F1’s last female racer had little luck RaceFans

Three full decades have now passed since the last time a female racing driver was hired to race for a Formula 1 team.

But Giovanna Amati’s time at Brabham proved brief and never saw her start a race. She was widely considered to have been promoted beyond a level for which she was prepared. She also had the misfortune to arrive in a team that was out of steam and would crumble just four months after Amati’s last appearance for them.

After taking Nelson Piquet to the Drivers’ Championship in 1983, Brabham’s descent was surprisingly fast. Just five years later it disappeared from the grid – owner Bernie Ecclestone having gradually lost interest in a team that had only won three races in the meantime, and increasingly preoccupied with building its F1 empire.

He sold the team to Joachim Luthi, who returned it to F1 in 1989, but was later arrested for fraud. Nonetheless, Brabham’s season had its bright spots – particularly on the slower tracks which favored its Pirelli tires over the Goodyears used by faster rivals. This helped Stefano Modena reach the podium at that year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Brabham’s BT60Y was prone to alarming breakdowns

The team was sold to Formula 3000 team Middlebridge on the eve of the 1990 season, and its future looked brighter after securing a three-year contract to run Yamaha’s V12 engines from the ‘Next year. However, due to the global economic climate at the time, a series of F1 teams went to the wall, and Brabham was not spared.

As his financial problems worsened in 1991, designer Sergio Rinland left planned innovations – such as a semi-automatic gearbox and ride height controller – on the drawing board. But that was the least of the team’s worries.

“Twice in 1991 I sat at the Brabham factory waiting for my check to be reissued because my paycheck bounced,” recalled Mark Blundell, one of the drivers for the team that year, in an interview for RaceFans. The rest of the team also had to wait for their paycheck.

The team had already compromised the stiffness of its BT60Y chassis while rectifying a design error, Blundell explained. He and teammate Martin Brundle also suffered a series of alarming suspension failures, which suggested that important suspension parts were not refreshed as often as they needed to to save money.

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The team turned to Yamaha to help them find Japanese sponsors, with some success, but the manufacturer was unimpressed with the situation and ended their deal, agreeing terms with the impressive new Jordan team for 1992. In September, Brabham agreed a deal to manage Judd. motors as a customer. This meant that paid drivers would be needed.

Brundle was already on his way to Benetton and Blundell was also fired. Brabham announced that Eric van de Poele – who had spent 1991 largely failing to coax his Modena onto the grid – would take one of their seats, bringing sponsorship from LeasePlan.

His teammate was expected to be Akihiko Nakaya, the 1988 Japanese Formula 3 champion who had recently won his first victory in the country’s Formula 3000 series and grossed $8 million in sponsorship. But that plan ran into a problem over the weeks leading up to the 1992 season.

Unfortunately for Brabham and Nakaya, the FIA ​​rejected Nakaya’s application for a superlicence less than a month before the start of the season, judging that he lacked the necessary experience to drive in the grands prix. Desperate for a driver, Brabham found one who the FIA ​​said had suitable experience – and who the team quickly realized would bring them plenty of useful publicity.

Amati raced in Italian F3 before reaching F3000

As a teenager, Giovanna Amati had traveled to the Vallelunga circuit near her hometown of Rome to observe Elio de Angelis (who, in a tragic coincidence, died testing a Brabham in 1986). Following his encouragement, Amati enlisted in the track Henry Morrogh Racing Driver School and began a career single-seater racing, entering Formula Abarth and the Italian F3 series. Although she only picked up a handful of points in the latter over three years, she upgraded to F3000 in 1987.

Here, too, the selections were slim, although by 1991 she had become a regular qualifier and earned a better finish of seventh. His results may not have shown Nakaya’s promise, but the FIA ​​approved his superlicense and Brabham got his wife. On this day, February 5, 30 years ago, she signed the contract with Brabham director Dennis Nursey.

Amati achieved his goal of reaching F1 against huge odds. No team had entered a woman for a round of the world championship since Desire Wilson got a Williams client to drive at the 1980 British Grand Prix.

It also marked the fulfillment of a goal she had pursued for more than a decade, ever since a dark chapter in her life in the late seventies. Amati came from a family that owned a lucrative chain of cinemas in Rome, and in 1978 she was the target of kidnappers.

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After being loaded into a van outside the family home, Amati was held captive for 74 days until a ransom of 800 million lira – just over half a million pounds to be paid. the time – be paid. She later denied various lurid claims that were made in contemporary reports, including that the 18-year-old had fallen in love with her captor.

Brazil was Amati’s third and final Brabham appearance

Amati’s Formula 1 debut, aided by a $3 million sponsorship, thrust her back into the public spotlight. At the season-opening round in South Africa, the only riders who received greater media interest were Ayrton Senna, recently crowned champion for the third time, and Nigel Mansell, whose form of pre-season indicated that the title was finally within reach. For Amati, the attention became increasingly unwelcome, however, with photographers demanding that she smile for their cameras and journalists asking what kind of career motor racing was for a woman.

Brabham’s lack of funds meant that no pre-season testing had been possible. Amati’s only F1 experience was a brief race in a Benetton a few years earlier. As the others set out to experience the remodeled Kyalami Circuit on Thursday, Amati was also familiarizing himself with his Brabham for the first time.

The car’s shortcomings had not been ameliorated by having been forced to convert to accept a Judd engine, nor by a mandatory switch to Goodyear rubber after Pirelli’s departure from F1. A loss of fuel pressure forced her to take the backup car on Saturday. Many riders spun on the slippery surface throughout the build-up to the race, and Amati contributed several laps herself.

So it was no surprise that Amati failed to qualify by a long shot – almost four seconds. To everyone’s surprise, Van de Poele managed to win, by only nine hundredths of a second, thanks to the bad luck of Modena whose Jordan-Yamaha encountered technical problems.

It would be the only race he started for Brabham, despite having prior knowledge of the tracks ahead, which his teammate lacked. In Mexico, both Brabhams failed to qualify, for the first time in the team’s 31-year history. Amati again missed the cut by four seconds and was 2.9 seconds behind Van de Poele.

Amati suffered a litany of misfortunes in Brazil, including a water leak, loss of oil pressure, cracked exhaust and shifting issues. The result was that she failed to qualify by almost six seconds; Van de Poele was also absent.

Hill fared better in the dismal Brabham BT60B

Meanwhile, Brabham’s financial situation was becoming increasingly precarious. As a required payment from Amati failed to materialise, team owners Alolice (formerly known as Middlebridge) opted to replace her with Damon Hill, who had raced for them in an F3000.

But Brabham’s story didn’t have much of a sequel. En route to the Circuit de Catalunya, its transporters were stopped at Le Perthus on the border between France and Spain, and were only released when the team left one of its spare cars as a guarantee for a current loan.

Although Van de Poele never put the car back on the grid, Hill did, at Silverstone and the Hungaroring. He was the team’s only participant in the latter, and it marked a Brabham’s last appearance in a grand prix, following which the team eventually went into receivership.

Amati then raced in sports cars in various series throughout the 90s. However, she is invariably known to motorsport fans as the last woman to tackle a Grand Prix weekend as a competitor. And while it’s hard to refute the claim that she wasn’t up to the job, she didn’t have the preparation or equipment to make a decent attempt at her three-race opportunity.

Today’s points-based FIA superlicense system is not without its flaws and arguably remains too weighted in favor of European series. But it guarantees F1 newcomers a higher level of experience than Amati.

In recent years, the W Series and the FIA ​​Girls on Track program have emerged to provide much-needed promotion for young female racers. The next woman to reach F1 should therefore have a better chance of success than Amati, and will hopefully do so before the 40th anniversary of her debut.

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