Monday, 11 January 2010

Giovanna Amati



Giovanna in 1992

Much like the Wacky Races heroine Penelope Pitstop, Giovanna was a wealthy girl who was once the victim of a kidnapping plot. Like Penelope too, she had an adventurous streak from an early age. At fifteen, she used her allowance to purchase a 500cc motorcycle and secretly ride it around the streets of Rome at night, although she was not old enough to hold a licence.

It was not many more years before she got herself a racing licence and was competing in Formula Abarth, Italy's junior single-seater series. She stayed with Abarth for four years, before moving up to Formula Three in 1985. Here, she proved herself to be an able and quick competitor, and won a race outright in 1986.

Giovanna always looked to push herself forward in her motorsport career, and with a win under her belt in Formula Three, it was time to prove herself at the next level. Her debut year in Formula 3000 was not a success; she found sponsorship for four races but only managed to qualify for her first one, at Donington. She finished sixteenth out of twenty.

There was more disappointment to come in 1990. Giovanna raced for three different F3000 teams and used two different chassis types, but still only made two starts out of ten entries.

Things began to look up in 1991. again, she entered ten F3000 rounds, but she qualified for seven of them this time, and scored her best ever finish, at Le Mans. She was seventh after starting second from last. Her ninth place at Oulton Park was also impressive. At this time, she was rumoured to be in a relationship with Benetton team principal Flavio Briatore, and the thirty-lap test she undertook in one of their Formula One cars was put down to this.

However, at the beginning of 1992 she became a bona fide Formula One pilot, after receiving her Superlicence. She was hired by the dead-in-the-water Brabham team to drive alongside Eric van der Poele, mainly as a publicity exercise. Rather embarrassingly, she failed to qualify for the three races she entered: South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. In fairness, van der Poele did not qualify either, but Giovanna's appalling lap times and multiple spins made more headlines than his. She was promptly replaced by Damon Hill, and it took several engine changes and other improvements, plus more seat time, before the future World Champion was able to qualify the Brabham either. The team folded at the end of the season.


Giovanna as a Brabham driver

Giovanna's single-seater career ended there. Perhaps if she had allowed herself more time to progress through the ranks, or stayed with an F3000 team long enough to learn the car, she would have stood a better chance of a decent F1 drive. She was now rather maligned as a spoiled little rich girl playing at being a racing driver, and lurid rumours flew around about her alleged relationships with a number of important men in the sport.

Putting her F1 debacle behind her, she took refuge in the Porsche Supercup in 1993 and began to carve out a new career as a sportscar driver, like many F1 has-beens before her. Between 1994 and 1996 she raced in the Ferrari Challenge and in some international GT races in a Corvette. She took a break from motorsport in 1997 and started to commentate on races for Italian TV. However, she could not stay away for long and was back in sportscars for the 1998 season. Her racing programme took in the Ferrari Challenge, and some International Sports Racing Series in a Giudici Gaiero Alfa Romeo, and an Alfa-powered Lucchini. She did not finish the Misano race in the Gaiero, but was eleventh, third in class, in the Lucchini, driving with Giovanni Gulinelli and Guido Knycz.

Her biggest challenge was probably the Sebring 12 Hours, in which she shared a BMW M3 with Carter and Petery. They did not finish. She was also involved in the Women's Global GT Series in America.

1999 was a year in which she proved some of her doubters wrong. She was driving the works Tampolli prototype in the FIA Sportscar Championship with Angelo Lancelotti. They were eleventh at Barcelona, sixth at Monza and tenth (first in the SR2 class) at the Nürburgring, after three non-finishes due to technical difficulties. In the last race of the season, at Kyalami, they were fifteenth. Giovanna also drove a Pilbeam-Nissan for a different team in the Magny-Cours round and was a superb fourth overall, with Hennie Groenewald and Nicolas Blomm.

It was here that Giovanna's full-time racing career came to a close, thankfully on a high. In 2000 she was offered a seat as a reserve driver for the works Cadillac team at Le Mans, but declined. She took up TV work full-time and remains a sports presenter on Italian screens.

Until now, she remains the last woman to have attempted to qualify for a Formula One race.

In 2014, Giovanna made a small comeback, accepting a drive in the Italian GT Championship, with GDL Racing. She made a guest appearance at Misano, driving a Mercedes SLS AMG, and finished twelfth and eleventh in the GT3 class. Her team-mate was Gianluca de Lorenzi. At the time, she was almost 55 years old.

In November 2015, she commented on the retirement of Susie Wolff, describing the frustrating nature of life in top-line motor racing, and its physical difficulties, for female drivers. She also announced that she would be returning to the circuits, although she did not say which series she would be joining. As of the end of 2016, this does not seem to have happened.

(Image copyright Sutton Images)

2 comments:

  1. In the 1993 Porsche SuperCup, she won the Women's European Championship.

    What is this Women series.... Women Porsche Cup 1993?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think she won the Coupe des Dames in the European Porsche Cup.

    ReplyDelete