Michele Alboreto killed

THE Grand Prix fraternity was left reeling tonight after Michele Alboreto, one of the great Italian Ferrari drivers of the contemporary era, was killed testing an Audi R8 sports car at the Lauzitring, near Dresden.

At the height of his career, Alboreto was tipped as the man most likely to become the first Italian world champion driver since the legendary Alberto Ascari took back-to-back titles in 1952-53.

Given his formula one break by eagle-eyed British team chief Ken Tyrrell, Alboreto repaid his faith by scoring a well-judged maiden victory in the 1982 Las Vegas grand prix, the second such event to be held in the Nevada gambling resort on a makeshift circuit round the car park of the Caesars Palace casino.

He followed that up with another victory for Tyrrell through the streets of Detroit the following summer and it was partly on the strength of these successes that the octogenarian Enzo Ferrari put aside his reservations about employing Italian drivers and signed Alboreto for 1984.

The 44-year old won five grands prix from 194 starts between 1981 and 94, but never came close to matching his achievements as a member of the Ferrari team of which he was a member for five seasons from the start of 1984.

The following year he emerged as a genuine championship contender, winning both the Canadian and German grands prix to fend off McLaren rival Prost for much of the season.

Unfortunately a late season spate of engine failures undermined his challenge and Prost overhauled him to win the championship. Alboreto remained at Ferrari for the next three seasons, but never won another grand prix and was eventually replaced by Nigel Mansell as Gerhard Berger's team-mate at the start of 1989.

Briefly he returned to Tyrrell, but clashing sponsorship interests meant that Alboreto left the team in the middle of the season, but not before he had reminded the formula one fraternity of his talent with an impressive run to third place in the Mexican grand prix.

He switched to the Larrousse team for the balance of the season then moved to the Footwork Arrows squad where he spent the next fruitless three seasons, scoring just a handful of championship points.

In 1993 he moved to the uncompetitive Scuderia Italia Lola-Ferrari team and enjoyed his formula one swansong with Minardi in 1994, scoring the final championship point of his career with sixth place at Monaco.

Thereafter Alboreto's career saw him concentrate on saloon and sports cars, winning the 1997 Le Mans 24-hours classic in a Porsche, teamed with Stefan Johansson and Tom Kristensen. He was subsequently involved with the Audi sports car racing programme through to the time of his death.

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