INTERVIEW

Giovanna in the spotlight: Giovanna Amati

Being a woman racing driver in Formula 1 racing means that you are the centre of attention. You have to perform or else you are quickly written off. Giovanna Amati has been struggling to show the F1 circus that she has what it takes.

Giovanna has not had it easy. Her deal with the troubled Brabham team was signed at the very last minute, so there was no time for any testing before the World Championship began. In South Africa and Mexico Giovanna did not qualify.

"I feel a bit sad," she says. "I thought that I could qualify the car, but you know there are many problems which do not belong to me. We have had a lot of trouble together: the team, the car and me. The team is trying very hard, they are doing the best they can, and it's not easy for them with a small budget to offer the driver the best. But I am sure that we have the best we can get at the moment.

"The timing of my arrival was not the best because at the moment I am learning. I was late signing and I have less F1 mileage than everyone else.

"I have to learn and do my best and if that cannot happen, it will be experience. It has been a big experience for me to have run at Kyalami and in Mexico. We are improving a bit, but these races have been my testing. So far I have only done only one GP distance in the car. That is all. Anyway I'm not happy. I am sad for myself and for the team. I know they understand it is not my fault, and there are many reasons for what has happened so far, but I don't like to justify things. I want to qualify and fight for the mid-grid at least. It is just not possible at the moment.

"I thought it would be difficult and it is. I am not racing with newcomers. I am up against very professional people with lots of experience. Look at Michele Alboreto, how long has he driven in F1? And Nigel Mansell? I remember he was Elio de Angelis's team mate at Lotus, and Elio used to call him mans, which in Italian means someone who is not aggressive, really quiet. Look at him now, he is a different driver."

And being a woman in F1?

Giovanna sighs.

"I have been answering this question so many times," she says. "I always say the same thing. I am a racing driver. The only difference I noticed is the interest of the media. The biggest problem I have is that I am at the centre of attention - because I am a woman. It is not easy for me. I want people to forget that I am here. I want them to say: "Who is this blonde girl?". It is difficult to keep your concentration with all the media attention. Sometimes I am not nice about it. In South Africa there were photographers who insulted me because I did not smile at them. Come on, I am not here at smile to them! They expected me to be a glamour girl, who is always available and smiling. I am a racing driver like everyone else, maybe with more problems than the others.

"Actually," she adds, "I thought the attitude in F1 towards me would be worse. Maybe I don't notice. Maybe there is a lot of gossip, I don't know. People are nice with me and I didn't expect that. I thought everybody would put up a wall because I was a woman."

Do the drivers treat her differently on the track?

"In Mexico I had a fight with Mansell. I thought that the day I had Mansell behind me in qualifying I would just get out of his way, but then I saw him in my mirrors and I thought: "No, I won't let you overtake. If I do, I will get rubber on my tyres. You have to wait." I have had to wait. Why couldn't he wait for me. Plus I was angry because he was Nigel Mansell and can easily do another good lap, but not me.

"He was very angry with me and pushed me. I did not give way. He overtook me and slowed down. That made me so angry."

In the past women drivers have complained that because they are women the male drivers think they can be intimidated. Some have found themselves braking later than all the men - just to prove themselves. Does this happen to Giovanna?

"I brake where I want to brake," she says. "I brake as late as I can. I do not have some of the problems which others have had. I feel female off the track, but when I am on it I am a racing driver."

And what about the physical aspects of the job? It is hard for the men, it must be very hard for a woman?

"Yes it is,' she admits, "but always, when you go to the limit, it is hard - even in Formula 3."

Given how hard it is, why did Giovanna go racing? It is a strange career path for a woman.

"Why do you ask?" she retorts. "Do you ask everyone the same question?"

When there is a new driver, you tend to ask them how they started. It is a normal question.

"Who knows?" she says. "I don't know. I like it, I like to drive, I like to find the limits and I like the risk. That was not what pushed me to start, I just had a big passion for engines, for cars, motorbikes and I used to go to the races at Vallelunga from when I was 13 or 14. I was a good friend of Elio de Angelis, because he came from Rome and we were friends from childhood. He had succeeded in motor racing and he always saw me watching others driving and I was sad not to be racing. I'm not the kind of person who likes to watch. There are people who watch and people or do. I am one of the latter category. Elio saw me like this and he offered to help. He told me I could do it, so I started and I found I could. At the beginning everyone was surprised because I was fast, but I'm not someone who says: "Oh good, look how quick I am". I am someone who says: "I missed some tenths. I have had pole positions in my career and each time I said to myself: "Maybe I could get some more time here are there, maybe I could be three-tenths quicker"."

So you are a perfectionist?

"Oh yes,' she laughs. 'I'm a pain in the arse on myself. I am never happy with myself, even at home, I like everything to be perfect. I like order. I always ask a lot from myself and sometimes I ask a lot from the people around me."

What was the most satisfying thing in her career to date? Was it racing in Formula 3000?

"No, I got much more satisfaction in Formula 3," she says. "There was only occasional satisfaction in F3000. I remember my debut. I didn't know the car or the track and I was on the fifth row on the grid. I have to thank Pierluigi Martini for that. He explained the track to me inch by inch and I went out in the car and it was good. The mechanics didn't do anything, they just put the car on the ground and I set the time. Everyone was wondering who I was. Even Martini was behind me. In the race Jean Alesi spent the whole time behind me! Actually I have never had a winning car, except maybe in Formula 3 and then I had Alex Caffi, Nicola Larini, Luis Sala and Stefano Modena against me."

Amati has the reputation for having a fiery temperament.

"Do I?' she asks. "I am calm. Don't I look calm? Sometimes I lose my temper because I want more performance."

So what does she want from this year. What does she hope to achieve?

"I want to do some good races," she says. "I cannot tell you that I want to finish in the points because I am so far away from that. If I say that people will laugh. When I said I wanted to be a racing driver, they laughed, but they don't laugh any more.

"What I really want is to do a whole season unnoticed."

Come what may, Amati can be proud to have made it to Formula 1. Thousands of drivers dream of making it to the big time, but few ever get there. How did she celebrate when she signed the Brabham deal?

"I used to think that if I got into F1 I would have a big party and invite all my friends but I felt nothing," she explains. "Well, after I signed the deal and Dennis Nursey left the room - for maybe 30 seconds I did a little dance. Where no-one could see me. But when I saw the car for the first time, I thought: "It's not such a big thing, it's just a car. You've done it before. You can do it again"."

"It's just another step."

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