Pierluigi Martini
by Simon Vigar

Pocket rocket "Piero" represents the heart and soul of Minardi, not least because he led a Grand Prix and scored the team's first ever point. However, his introduction to Formula One was shaky. After winning the European Formula Three title in 1983 he failed to qualify the Toleman for his home Grand Prix at Monza. 1985 with the dreadful Motori Moderni V6-engined Minardi wasn't much better. His lack of experience showed and he was relegated to F3000. Piero was determined to set the record straight and, finally, in 1988 he got a second chance with Minardi. The team had tired of Adrian Campos and the phone call was made to Pierluigi after the Canadian GP.

What a comeback! Some of the mean streets of Detroit had been resurfaced but, as so often happens, the new asphalt crumbled under the immediate punishment meted out by F1 cars and that made the streets even meaner. In this season of seasons for McLaren Alain Prost failed to qualify on the front row with Senna (Prost hated street circuits anyway) but Pierluigi was 16th, beating team-mate Luis Sala by nine places and the likes of Tyrrell and Ligier to boot. Attrition in the race undoubtedly helped Piero's cause but he brought it home sixth and sealed his place in Minardi folklore. The team had arrived and was entering its most successful period thanks, in no small part, to Pierluigi Martini.

In 1989 he was in his prime, memorably leading the Portuguese Grand Prix (while the frontrunners pitted) before finishing fifth. Minardi's sticky Pirellis helped again in Adelaide where he qualified third and finished sixth. There was more of the same in 1990 as Piero's battling drives won the respect of the paddock. The next year Minardi had Ferrari engines and these powered Pierluigi to his best finishes (a brace of fourths) and best standing in the drivers' championship, 11th.

Riding this wave he switched to BMW Dallara in '92 but it didn't work out and he then spent three more seasons with Minardi and Scuderia Italia getting steadily less motivated. Minardi suffered one of its regular cash crises during the '95 season and to keep the show on the road pay driver Pedro Lamy was recruited to partner Luca Badoer, who had outperformed Martini. It was the end of the Grand Prix road for Piero but he's since shown flashes of his form, winning Le Mans with BMW in 1999. One senses that, like compatriot Badoer, Pierluigi was waiting for a call from Maranello that never came.