16 December 2017

Fascinating F1 Fact: 19

Aurelius Ambrosius was Bishop of Milan in the Fourth Century. Eventually he was canonized and is known in English as Saint Ambrose. The folk in Milan call him Sant’Ambroeus, and he is their patron saint and it was for this reason that in 1951 a group of like-minded individuals got together established a racing team called Scuderia Sant’Ambroeus. It was all about Milan, just as the earlier Scuderia Ambrosiana, set up in 1937 by Count Giovanni Lurani, Luigi Villoresi and Franco Cortese, had been.

Scuderia Sant’Ambroeus was the idea of a 42-year-old heir to cosmetics business by the name of Eugenio Dragoni. He had tried racing in his youth, but concluded that he was better as a manager than as a driver and so talked some of his friends into investing in his team. These included Franco Martinengo, the head of design at Pininfarina and Elio Zagato, one of the Zagato family, which ran another automotive design bureau. There was also the Olympic bobsleigh racer Alberto della Beffa and racing driver Alessandro Zafferri. The team enjoyed considerable success in the 1950s with Alfa Romeo sports and touring cars.

One of its aims was to promote young Italian talent. At the time Italy had just lost 26-year-old Eugenio Castellotti in 1957 and then Luigi Musso in 1958. The Italian automobile federation set out to find new drivers and ran a series of races from which 26-year-old Giancarlo Baghetti and 25-year-old Lorenzo Bandini emerged as the new rising stars. Dragoni managed to convince Enzo Ferrari to release one of his Ferrari 156 Formula 1 cars to Scuderia Sant’Ambroeus, and it was run with some help for the Ferrari factory, although officially entered by the federation. Baghetti was chosen as the driver. The programme began with two non-championship races, at Syracuse and in Naples and Baghetti won both and when Olivier Gendebien decided to quite Ferrari that summr, it opened the way for Baghetti to make his World Championship debut. Astonishingly, Baghetti won this as well, when the other Ferraris all ran into trouble. It was still a remarkable achievement.

Ferrari won the World Championship that year, with Phil Hill, but in October trouble blew up because Enzo’s wife Laura was interfering in the business and eight of his senior managers got together and asked a lawyer to draft a letter to Ferrari, demanding that this stop. And so Ferrari fired them all: sales manager Girolamo Gardini, technical director Carlo Chiti, chief road car designer Giotto Bizzarrini, sporting director Romolo Tavoni, the company’s head of administration Ermanno della Casa, the head of procurement, Federico Giberti, the head of personnel Enzo Selmi and Fausto Galassi, the boss of the foundry. Having done that Ferrari needed help and so looked to new people, including Mauro Forghieri, Giampaolo Dallara, Franco Rocchi and Walter Salvarani. He decided that the best person to be sporting director was Dragoni. His desire to promote Italian talent and he immediately put Lodovico Scarfiotti into a Ferrari in the European hillclimb championship and brought Baghetti and Bandini into team alongside Phil Hill, Willy Mairesse and Mexico’s Ricardo Rodriguez. The cars were not competitive and Dragoni managed to upset Hill by promoting the Italians. The American left with Baghetti at the end of the year and Ferrari took on Surtees to join Mairesse, but in 1963 The Belgian was under pressure from Scarfiotti and Bandini and left at the end of the year leaving Surtees and Bandini for 1964. Surtees won the World Championship but he was rather fortunate to do so and in 1965 relations between he and Dragoni became strained, although Ferrari still enjoyed much success in sports cars. It turned into a power struggle between the two and in the middle of 1966 Surtees was fired. Things had got so bad, however, that Ferrari decided that Dragoni too would have to go and he was fired early in 1967 and Ferrari called in journalist Franco Lini to replace him. Dragoni’s efforts to promote young Italian talent ultimately came to nothing. Bandini was killed at Monaco in 1967, and Scarfiotti died the following year on a hillclimb.

In 1974, while acting as a steward at Monza, Dragoni suffered a fatal heart attack.

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