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One off Grand Prix winners: Lorenzo Bandini Austria 1964

Submitted by on June 29, 2011

Monaco 1965For many people Lorenzo Bandini represented the ultimate Italian GP driver with his matinée idol good looks and shock of black hair, but he was actually born in Libya on December 21st 1935 (Libya being an Italian colony at that time). In 1939 his family moved back to the mother country to live near Florence. When Lorenzo was just 15 his father died and he was forced to become the family bread winner, moving to Milan to start an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. Before long he was spending his spare time racing motorbikes before a successful move to cars in 1958.

For any hot-shot young driver in the late 50′s, Formula Junior was the place to get noticed and Lorenzo was no exception. By 1960 many had indeed taken notice as he finished 4th in the incredibly competitive Formula Junior World Championship. When the new FISA team announced that they would be entering a Formula 1 Ferrari for a young Italian driver in 61, Bandini seemed to be the obvious choice. But it wasn’t to be, the team choosing Giancarlo Baghetti instead. Undaunted, Bandini was offered a F1 debut with a Scuderia Centro Sud Cooper. Things started well with a 3rd place podium finish in the non-championship Pau GP and Lorenzo made his F1 World Championship debut at Spa. Ferrari had seen enough to be impressed and he was offered a full works drive for 1962. Making his Ferrari debut at Monaco, Bandini amazed many with a mature drive to third place.

With the Ferrari team in turmoil following the mass defection of many of it’s top personnel to set up the new ATS team at the end of a disastrous 62 season, Bandini found himself relocated to the Scuderia’s sports car squad for 1963. Once again he demonstrated great tenacity and professionalism not only by keeping his hand in in F1 via a Centro Sud BRM, but also by making the most of his lot and winning the greatest sports car race of them all, the Le Mans 24 hours with Scarfiotti. Enzo Ferrari was forced to have a re-think and bought Lorenzo back into his F1 team for Monza and the following final 3 GP of the World Championship season.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that competitiveness returned with stability in the Ferrari squad for 1964 and Bandini found himself as permanent number two to John Surtees for the whole season. The red Italian cars had fought with the Lotus and BRM’s early in the season, but the German GP had seen Surtees and Bandini finish 1st and 3rd respectively. There has scarcely been more of a contrast in circuits between the mighty Nurburgring and the track which would mark the first World Championship Austrian GP.

The Zeltweg circuit was marked out by straw bales laid around a military airfield. The previous year had seen Jack Brabham win a non-championship race at the track, but now a full GP field marked it’s entry into the World Championship. The 3.2 km circuit resembled a mirror image L shape, incorporating both the runway and concrete perimeter tracks. And there-in lay a problem. The “road” surface was incredibly bumpy, car after car breaking it’s suspension and/or steering throughout both practice and the race. Graham Hill was the only driver to break the 1 minute 10 second barrier to put his BRM on pole position, Bandini would start from 7th on the grid.

At the start of the race Dan Gurney’s Brabham was dicing with Surtees for the lead with Bandini lying third after a great start. Behind them all hell broke out as cars retired or pitted left, right and centre mostly with suspension problems. Before long Lorenzo was forced (unsuccessfully) to fight off Jim Clark as he tried to make up from a bad start, but he was still in third position as Big John’s Ferrari’s rear suspension had collapsed. However, Bandini was a patient man and his patience would soon be rewarded. First a driveshaft in Clark’s Lotus cried enough and then Gurney was forced to pit to have the front of his car checked after it began feeling odd. Dan would only complete one more lap before the front suspension totally fell to bits. Now Lorenzo found himself in the lead of the GP from Ginther’s BRM, but there was still half of the race left to run. Would the Ferrari hold together?

Still the other cars continued to fall by the wayside. On lap 59 Phil Hill lost control of his Cooper and slammed into the bales. Within seconds both the car and the straw were consumed by a huge fire, but miraculously, Hill had managed to scramble clear. As he passed the scene, little did Bandini know that he would be involved in much the same scenario less than 3 years later, but with a much different outcome. As the chequered flag fell to mark Lorenzo’s first World Championship GP win, Ginther was just over 6 seconds behind. Third place finisher Bob Anderson was 3 laps behind. The man who had been chosen in front of Bandini back in 61 (Giancarlo Baghetti) was 7th, his BRM being 9 laps down. Never again would the Zeltweg aerodrome be used for a World Championship GP. With the coming of Jochen Rindt (he had made his GP debut at the 64 race), the Austrian’s soon began work on creating a purpose built racetrack up in the surrounding hills. The Osterriechring would become one of the world’s greatest GP circuits and would see both Rindt and Niki Lauda become Austrian World Champions.

In 1964 Surtees would take a win and two seconds in the remaining three GP to win the world title. Bandini’s fourth place finish in the final table would help Ferrari to take the constructor’s crown. In 65 only the BRM’s of Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart could get anywhere near Jim Clark’s championship winning Lotus. Surtees and Bandini finished 5th and 6th, Lorenzo once again starring at Monaco where he was only beaten by “Mr Monaco” Graham Hill. Now it was time for the drivers and teams to focus on a new set of regulations which would see engine capacity doubled to 3 litres for the 1966 season.

As happened so often in the history of F1, Ferrari seemed to be the team most capable of being prepared for a new formula. Yet again Lorenzo finished second at Monaco in the first GP of the season. In the second GP at Spa, Surtees and Bandini finished 1st and 3rd, but then came a typical Ferrari pantomime. Surtees had a massive falling out with team manager Dragoni at Le Mans and (despite Bandini begging him to re-think) Big John walked out to drive for Cooper. Lorenzo found himself as the Scuderia’s number one, but by now he was a mature driver and many saw him as a possible championship contender for the incredibly open 1967 season.

Ferrari sat out the first GP of the season (South Africa held on January 2nd!), but Bandini was right on the button when the teams arrived in Monaco. He put his car on the front row of the grid, only reigning World Champion Jack Brabham being faster in practice. When Louis Chiron dropped the flag, Lorenzo shot off into the lead. Meanwhile, Brabham’s engine didn’t last a lap and spread an oil slick around much of the track. Seeing the oil, the marshals dumped a large quantity of cement dust on the approach to the chicane and when Bandini arrived at the scene he found himself enveloped in a huge dust cloud. By the time he came back into clear air, he found himself in third behind Hulme’s Brabham and Stewart’s BRM. The Scotsman had just taken the lead when his BRM failed leaving Hulme and Bandini scrapping with Surtees’ Honda for the lead. By half distance only Hulme and Bandini were left and the Italian was catching the Kiwi fast, but then the heat started to take effect. The bear like Hulme seemed able to carry on regardless, but Lorenzo looked to be getting tired hauling the big Ferrari around the narrow streets. With 18 laps left to run, Bandini clipped the barrier at the chicane. The Ferrari came to rest upside down in amongst the straw bales and (just like Phil Hill’s crash at Zeltweg) the whole lot was soon involved in a massive conflagration. This time there was no escape for Lorenzo, his screams being audible to the crowd as the race carried on. Eventually the fire was extinguished and Bandini’s horrendously burnt body was removed from the wreckage. He was still alive, but the human body cannot sustain such comprehensive burns and three days later, in the Princess Grace Hospital within sight of some of his greatest racing triumphs around the streets of Monaco, he succumbed to his injuries.

Lorenzo Bandini’s funeral was held in Reggiolo on May 13th 1967 and 100,000 people attended to mark the passing of a great Italian hero.

by Mel Turbutt

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