Johnny Cecotto

Johnny Cecotto was the son of Italian immigrants who settled in Venezuela before he was born. His father raced motorcycles, winning the Venezuelan national title before settling down to run a garage in Caracas. It was perhaps inevitable that he would buy Johnny a motorcycle when he was still in his teens and the youngster started to race with a 750cc Honda. He was then offered an ex-works 750cc Kawasaki and he was so quick that the Venezuelan Yamaha importer made him an offer which set him on the path to the FIM World Motorcycling Championship. In 1975 Cecotto became the 350cc World Champion for Yamaha and in 1978 he won a second title in the 750cc class.

In 1981, at the age of 25 Cecotto decided that it was time to switch to car racing and joined the Minardi team in Formula 2, racing a Ferrari-engined Minardi. Johnny was quick and at the end of his first full season in cars found himself negotiating for a Formula 1 drive with Fittipaldi Automotive. That deal did not work out and in 1982 he was back in Formula 2 with the factory March team, being engineered by a talented young engineer called Adrian Newey. He came second in the European Formula 2 title behind his team mate Corrado Fabi.

In 1983 he moved into F1 with Theodore but was unable to make much of an impression in his first year. He did enough however to attract the attention of Toleman and for 1984 he was signed to drive for the team alongside a young Brazilian called Ayrton Senna. It was not easy staying ahead of Senna and at the British GP Cecotto pushed too hard in qualifying and crashed head-on into a guardrail at Brands Hatch. The barrier was moved back five feet in the 100mph impact. Ceceotto suffered broken ankles and a dislocated knee which effectively ended his hopes of an F1 career.

He returned to racing in touring cars in the mid-1980s, building himself a new career with the Volvo touring car team in 1986. In 1987 he switched to BMW which resulted in the German title in 1998 and victory at the Spa 24 Hours in 1990.