12 December 2018

Fascinating F1 Facts: 14

Some of the engineers in Formula 1 have enjoyed very long and successful careers and have worked with many different stars, but can you name one of them who has worked with Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Nelson Piquet, not to mention Gerhard Berger, Jean Alesi and even Daniel Ricciardo?

Need more clues? Well, he comes from Ferrara and worked for Ferrari - on several occasions. Any the wiser? Yes, he is an Italian, although a long spell working in England has given him a lively (and rather exotic) English vocabulary. And, he has helped drivers pull off some of the most extraordinary performances in the modern history of Formula 1, including Ayrton Senna's celebrated European GP victory at Donington in 1993, and Sebastian Vettel's gob-smacking win at Monza in 2008, at the wheel of a Toro Rosso-Ferrari, the only time in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship when a Ferrari customer team won a race. I am sure that might argue about Giancarlo Baghetti at the French GP of 1961 but the truth is that the car was run by the factory, even if on paper it was supposed to be a private effort…

His name was Giorgio Ascanelli and, like many young Italians of that era, he grew up wanting to work for Ferrari and in 1984, having completed his studies, he was hired by Ferrari to work in the calculation department. He was soon working with the test team. After a couple of years he moved to Abarth, which was developing the Lancia Delta HF 4WD for the World Rally Championship.  The car won victories in 11 events and took the title with Juha Kankkunen. That autumn Giorgio went back to Ferrari and was appointed race engineer of Gerhard Berger, beginning at the Italian GP in September. The results improved significantly, although Berger threw away a win by spinning in Portugal, two laps from the finish. He would win the last two races of the year in Japan and Australia. There were hopes of a good showing in 1988, but McLaren was so dominant that Ferrari could do little, except at Monza where Ayrton Senna collided with Jean-Louis Schlesser and gave Ferrari a 1-2. A few months later Giorgio had to endure Berger's fiery crash at Imola. Ferrari was changing at the time, following the death of Enzo Ferrari in the summer of 1988, and technical director John Barnard departed and moved to Benetton. He asked Ascanelli to go with him.

In 1990 and 1991 he would oversee Nelson Piquet's adventures with the Enstone team and at the end of the second season he worked briefly with Michael Schumacher, who arrived in the team at the Italian GP. He was then lured to McLaren by Berger, but rather than working with the Austrian, Giorgio engineered Ayrton Senna and in the course of the next two seasons the Brazilian won eight victories working in league with Ascanelli, despite the dominant Williams-Renault team. These included some of Senna's greatest drives, notably at Donington, Monaco and in Australia in 1993. Ascanelli also played an important role in  luring his former Benetton colleague Pat Fry (a future Ferrari technical director) to McLaren.

At the end of 1993 Senna took off to Williams and McLaren went into a new partnership with Peugeot and after a frustrating season Ascanelli was lured away back to Italy again - by Barnard and Berger, becoming head of track engineering and overseeing Berger and Jean Alesi in 1995 and then Schumacher and Eddie Irvine in 1996. Williams-Renault was still dominant but Schumacher was able to win three times, the most important victory being at Monza where Ascanelli had to make a vital call in the middle of the race when Schumacher was trying to get the lead from Alesi's Benetton. Jean had just pitted and Michael was faster but it was not sure if he had the fuel to go two laps more. Ascanelli made the decision but it was a close call with Schumacher arriving in the pits with zero fuel pressure. He emerged from the pits in the lead…

Ferrari was in a state of flux with the arrival of Ross Brawn, and the subsequent departure of Barnard and Giorgio was made head of research and development department before becoming the technical liaison between Ferrari and Prost Grand Prix, working with Barnard once again, but in 2002 he decided to take up the offer of director of competition at Maserati. He led the team which created the wildly successful MC12 GT car, which enjoyed much success in the years that followed. Berger wanted him to join Scuderia Toro Rosso, of which the Austrian was a shareholder at the time, but that did not happen until 2007. Giorgio would remain at Faenza until midway through 2012 looking after Vettel, Tonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed, Sebastian Bourdais, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, including Vettel's remarkable victory at Monza in 2008. In the end, however, he had a violent falling out with team principal, Franz Tost, and departed the team.

In 2013, tired of the racing world, he was appointed Chief Technical Officer of the brake company Brembo and settled in Curno, near Bergamo.

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