NEWS FEATURE

Gianni Morbidelli joins Ferrari

This year is Gianni Morbidelli's first full season of Formula 1. He is not the youngest F1 driver, nor is he the best-known of his generation, but in Adelaide he finished third on the road - driving a Ferrari.

When Morbidelli arrived in Adelaide on the Tuesday before the Grand Prix he was expecting to drive for Minardi as he has done all season.

'I arrived in Adelaide on Tuesday,' says Gianni, 'and Ferrari called me in my hotel room at 11 o'clock that night and said that there was a possibility for me to race for Ferrari. It's incredible, really. After Suzuka I was on holiday for a week at Port Douglas in Queensland. Alain Prost was there and we met sometimes, but we didn't talk about racing. We were on holiday. I didn't know anything was going on.

'It was a big opportunity for me and a big occasion, but I knew my responsibility and it was a big responsibility. I didn't have a problem with that, because I knew the team very well and I knew the car from the testing.

'All the same, wearing the Ferrari overalls in the pits at Adelaide was very different from doing a test. When you test you don't have pressure. There are not many people about. I just didn't want to think about what had happened, I just wanted to stay calm.

'I had a big feeling of satisfaction. I am only 23 years old. It is a good step, no?'

"A good step" is something of an understatement, but Gianni's career in single seater racing has been meteoric, from the moment he jumped straight from kart racing into Italian F3.

'I didn't think that was such a big step,' explains Gianni, 'because for me F3 is the best school. It was hard but if you choose a good team, and you have the chance to test, it is possible to do well. I had a lot of good results in my first year.

'When that happens people say this driver has money or important friends, whatever. I don't like that. When I started to race in F3 I told my father that this was my work. I said thank you for his help in karting, but I wanted to race without his assistance. I wanted to prove myself so I went out and found some sponsors. In my second year I did not take money to the team - and that was important for me.

'Then in my third year of F3, the Forti team paid me. That was very good because it is very satisfying to be in a profession you like - and get paid to do it. It was important to me to be independent from my family.'

'Guido Forti is like a second father to me and he gave me a lot of help to get into F1.

'I also worked with Forti engineer Paolo Guerci and he gave me a lot of good technical knowledge.'

Morbidelli won the Italian F3 title with Forti in 1989 and then moved with the team into F3000. At the same time he was hired by Ferrari to be the team's test driver.

'I have a contract with Ferrari for three years - this is the second year. It is an important thing. In Italy there is Ferrari and behind them there are all the others. Ferrari is the star. 'Ferrari gave me a lot of help. I was with Minardi this year thanks to Ferrari. Cesare Fiorio gave me the opportunity. I think I worked well as a test driver for Ferrari and it has been a two-way thing.

'This year I haven't done many kilometres for Ferrari, but last year I think I did five or six thousand kilometres. This year it was less. Maybe two thousand because I only drove in Mugello twice, once in Fiorano and in Estoril recently for three days.

'This year I had two jobs. I was a test driver for Ferrari and when I raced I was working for Minardi. It was good experience for me, because I got kilometres in F1.

'It has been an important season for me. It is my first full year in F1 and I am still very young. You need to keep your feet on the ground. It's important to stay the same. I sometimes look at people who have had some success. They go a little bit crazy. It is not a good thing.'

It was not easy at Minardi with the team short of money and testing.

'Our problem early in the season was the clutch,' explains Gianni. 'There was a lot to be done, but I think in recent races we demonstrated the potential of Minardi. It is a team of enthusiasts and this is important to me.'

But Adelaide was his big break, and Gianni grasped the opportunity with both hands. He qualified eighth, alongside Jean Alesi on the grid and, despite the dreadful conditions, drove a steady race. He had climbed to third place when the red flag was shown. In the final classification - taken a lap before the red flag was shown - he was only sixth.

'It was very dangerous,' he explains. 'There were many incidents and it was impossible to see the track. Really it was incredible. I couldn't do a good race. It was very easy to make a mistake so I decided to go very carefully and not make any mistakes. I would have preferred to race in the sunshine, but the people at Ferrari are happy with my performance and, for me, that is a big satisfaction.

'I was disappointed to be sixth, because I finished the race in third. Morally, I was third, but it is better to get on the podium by finishing an 80-lap race rather than 15 laps like it was today.

'Still,' he adds, 'it was better to have half a point than to break my bones, which might have happened today because it was so dangerous.

'This weekend will be a very good memory. I think it has been the best three days of my life.'

And what of the future?

'I don't think my immediate future is with Ferrari,' explains Gianni. 'This was just for one race. I don't want to think about next year.

'You know,' he adds, 'just before Adelaide, I spoke with the Forti team to see if there was a possibility to race in F3000 next year. Finding an F1 drive for next year will be a problem...'

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