be given his chance.
1991 had been a year of promise rather than results for the reconstituted Lotus team, with just the one points finish – 5th and 6th at Imola – and rather more in the way of retirements and struggles to qualify. 1992 begins with the 102D chassis: essentially a 1989 car and even the Ford HB power unit will struggle to make it competitive. Still, a new car is in development and should be ready by the European stages and drivers Häkkinen and Herbert are both good racers. The new paint job, evoking the classic Lotus colours and the Union Jack, is rather nice too, albeit rather cluttered with those vital sponsorship stickers.
11. Mika Häkkinen (right)
The youngest man in the paddock in 1991, Mika gave a good account of himself on the few occasions where his somewhat asthmatic car allowed him to do so. On the other hand, his inexperience also told on occasion, and he was notably regularly outqualified by Herbert in the latter races. Still, with a good car he could do well.
12. Johnny Herbert (left)
Johnny Herbert has been the “coming man” for a few years now but must be really regretting his and Benetton’s decision to start him in 1989 when he clearly wasn’t ready for the physical rigours of F1. Since then, he has been Lotus’ regular test driver and stood in for Martin Donnelly and Julian Bailey but this is the first season since then where he’s actually been given a regular drive. He’ll be keen to seize the opportunity to show what he can do.
1991 had been a year to forget for Footwork, largely thanks to the total inadequacy of the Porsche engine, though questions were asked too about Michele Alboreto’s continued motivation. He is joined this year by Aguri Suzuki as part of the deal by which Tyrrell’s Honda V10 engine supply – now badged as a “Mugen Honda”, after the tuning company that works on them – has transferred to the team. They will be hoping to do better with them than Tyrrell did, but any improvement on 1991 will be welcome. The new version of the Footwork livery, at least, is rather nice.
9. Michele Alboreto
The Italian veteran was briefly reunited with his old Ferrari team-mate Stefan Johansson after Alex Caffi’s accident, but it wasn’t a happy reunion; Johansson failed to qualify for a single race and Alboreto endured his second successive pointless season. His glory days seem long gone now and although his experience is a boon to the team, you have to wonder how much longer he will stick around if they continue to struggle.
10. Aguri Suzuki
Suzuki’s 1991 season had never lived up to the heights of his 1990 heroics, with his third place at his home race still fresh in people’s minds. With the retirement of Satoru Nakajima, Suzuki is now the top driver from F1-mad Japan and all eyes in his homeland will be upon him. He will at the very least want to look good against his new team-mate.
A torrid 1991 saw the Brabham team slip into pre-qualifying for the second part of the season, and there’s a sense that the writing is on the wall for the team if things don’t turn around quickly. Sponsorship from the Middlebridge group has dried up and the Yamaha engines that were just starting to come good at the end of 1991 have also gone on their way. Gone too are two talented drivers in the “Brundell twins”, and with the team’s first pick Akihiko Nakaya denied a superlicence, the promising Eric van de Poele is joined by F1’s first woman driver since 1980.
7. Eric van de Poele
Eric “far from pole” had a difficult debut year in the sluggish Lamborghini in 1991 and only qualified once, but he showed at Imola that there was talent there, retiring heartbroken just a lap from finishing fifth and scoring debut points. While it’s probably his sponsorship package from Lease Plan that got him the drive at the cash-strapped Brabham team, it will be interesting to see how he does. If the car is any good, of course.
8. Giovanna Amati
Giovanna was brought up in a wealthy Roman family, and indeed at the age of 19 in 1978 she was kidnapped and held for ransom, 80 million lire, which allegedly was paid from the box office proceeds of the Star Wars movie’s Italian release. Attending racing school with her friend Elio de Angelis, she first entered Formula Abarth in 1981 before moving up to F3 in 1985 and into F3000 in 1987. Since then, though, her career has stalled somewhat, having failed to score a point in the series in five years. However, as a female driver she is a news story in her own right, and has managed to attract sponsorship to have a go at Formula One. Nobody in the paddock expects a lot, but most are hoping she will do well and open some doors.