Features - Interview
MAY 1, 1991
BY JOE SAWARD
Gianni comes from a famous engineering family in Italy. His father built racing motorcycles in the 1970s and early 1980s winning a total of six World Championships in the 125cc and 250cc classes with riders Pierpaolo Bianchi, Paolo Pileri, Mario Lega and Eugenio Lazzarini. Growing up surrounded by competition activity Gianni decided to begin kart racing when he was 13 and he was soon recruited by the factory teams and scored over 50 karting victories. In 1987 he took the unusual step of leaping straight into the Formula 3 Championship and was signed up by Paolo Pavanello to be a member of the Euroracing Junior Team. He finished sixth in the Italian championship in his first season and, for 1988, moved to the Forti team and in 1989 he won the Italian title. He moved into Formula 3000 with Forti but his talent had been spotted by Ferrari and he was signed as a test driver.
At the start of 1990 he made his Formula 1 debut when Scuderia Italia needed a replacement for Emanuele Pirro in Phoenix and Brazil. At the end of the year he was asked by Giancarlo Minardi to replace Paolo Barilla.
"My rise to Formula 1 was very quick," he says, "and when that happens people say this driver has money and important friends. I don't like that. When I started to race in Formula 3 I told my father that this was my work. I said thank you for your help, but I want to race without it. I want to prove myself so I went out and found some sponsors. In my second year I did not take money to the team. For me that was very important. In my third year Forti paid me. That was very good. It was very satisfying to do be in a profession you like, and to get paid to do it. It was very important to me to be independent from my family."
In the same way as being branded a rich kid, when Gianni became a Ferrari driver, critics suggested that he was only in F1 because of his connection to the famed team.
"I am very happy with Ferrari. They have given me a great help. If I am with Minardi this year it is thanks to Ferrari because Cesare Fiorio gave me the possibility. I think I work well for Ferrari and this is a two-way thing. This year is an important season for me, my first full year in F1. I am very young. You arrive in F1 and people say he is only here because of Ferrari so it is important to demonstrate that I have the potential.
"To think I can drive for Ferrari is an illusion because you need a top driver a driver with experience, a debutant driver is absolutely impossible. I have a contract with Ferrari for three years - this is the second year. It is important for me because in Italy there is Ferrrai and behind them there are the others. Ferrari is the star. I think the people knew me more when I was at Ferrari last year than this year with Minardi.
"I was very lucky that when I worked in Formula 3 I had a very good team. I worked with Paolo Guerci and he gave me a lot of good technical knowledge. I learned a lot from him. Guido Forti is for me is like a secomd father. I am very thankful to him because he gave me a lot of help to get to F1.
"It's incredible being in Formula 1 at 21, but 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 and you can see that they have gone a little bit crazy. It is not a good thing. When I was racing in karts I never thought it would be possible to be in F1. Now I am here and my objective is to work well and to give my best. There is still a lot to be done, but I think it is now possible to demonstrate the potential of Minardi. It is a team of enthusiasts and this is important to me.