11 January 2019

Fascinating F1 Facts: 44

Not many Formula 1 fans will have ever heard of Luigi Piotti. He was a Grand Prix driver albeit a rather unlikely one. He was rather overweight and 42 years of age when he made his F1 debut in Argentina in 1956. The thing was that he wasn't a professional racing driver but rather a moderately gifted amateur, one might say a gentleman racer. Racing cars were just a hobby, something to do on occasional weekends when Piotti was not busy making money. He had plenty of it, which enabled him to buy fancy sports cars and in the early 1950s he had a string of Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, Oscas and Maseratis which helped him to score some decent results, including third in the Pescara 12 Hours. In 1953 he won the Circuito di Reggio Calabria with a Ferrari 250 and in 1954 he shared another Ferrari with Maurice Trintignant to win the 12 Hours of Hyères. In 1955, driving a Ferrari 750 Monza he won the last Tunisian GP, a sports car race. He then decided that he would try Formula 1 with an Arzani Volpini (a revamped Maserati) at the Italian GP. He failed to start the race because of engine troubles but he began 1956 making his F1 debut in the Argentine GP in a factory Maserati, alongside Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Carlos Menditéguy, Chico Landi and Jose Froilan Gonzalez and subsequently he bought a Maserati 250F and ran it himself in the Italian GP and in other non-championship events. He would take part in a total of eight Grands Prix but was never competitive.

Piotti's moment of glory came at Monza although everything in that race was overshadowed by Peter Collins's extraordinary gesture of handing his Lancia-Ferrari over to his World Championship rival and team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio.

It was the eighth and final race of the F1 season and the 45-year-old Fangio had an eight point lead over the 24-year-old Collins. Fangio was aiming for his fourth title and had 30 points, while Collins had only a slim chance of becoming the first British World Champion. He had 22 points. In those days there were eight points for a win - and an additional point for fastest lap. Drivers could share cars if their own broke down, but they got only half the points if they did that. Fangio was thus in a very strong position until his car broke down halfway through the race. Ferrari ordered Luigi Musso to hand over his car to Fangio, but the Italian had never won an F1 race and was in front of his home crowd, so he refused to obey the order.

It looked like Fangio’s hopes would be dashed. Collins still needed to win but there seemed to be little chance of that happening as he was running third behind Moss and Musso. On lap 35, with 15 laps to go, he came in for a pit stop for a tyre check and decided to hand over the car to Fangio. Perhaps if he had known what would happen in the next 15 laps he might not have done so…

With five laps to go Moss's Maserati ran out of fuel. Musso took the lead as Moss coasted to a stop, not far from the pits.

Piotto saw what had happened and slowed his car down. He used his 250F to push Moss towards the pit lane. This was enough to get Stirling to his pit where the car was given enough fuel for the final five laps and he set off in hot pursuit of Musso, setting the fastest lap of the race as he chased the leading Lancia-Ferrari. Musso was under pressure and with just three laps remaining the Ferrari suffered a broken steering arm as it came off the final banking and slewed to a halt opposite the pits. Moss was back in the lead and although his tyres were shot he was still able to finish just under six seconds ahead of Fangio, racing along in the Collins car. As a result Fangio and Collins shared the six points for second place and so Fangio won the title with 33 points, while Moss jumped to second with nine points for the win and for the fastest lap, giving him a total of 28 points. Collins ended up third with 25 points.

Now if Piotti had not helped Moss and Collins had kept going, he would have won the race and taken eight points… and he would have won the World title on countback, having scored more second places than Fangio would have done…

There was a kerfuffle after the race as there were protests about Moss having received outside assistance but the stewards decided to accept the Maserati argument that Piotti was factory supported and thus part of the team, rather than being a privateer...

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