The super technical world of F1 has been very good at achieving brilliant level of precision by employing the best talents across the globe, this means that being the best at what you do gets you into the world of F1. The obvious negative of this philosophy means that you are part of it only as long as you are the best at what you do. This is where the Minardi F1 team came in as a fresh breeze of air, being known to be the closest knit team in the F1, the employees were much more than just employees, they were part of a racing family and possessed a great sense of belonging. This unique culture brought Minardi a great deal of fans, though they weren’t the best of teams on the track.
Minardi’s 21-years in Formula 1 was nothing spectacular in terms of podiums, race wins or championship wins, the general report card of a Formula 1 team. They had none of these with their highest finish in a race being 4th and winning zero championships. To put things to perspective, in their 21-years in Formula one, they scored 38 points in over 345 races which averages at 1 point scored every 10 races! Then how is it that a team associated with the term “shoestring budget” with barely any performance over 21-years gather such strong fan following across the world ?
The story of Minardi is an impeccable story of an underdog, that fought for its existence every single race, right from finances to performance, it is a spectacle of what being driven by passion for the sport stood for. They were the arguably the most hospitable team in the paddock and displayed a great deal of passion and the team functioned as a family. Minardi remained high-spirited regardless of the difficulties they faced in a cold corporate world of Formula 1. They fought for the Sport, and survival of smaller teams at a time when Formula 1 was cannibalising smaller teams in favour of the big manufacturer run ones. This meant they had to ruffle a few feathers with the top bosses of F1 including Bernie Eccelstone and Max Mosely, but weren’t afraid to do so in a display of sheer character.
The Minardi team displayed the “underdog” principle even in selecting their drivers. They have been known to take on drivers who wouldn’t normally be overlooked by the big teams and could never end up at Formula 1. These could be drivers who haven’t really had much seat time in lower formula’s like in the case of Fernando Alonso who could display his sheer skill in a Formula 1 car with the opportunity given by Minardi. Mark Webber had never won a championship in any category prior to driving with Minardi, and he turned out to be a great teammate and the toughest competitor to multiple World Champion Sebastain Vettel.
The Minardi F1 team, was founded by Giancarlo Minardi in 1979, the Minardi family has had a long standing association with motorsports. Giancarlo Minardi’s father ran a Fiat dealership in Faenza, Italy since 1927. While Minardi Sr. competed with his own cars, Giancarlo Minardi took over the family’s racing business and would run customer owned Formula 2 cars under the name Scuderia Everest from 1972 to 1979 and would also end up running a customer owned Formula 1 Ferrari 312T with Giancarlo Martini.
Giancarlo Martini qualified 15th for the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch but failed to start after an accident in the first lap. Martini later competed at Silverstone in the BRDC International trophy, where he finished 10th. The regular participation of the team in Formula two races put Minardi on the map to recognition, and it went on to receive financial backing from a well known Italian motor racing patron Piero Mancini. With Piero Mancini’s financial backing, the Minardi Formula Two team was formed.
The Minardi team received moderate success in its Formula 2 outing. The four seasons in Formula Two was a mere preparation to enter the big league of Formula One. The team was building itself up to being more promising over every season and had built up enough sponsorship and financial backing to make its entry into Formula 1.
Minardi entered F1 in 1985 with the Caliri designed M184, which was the team’s prototype Formula 1 chassis which could be modified to also run Formula 3000 specifications. Further, the M184 chassis was designed keeping in mind the Alfa Romeo turbocharged V8 engine. But as Carlo Chiti from Alfa Romeo left to found Motori Moderni, Minardi decided to go with Chiti and source power units for its Formula 1 cars from Moderni instead. The relatively unproven power unit of Motori Moderni meant Minardi had to modify its new M185 chassis to fit the Cosworth DSV engine for the first two races of the 1985 season.
Minardi had a tough first year at Formula 1 running just one car with a underpowered engine and being struck with reliability issues throughout season. Minardi finished only two races in the whole season with its best result being 8th in the Australian Grand Prix.
The 1986 season saw Minardi equip itself with two cars on the grid. Minardi was being popularly know for promoting top racing talent of Italy and giving them their first taste at the big league of Formula 1. Some of the Italian drivers piloting the Minardi were Alessandro Nannini, Pierluigi Martini and Gianni Morbidelli. The team switched to Cosworth engines in 1988 season after having troubled times with Motori Moderni. They were also one of the first adopters of Pirelli on their return to Formula 1. The adopted Pirelli tyres came in handy in the 1990 US Grand Prix, where special tyres introduced by the Italian Pirelli saw Pierluigi Martin pilot his Minardi to a front row start.
Pierluigi Martini was also the driver who got most of his success in a Minardi and was instrumental in scoring the team’s first ever points in the 1988 Formula One United States Grand Prix, and then taking the team’s only front row start at the 1990 US Grand Prix. Martini was the driver piloting Minardi the only time they led a race even if it was for only one lap at the 1989 Portuguese grand prix, a race in which he finished just shy off the podium in 4th.
Year 1991 saw Minardi adopt customer engines, which is a pretty common phenomenon in today’s F1 world, but was quite a new concept back in 1991. Minardi would use engine from Ferrari for the 1991 season and go on to use a Lamborghini V12 engine for its 1992 season and boast about being an all-Italian Formula 1 outfit. The 1993 season was kind on Minardi with the Italian team scoring 7 points facilitated by Christian Fitttipaldi’s fourth place in 1993 South African Grand Prix, a fifth place in Monaco Grand Prix and sixth places in European Grand Prix and San Marino Grand Prix.
Money Woes and Turbulent times
Competition was scaling in the world of Formula 1 and small teams were shrinking. Minardi slipped from their hard earned midfield spot to the back of the grid. Money problems added to the team’s woes, which forced Minardi to join hands with BMS Scuderia Italia in an effort to keep itself afloat. Majority stake of 84.5% was sold to BMS Scuderia Italia while Minardi held a minority stake of 14.5%.
The 1994 season ended with a couple of fifth places and a sixth place for Minardi. Berinie Ecclestone’s persuaded Flavio Briatore to buy a share into the financially stricken Minardi team and this attracted a few timely sponsors for the team. Ever-piling cash troubles led Minardi to take on pay driver in the form of Gasto Mazzacane, who brought along the sponsorship of television channel Pan-American Sports Network.
The year 2001 saw Minardi move from an all Italian team to being an all European one, when Australian businessman Paul Stoddart purchased the team and merged it with his European Racing Formula 3000 team. Minardi had a rather successful beginning to the 2002 season as the young Australian Mark Webber brought the car home in 5th place in his first ever F1 drive and pay driver Alex Yoong finished 7th in the Australian Grand Prix.
The 2003 season had a rather interesting claim from the Minardi owner Paul Stoddart, who said that Minardi could have won in the Brazilian Grand Prix had the team’s lead driver Jos Verstappen not spun out just before the race was red flagged. Paul Stoddart insisted that Jos had enough fuel to last him the time till the race was red flagged. How much truth there was to Paul Stoddart’s statement was anyone’s guess as the Australian businessman had built quite a reputation for himself as being quite the politician in the paddock. He tried to favour his causes by fabricating gentleman agreements among teams in paddock. In one of his popular agreements he insisted that the smaller teams should get engines at cheaper prices from the Works teams, and the smaller teams would in turn support Works teams when it came to opposing rule changes from FIA.
In another popular effort, Paul Stoddart called for the resignation of FIA president Max Mosely, in relation to the 2005 US Grand Prix, where majority of the teams running Michelin tyres withdrew from the race citing safety concerns, when Stoddart had agreed to compromise with the Michelin teams in spite of running Bridgestone tyres in his cars, which was promptly rejected by Max Mosely
Current avatar of the Minardi team
The vicious financial problems started haunting Paul Stoddart and Paul famously announced in 2005 that he would consider selling the team if he found a worth enough buyer. His condition for selling the team was that the new owners should move the team forward in its competitiveness and hire a completely new set of people leaving behind the current Minardi employees.
Energy drink giant Red Bull decided to take up the offer though they already had an established team in F1 under its name sake, they would use the new team as a promoter of up and coming talent to F1. The announcement of Red Bull purchasing the Minardi came out in September of 2005, which led Minardi fans from around the world to start an online petition to save the Minardi name and its 20-year-long motorsport heritage. Sadly, the petition did not gather any ground and it led to the Minardi team to be renamed as Scuderia Toro Rosso for the 2006 season.
The improved financial support from Red Bull resulted in improved competitiveness of the Toro Rosso team. It was in 2008 when Toro Rosso claimed its maiden win at the Italian Grand Prix, the land that brought us the Minardi F1 team in the first place.
Cover image source, Video source: YouTube