Thursday, 10 February 2011

Arturo Merzario

I make no apologies for admitting that the 1970s is my favourite era of Grand Prix racing. Charismatic drivers, technical diversity, competitive racing and evocative circuits all combined to produce a heady brew. A driver who epitomised that era was the diminiutive Italian, Arturo Merzario.

Thin and wiry, and often to be found wearing his trademark cowboy hat, "Little Art", as he was known, made his F1 bow in 1972 with Ferrari, having already been a member of the Prancing Horse's sportscar team. He became a more prominent feature of the outfit in 1973, and he manfully struggled on as they encountered numerous problems throughout that season, displaying more resilience than the disgruntled number one driver Jacky Ickx.

When Ferrari's racing activities were overhauled at the end of 1973, it seemed very unjust that Merzario was overlooked in favour of Niki Lauda and the returning Clay Regazzoni. The Italian's chances of a frontline F1 career disappeared with that reshuffle.

The remainder of Merzario's F1 journey was fascinating, and invariably entertaining. A year with Frank Williams' Iso Marlboro team contained some characteristically plucky drives, particularly in qualifying at Kyalami, as well as a famous Armco hopping escapade during the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama. Also during the mid-Seventies, Little Art enjoyed some notable sportscar successes with Alfa Romeo.

Arturo also gained wider fame as one of those, along with Brett Lunger, Guy Edwards and Harald Ertl, who rescued Niki Lauda from his blazing Ferrari at the Nurburgring in 1976.

Further F1 adventures with Wolf-Williams and March, and guest appearances with Copersucar and Shadow, were followed by the ill-starred decision to form his own team. This stumbled on throughout 1978 and 1979, before Merzario finally called time on his F1 career.

Arturo Merzario may never have won a Grand Prix, but he remains a much-loved figure, as one of the most redoubtable and admired drivers in a golden era of motorsport.

No comments:

Post a Comment