For F1 fans over the age of 16, the name Minardi brings back fond memories of a small Italian based team lacking in funds and overall speed but more than making up for this in spirit. It is for this spirit that they became well respected by the whole paddock and fans alike, and in the end they gained many fans for their determination if not their pace. Fans were somewhat saddened when they were sold to Red Bull to become Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2006.
Minardi started out in 1979 in various formulae until 1985, when they first made their move into the F1 circus. During their first season, the Faenza team ran the just the one car having elected to use the V8 from Alfa Romeo. The season was not a success with Pierluigi Martini failing to score a point and only being a classified finisher thrice. Over the next seven years, their fortunes picked up and they were a mildly successful mid-grid team. In 1990 they secured their only front row start at the US Grand Prix with Martini taking second on the grid. This came a year after Minardi’s first race of leading a lap, an honour again bestowed upon Martini. Minardi’s best finishes of fourth place were taken by Martini, twice in 1991. Christian Fittipaldi also took a fourth place in 1993, before Minardi’s fortunes took a turn for the worse as the number of small Formula 1 teams started to decline. As a result, they quickly fell to the back of the grid.
In 1994, Minardi faced a battle to survive with owner Giancarlo Minardi selling over 85% of his stake in the team to keep them afloat. Their money woes hit performance on the track, and their points return slowly declined. They got five points in 1994, with Martini scoring four points with two fifth places and Michele Alboreto taking sixth at Monaco. Pedro Lamy scored a point in Australia of 1995, before the team went on a four year lean spell ended by Spaniard Marc Gene in 1999 Luca Badoer was running inside the points in the same race but retired with a broken gearbox. Minardi slowly regressed further, and off track problems including owner Gabriele Rumi getting cancer during a troubled 2000 season.
Minardi had by this time started using pay drivers such as Gaston Mazzacane, who had connections with big business in his native Argentina. Mazzacane was never really on the pace and was dropped for 2001, with the team having been bought by charismatic Australian businessman Paul Stoddard. Alex Yoong signed for 2001 on the back of heavy sponsorship, if not being signed for his talent. Yoong was often over a second off the pace set by teammate Alonso or Mark Webber during his one and a half year tenure at Minardi, before being replaced by Anthony Davidson. The 2002 Australian Grand Prix played host to one of F1’s greatest fairytales, as Mark Webber profited from a first corner pile up to take fifth on his debut in F1, sparking jubilant scenes at the blunt end of the pit lane. Throughout 2002 Webber continued to mix it with bigger teams in qualifying whilst Alex Young was dismally off the pace. Webber left to join Jaguar for 2003, whilst Dutchman Jos Verstappen and British prospect Justin Wilson took over the mantle.
Both drivers performed admirably but failed to score points in a car that was well off the pace. Neither driver came close to scoring points although a mistake at the rain-soaked Brazilian Grand Prix blew Verstappen’s best chance of points. Both drivers left for 2004, and Minardi did pick up another fortuitous point as Zsolt Baumgartner profited from crashes during the US Grand Priz including the one that broke Ralf Schumacher’s back. Baumgartner took a solitary point to outscore teammate Gianmaria Bruni. Minardi’s final season saw them pick up seven points, all coming during the infamous US Grand Prix where only the six Bridgestone-shod cars were able to take the start after a row about the safety of Michelin’s tyres.
Energy drinks tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz then bought the team to run as the sister team to Red Bull Racing, themselves only formed in 2005. It marked the end of a 26 year era that saw the spirited squad produce drivers such as Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella. Over the years they scored 38 points from 345 races. Minardi were a team with unrivalled character, and represent one of Formula One’s success stories. Both the paddock and the fans have missed them ever since they disappeared.