The Faenza-based Formula 1 team today called AlphaTauri started life as Minardi, an underdog effort run on a fraction of its rivals’ budgets that gave opportunities to several future stars.
Giancarlo Minardi’s eponymous squad was a fixture on the grid between 1985 and 2005, when it was sold to Dietrich Mateschitz and rebranded as Toro Rosso for 2006.
Minardi will shortly be usurped by Red Bull for ninth spot in the list for world championship F1 starts, but it comfortably outlasted many of its contemporaries despite meagre funds, which contributed to its modest tally of 38 points from 340 races.
In that time 37 drivers passed through its doors and while some were signed as a matter of financial necessity many were real prospects, with five going on to win in F1 and one becoming a double world champion.
In the latest of Autosport’s ‘Top 10 drivers’ series, we’ve attempted to rank Minardi’s alumni based on the success they enjoyed with the team, the impact they had on Minardi and their achievement given the machinery at their disposal. Achievement before or afterwards is not considered.
Because chaotic circumstances were often required for Minardi to finish in the points, it would be unfair to write off drivers who didn’t score at the expense of those who did due to freak events. Qualifying performance relative to team-mates is therefore taken into account.
10. Justin Wilson
Wilson’s opening lap prowess took Minardi to unfamiliar heights and helped him earn a mid-season move to Jaguar
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Best finish: 11th (2003 Spanish GP)
Best grid: 18th (2003 San Marino, Spanish, Austrian, Canadian, British GPs)
Qualifying average: 18.8
Team-mate record: 4/7 (36.4%)
Wilson formed one half of what then-Minardi boss Paul Stoddart described as “the best driver line-up Minardi has ever had” in 2003 with Jos Verstappen. The 2001 International Formula 3000 champion was outqualified by Verstappen, but earned a mid-season promotion to Jaguar, having cultivated a reputation for remarkable opening laps.
Granted, it’s easier to make up positions when you’re at the back of the grid. But the Cosworth-powered PS03 was never likely to be anything other than tail-end fodder – on supertimes, it was 4.308% off the pace, the slowest in the field that year and 2.111% adrift of the next-slowest, Jordan.
Wilson’s most impressive opening laps came when he capitalised on slick conditions in Australia (20th to 12th) and first lap carnage in Malaysia (19th to 8th) and Spain (18th to 9th) to put Minardi in wholly unfamiliar positions. He made more opening lap positions than anybody that year with 35 – two more than Verstappen, despite spending the final five races in midfield machinery.
Having launched a successful share flotation scheme to secure himself a place on the grid, he also showed fighting spirit in the car by battling against numbness in Malaysia, caused by an ill-fitting HANS. There he outqualified Ralph Firman’s Jordan, despite being the only driver in the field running without power steering.
Although he wasn’t kept on by Jaguar, the team preferring Red Bull-backed F3 graduate Christian Klien for 2004, Wilson went on to enjoy a fruitful career Stateside before his death in an IndyCar race at Pocono in 2015 when debris hit his helmet.
9. Alessandro Nannini
Reliability hampered Nannini’s efforts to deliver race results
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Best finish: 11th (1987 Hungarian, Portuguese GPs)
Best grid: 13th (1987 Monaco, Australian GPs)
Qualifying average: 18.4
Team-mate record: 24/8 (75%)
Nannini saw the chequered flag just four times during his two seasons with Minardi. But in many ways the Italian set the mould for what the archetypal Minardi driver would come to be – rapid but earning little reward until moving higher up the chain – and helped to establish the team as a talent breeding ground.
Nannini had driven for Minardi in F1 and, after spending 1985 with Lancia in sportscars, made his F1 debut in 1986 alongside Andrea de Cesaris as Minardi expanded to run two upgraded M/85Bs powered by the terribly unreliable Motori Moderni V6 engine. Discounting AGS, which only appeared twice, only Osella was slower than Minardi that year. It was 6.332% off the pace, only bettering its dismal 1985.
Unsurprisingly, Nannini never managed higher than 17th on the grid (at the Hungaroring). But he impressively matched his more experienced compatriot 8-8 in qualifying and was the fastest Minardi six times in a row from round eight at Paul Ricard.
De Cesaris generally had first pick on the new M/86 when it arrived in the second half of the year, but Nannini still outqualified him with the older car at the Hungaroring and Monza.
Minardi moved from being the 12th fastest team in 1986 to the eighth fastest team in 1987, allowing Nannini to qualify regularly in the mid-teens. But reliability remained a bugbear, with 10 engine-related retirements.
Nannini was never headed by new team-mate Adrian Campos in their qualifying head-to-head and shone on street tracks, managing 13th in Monaco (despite three broken driveshafts) and Adelaide (where he crashed on the opening lap).
Benetton came calling for 1988 and Nannini scored two podiums at Silverstone and Jerez before taking his one and only GP victory at Suzuka in 1989 following Ayrton Senna’s disqualification. A 1990 helicopter accident changed his life and ended his F1 career, but he went on to win races in the DTM and FIA GT championship.
8. Luca Badoer
Badoer didn’t manage to score in his two spells at the team, but came desperately close at the Nurburgring in 1999
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Best finish: 8th (1995 Canadian, Hungarian and 1999 San Marino GP)
Best grid: 12th (1995 Hungarian GP)
Qualifying average: 18.7
Team-mate record: 16/16 (50%)
Badoer’s Minardi story would look very different had his M199’s gearbox lasted the distance at the 1999 European Grand Prix. In a race of attrition at the Nurburgring, Badoer had driven a clean race and was running fourth with 13 laps to go when fate cruelly intervened. To rub salt into the wound, his misfortune directly benefited team-mate Marc Gene – who was promoted to finish sixth and scored Minardi’s only point of the year.
The 1992 F3000 champion didn’t score points across either of his two spells with Minardi, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He made his Minardi race debut in 1995, having spent the previous year on the sidelines following its merger with the Scuderia Italia team he’d raced for in 1993, and fared well alongside team veteran Pierluigi Martini in their 10 races together – matching him 5-5 in qualifying.
The M195 was hastily revised to accommodate a Ford engine after Minardi was jilted by Mugen, and faster only than the Simtek, Pacific and Forti on supertimes as the year’s 10th best machine (4.824% off the pace). But he took the car to its highest grid positions of the year – 13th in Argentina and 12th in Hungary, although was beaten 5-2 in qualifying by Pedro Lamy when he replaced Martini.
Lamy also scored the team’s only point of the year thanks to attrition in Adelaide, where Badoer had qualified ahead but was unable to start due to engine management issues. He had to settle for a pair of eighth places in Hungary and Montreal – in the latter he’d passed Mika Salo for seventh on the final lap, but amid a crowd invasion that resulted in results being taken from the previous tour.
After a nightmare 1996 with Forti, Badoer spent two years testing with Ferrari before rejoining Minardi in 1999 to drive its M01-Ford (3.735% down, the year’s slowest machine). Missing the Brazil race due to a foot injury, he beat Gene 10-5 in qualifying and headed both Arrows in Austria, but it was all for precious little reward in the races. Watching Salo take over the Ferrari vacated by Michael Schumacher after his Silverstone shunt – he was comfortably beating the Finn at the Nurburgring – especially stung.
7. Giancarlo Fisichella
Fisichella had the upper-hand on Lamy despite having to juggle his time with touring cars
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Best finish: 8th (1996 Canadian GP)
Best grid: 16th (1996 Canadian GP)
Qualifying average: 17.6
Team-mate record: 6/2 (75%)
Fisichella only had a brief eight-race stint at Minardi right at the start of his long F1 career, and never scored points. But in that time, he impressed by regularly outqualifying team-mate Lamy – a much underrated driver who came close to making this list – despite his relative lack of experience and the added disadvantage of needing to adapt back to single-seaters every weekend. The 1994 Italian Formula 3 champion had spent 1995 in the DTM and combined his tin-top programme in 1996 with F1.
Fisichella beat Lamy 6-2 in their eight races together aboard the M195B, an upgraded version of the car Lamy had raced eight times in 1995, which was the 10th-fastest car that year. Only the moribund Forti was slower.
He began as he meant to go on in Albert Park – new to all of the drivers – by beating Lamy in qualifying despite a late call-up when Minardi’s originally nominated driver Taki Inoue hit financial problems.
After missing the two South American races, he outpaced Lamy again on his return at the Nurburgring and was also an impressive 0.666s quicker at Monaco. But he blotted his copybook by making contact with Lamy on lap one and they tangled again in Spain – although that was more forgivable in atrocious conditions.
His best finish came in Montreal, a lonely run to eighth as the last classified runner, before he was replaced by the monied Giovanni Lavaggi for the rest of the season. Fisichella returned to the grid in 1997 with Jordan – and was a fixture for over a decade, winning three races with Jordan and Renault.
6. Jos Verstappen
Verstappen grasped his opportunity to put Minardi P1 in first qualifying at Magny-Cours as he fared well against strong rookie Wilson
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Best finish: 9th (2003 Canadian GP)
Best grid: 15th (2003 Canadian GP)
Qualifying average: 18.4
Team-mate record: 12/4 (75%)
A drying track and a one-shot qualifying format had a lot to do with it, but thanks to Verstappen a Minardi topped the F1 timesheets for the one and only time at the 2003 French GP. It’s often forgotten by the history books, because the decisive session that set the grid came the following day.
But with less favourable track conditions than team-mate Wilson, the father of reigning world champion Max grasped the rare opportunity presented at Magny-Cours – proving that he still had plenty to offer F1 after being dumped by Arrows boss Tom Walkinshaw at the end of 2001 and spending 2002 on the sidelines.
Verstappen showed well to outqualify Wilson and comfortably beat Nicolas Kiesa in all five races they were paired together following Wilson’s mid-season Jaguar promotion.
Verstappen also shone in the wet first qualifying in Montreal to set the 11th fastest time and then beat both Jordans in qualifying proper. There he took the team’s best result of the year in ninth, and also beat Wilson on his home turf at Silverstone in their final race together.
But what turned out to be an ultimately unfulfilling F1 swansong could have been very different had Verstappen not been among the legions (that included Wilson, Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya) to be caught out in the Turn 3 river at Interlagos. On that day he’d started from the pitlane with brimmed tanks and had been running ahead of eventual winner Fisichella, with his first pitstop not due until after the race was called on lap 54…
Given the level of machinery at his disposal, Verstappen couldn’t have been expected to do too much more, and never let being in a tail-end car impact his motivation.
5. Jarno Trulli
Trulli’s time at Minardi was brief, but he made it count by beating Katayama comprehensively
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Best finish: 9th (1997 Australian, Argentinian GPs)
Best grid: 17th (1997 Australian, Brazilian GPs)
Qualifying average: 18.3
Team-mate record: 6/1 (85.7%)
Like Wilson and Fisichella, Trulli didn’t complete his season with Minardi – joining Prost as Olivier Panis’s replacement when the Frenchman broke his legs in Montreal. He only made six race starts and failed to start at Imola due to faulty hydraulics but established a reputation as a qualifying demon that would last his remarkable 252 GP career by demolishing handy team-mate Ukyo Katayama.
The 1991 Japanese F3000 champion, a regular points-finisher in his Tyrrell days, only beat 1996 German Formula 3 champion Trulli once on the Italian’s Albert Park debut. Trulli’s 85.7% qualifying record is surpassed only by Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso among the Minardi drivers who contested more than one race.
Despite the Minardi-Hart M197 being 1997’s slowest car once the Lola was taken out of the equation after Melbourne – albeit at 3.461% off the ultimate pace using supertimes – he never once qualified on the back row and proved adept at outpacing quicker machinery.
He beat Jan Magnussen’s Stewart five times, Verstappen (Tyrrell) four times and the Dutchman’s team-mate Salo three times, while fellow Bridgestone-shod runners Pedro Diniz (Arrows) and Shinji Nakano (Prost) were shaded three times and twice respectively.
In Brazil, Trulli also outpaced the Ferrari-powered Sauber of Nicola Larini, and reigning champion Damon Hill’s Arrows in Australia.
Typically, the races were tougher, but he finished a fine 12th at Interlagos ahead not only of his team-mate but both Tyrrells and Nakano too. After Trulli’s call-up to Prost, Tarso Marques was installed but the Brazilian was outqualified 8-2 by Katayama, underlining that Trulli was getting the most out of his machinery.
4. Christian Fittipaldi
Fittipaldi equalled Minardi’s best-ever points finish at Kyalami in 1993 and was a regular scorer during one of the team’s less prolific periods
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Best finish: 4th (1993 South African GP)
Best grid: 12th (1992 Japanese GP)
Qualifying average: 20.6
Team-mate record: 14/13 (51.9%)
Fittipaldi proved to be one of Minardi’s most prolific points-scorers in a period when the team wasn’t at its competitive zenith and recovered admirably from a neck injury that threatened to curtail his rookie season.
After fielding the seventh-fastest car based on supertimes in 1991, Minardi had faded to 13th in 1992 (5.415% slower on average than the dominant Williams) with its new Lamborghini V12-powered M192 only arriving for round five at Imola. And with a tough team-mate in second-year Minardi driver Gianni Morbidelli, who hadn’t disgraced himself against Martini in 1991, the graduating F3000 champion faced a struggle to make an impression.
He only finished three of the first seven races before a hefty practice shunt at Magny-Cours caused him to miss the next three races while his neck healed.
Fittipaldi arguably came back too soon and struggled to qualify but rebounded strongly at Suzuka to qualify 12th (matching Morbidelli’s seasonal best at Monaco and Monza) and raced to the team’s only point of the year in sixth after a race-long duel with Jean Alesi’s Ferrari.
He lost his qualifying duel with Morbidelli 4-9 but carried on his late season form into 1993 to beat rookie Fabrizio Barbazza in qualifying in all eight GPs in which they appeared together.
The M193-Ford was the year’s 11th quickest car, 5.247% off the pace on average and ahead only of Tyrrell and the Scuderia Italia Lola, but Fittipaldi produced a series of strong races with a non-stop run to fourth in the Kyalami season-opener (from a season-high 13th on the grid) equalling Minardi’s best-ever result. Impressive too was his run to fifth at Monaco, holding off Martin Brundle’s Ligier.
He was outqualified 4-2 against team stalwart Martini upon the veteran’s return, their time together mostly remembered for their frightening clash approaching the finish line at Monza when Fittipaldi somersaulted over the Italian. He didn’t see out the season due to the backing from the French government brought by Jean-Marc Gounon.
Fittipaldi joined Footwork for 1994 before becoming a winner for Newman-Haas in Indycars and a three-time victor in the Daytona 24 Hours.
3. Mark Webber
Webber won a hard-earned fifth on his debut in the 2002 Australian GP, but his unseen qualifying form was arguably more impressive
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Best finish: 5th (2002 Australian GP)
Best grid: 18th (2002 Australian, French, US and Japanese GPs)
Qualifying average: 19.5
Team-mate record: 17/0 (100%)
Fifth place in the 2002 Australian GP owed much to the first corner pile-up that eliminated eight cars from the race, but Webber’s F1 debut encapsulated a year with Minardi in which he habitually achieved the maximum.
To get that result in Melbourne, securing two precious points that meant Minardi finished ahead of Toyota in the constructors’ standings, he’d stood his ground against Salo and showed no sign of being overawed. That race alone repaid team boss Stoddart’s faith in his compatriot – even earning an unorthodox but crowd-pleasing trip to the podium.
Team-mate Alex Yoong was beaten 15-0 in qualifying, even failing to make the cut on three occasions, while his mid-season replacement for Hungary and Spa Anthony Davidson was ill-prepared for the PS02’s physicality.
The Asiatech-powered machine, an update on the 2001 PS01, was the slowest car of 2002 – 4.162% off the pace on supertimes. But Webber, well-prepared after Benetton testing duties in 2001, regularly punched above his weight in qualifying and inflicted semi-regular humiliation on Jaguar.
In Australia and Monaco he beat both R3s of Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa, with the Spaniard also outpaced at Imola and Silverstone. Little wonder that the Ford-owned team worked hard to secure Webber’s services for 2003.
Enrique Bernoldi’s Arrows was also dispatched three times before that team’s collapse after Hockenheim, while Salo too was beaten at Indianapolis.
There were no more points after Australia, but he beat de la Rosa and had jumped both Toyotas before their retirements to finish a satisfying eighth at Magny-Cours.
Webber became a consistent points finisher at Jaguar and a podium finisher at Williams, before going on to win nine grands prix – coming close to winning the 2010 world championship – at Red Bull.
2. Fernando Alonso
Alonso was the galvanising figure Minardi needed when new ownership arrived in 2001
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Best finish: 10th (2001 German GP)
Best grid: 17th (2001 US GP)
Qualifying average: 19.3
Team-mate record: 15/2 (88.2%)
Alonso narrowly shades Webber in our list because of the heights he took the hurriedly-finished PS01 to at a crucial point in the team’s history.
On the brink of financial ruin before it was transferred from a terminally ill Gabriele Rumi to Stoddart, even making it to Australia for the first round was an achievement. The car was the year’s slowest, 4.240% down based on supertimes, and powered by an outdated Ford engine (badged as Europeans in deference to Stoddart’s aviation company) that meant claiming scalps in qualifying – even less scoring points – a tall order.
Yet Alonso did just that, and on a semi-regular basis. The rookie beat Benetton drivers Jenson Button and Fisichella to line up 18th at Imola, Barcelona and the A1-Ring, and was also 18th ahead of Arrows drivers Verstappen and Bernoldi at Monaco, Hungary and Suzuka. The odd Jaguar and Prost were also overcome by the marauding Spaniard, while at the US GP he even beat 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve’s BAR and both Arrows as he qualified a remarkable 17th.
Only twice all year did Alonso start behind a team-mate, both due to force majeure. Team returnee Marques, driving a hastily cobbled-together second car that admittedly was rarely the equal of Alonso’s, profited from Alonso’s gearbox problems in Malaysia and Alonso having his times disallowed in Canada for a front wing that was below the regulation height. Yoong was no match when he saw out the final three rounds.
Marques scored the year’s best result for a Minardi with two ninth places, but Alonso put in one of the year’s standout drives at Suzuka to come home 11th ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Prost, the BAR of Panis and both Arrows. “If this went unnoticed,” summarised Autosport, “it shouldn’t have done.”
History shows that Alonso has been Minardi’s must successful graduate. A double world champion with Renault, he also has a World Endurance Championship title and two Le Mans 24 Hours victories to his name, achieved with Toyota.
1. Pierluigi Martini
Martini was the only driver ever to lead a lap in Minardi’s history at Estoril in 1989
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Best finish: 4th (1991 San Marino, Portuguese GPs)
Best grid: 2nd (1990 US GP)
Qualifying average: 16.5
Team-mate record: 72/18 (80%)
By every metric, Martini was the most important driver in Minardi’s F1 history, across three separate spells with the team.
It’s original driver in 1985, he scored its first point (Detroit 1988), tallied more points than anyone else (16), led its only race lap (Estoril 1989) and secured its only front row start (Phoenix 1990). Martini also contested the most races with Minardi (102) and has the best grid average (16.5) of any Minardi driver.
He wasn’t without his faults and had his share of spins but had the better of all of his team-mates in qualifying head-to-heads and even went two full seasons without being outqualified by Luis Perez-Sala or Paolo Barilla across 1989 and 1990.
Had Martini’s involvement at the team ended after 1985, it’s likely he wouldn’t feature on this list. Minardi’s first grand prix car was 10.77% down on the ultimate pace and, as a solo entry that struggled badly with reliability thanks to the fragile Moderni Motori V6 turbos, he had to rebuild his career in F3000.
Martini returned to F1 midway through 1988, replacing Campos, and scored a point on his comeback in Detroit. He beat Perez-Sala 7-4 in their head-to-head, which became 15-0 in 1989, a banner year for the team as Nigel Cowperthwaite’s M189-Ford, which had swapped Goodyear tyres for Pirellis, was the year’s sixth-fastest car on supertimes – Minardi’s most competitive ever by that metric.
Martini made full use of Pirelli’s qualifying specials to score the team’s first qualifying top 10 in Hungary before going best of the rest behind the McLarens and Ferraris at Estoril and Jerez. At the former he even led briefly before finishing fifth, matching his earlier score at Silverstone.
Arguably his finest hour came at Adelaide. After missing Suzuka due to rib pain, he returned in fine style Down Under and qualified a remarkable third, behind only the McLarens, as Perez-Sala tellingly failed to qualify. Inadequate Pirelli wets meant he slipped back to sixth by the finish.
Aldo Costa’s M190 and M191 Minardis were the seventh-fastest cars of 1990 and 1991. Although he didn’t score in 1990, Martini managed five top-10 starts after his Phoenix heroics. Ferrari power for 1991 helped him to score two fourth places at Imola and Estoril – just 10 seconds behind podium-finisher Alesi in the latter.
After a season at Scuderia Italia in 1992, he rejoined Minardi for the final eight races of 1993 and bested both Fittipaldi and the Brazilian’s replacement Gounon.
Former Ferrari driver Michele Alboreto joined for 1994 as part of the merger with Scuderia Italia and the five-time grand prix winner too was overshadowed in qualifying (13-3) as Martini again took the majority of its points with fifth places in the Spanish and French GPs.
He continued for 1995 alongside Badoer, matching his younger compatriot in their qualifying head-to-head, before being replaced for the final eight races by Lamy and bowing out of F1. Switching to sportscars, he won the Le Mans 24 Hours for BMW in 1999 before retiring from motorsport.
Martini qualified on the front row at Phoenix in 1990, embarrassing many better-funded outfits
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