Luigi Fagioli

If Fagioli was around today he could, inevitably, have gained the nickname "Mr Bean" for the word "fagioli" means "beans" in Italian. In the company of Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, Alberto Ascari and Gigi Villoresi, Luigi Fagioli was often overlooked but in the 1930s he was one of the top drivers of the day, quite capable of competing with (and beating) Rudi Caracciola.

Fagioli was born in a small village near Ancona and trained as an accountant. He was fascinated from an early age by the new automobiles he saw everywhere and in 1926 - at the age of 27 - he started competing at the wheel of an old French Salmson voiturette. Using this he learned to race in hillclimbs and races across Italy. By 1928 he had attracted the attention of the Maserati Brothers and raced a Maserati on the Targa Florio. He was soon known as "The Abuzzi Robber" because of his swarthy appearance and wild temperament which sometimes got a little out of control. But he was a winner and in 1930 won the Coppa Ciano and the Circuito di Avellino for Maserati, followed by the Monza GP of 1931 and the Rome GP in 1932.

In 1933 Nuvolari decided to leave Ferrari to join Maserati and Fagioli did the opposite to race Alfa Romeos for Enzo Ferrari. He soon won the Coppa Acerbo and followed up with victory in the Italian GP. This got him noticed by the big German teams and in 1934 he was taken on by Mercedes-Benz and teamed up with Manfred von Brauchitsch and Rudolf Caracciola. Things did not go well as team manager Alfred Neubauer ordered Fagioli to move over for Brauchitsch in the very first race, at which point the Italian parked his car in disgust. It became clear that he could win races only if a German could not and he made the most of his chances, winning the Coppa Acerbo, the Spanish and Monza Grands Prix and in 1935 the Monaco GP, AVUS and Penya Rhin races as well.

Then began a series of clashes with Caracciola. He was by then already in difficulties with rheumatism but in 1937 he signed for Auto Union eager to beat Mercedes-Benz and in Tripoli was so incensed with Caracciola's driving that he attacked him with a wheel hammer.

He was not seen racing again before the war but in 1950 he returned to the sport at the age of 52, his rheumatism much better, and raced for the Alfa Romeo factory team, finishing on the podium in all but one race and finishing third in the World Championship. His final Grand Prix was in 1951 when he shared a car with Juan-Manuel Fangio to win the French Grand Prix. He thus gained the distinction of being the oldest man ever to win a World Championship event.

The following year he signed to drive for Lancia in sportscars and finished third in the Mille Miglia (ahead of Caracciola). Soon afterwards he crashed a Lancia in a supporting race at Monaco and broke a hand and a leg. Three weeks later he died of complications from his injuries.