F-1 driver had an accident celebrating victory. And hid that he drank wine before the start
On this day, exactly 46 years ago, Italian racer Vittorio Brambilla sensationally won the Austrian Rain Grand Prix at the Oesterreichring, threw up his hands in celebration and lost control of the car, which flew into the nearest bump stop. And two months earlier, the Italian was on pole in Anderstorp – no one could understand how he did it, and it is believed that the team cheated then.
However, it would be unfair to reduce Brambilla’s entire career to these two episodes – Vittorio spent a total of 23 years in motorsport and motorsport.
Motorcycle racer from Monza
Brambilla was born in Monza and at the age of 20 he began to race – on motorcycles. His father had his own motorcycle workshop, and therefore Vittorio, along with his brother Ernesto, was familiar with technology from childhood. At the age of 21, he became the champion of Italy in the 175 cc class, but his career did not go further, and although Vittorio occasionally went to the start, he did not become a superstar of motorcycle racing – but as a mechanic he helped Ernestino.
Brambilla’s career seemed to be over, but in 1968 he began competing in Formula 3, and in 1972 became its champion. In parallel, he performed in Formula 2 and from time to time attracted attention – as at the stage in Salzburg, where Vittorio became the second, losing only to Jacqui Ickx . This was enough for Brambilla and his sponsors to decide it was time to move to F1. So at 36, Brambilla became a March racer.
Brambilla in 1975
In the first races, Brambilla remained in the shadow of his partner – Hans Stuck , another debutant, but already in his fifth Grand Prix – in Sweden – Vittorio broke into fifth place and only due to engine failure on the last lap did not score points. The Italian scored the first credit point only in Austria – sixth place. In terms of sheer speed, Brambilla was not inferior to Stuck, but much more often he got into accidents and made mistakes.
By the 1975 season, Brambilla pulled himself up – he became more on one fast lap and made fewer mistakes. At the Spanish Grand Prix in Montjuic Park, Vittorio started and finished fifth – the best result of his career. In Monaco, he also started fifth, but immediately rolled back to the end of the peloton, and in Belgium he led the race for the first time. Vittorio started third and fought Lauda and Pace in the first laps, and although he lost to them, everything went to the first podium in his career. Unlucky – let the brakes down.
The next stage took place in Sweden – and suddenly in qualifying Brambilla, who was considered a good average, is ahead of everyone by almost 0.4 seconds and wins pole! In the paddock, they wondered how Vittorio and “March” managed to add this, and only many years later a version appeared: Robin Heard , the team’s engineer, knowing that the time-lapse beam was directly under the team’s location, blocked it with a foreign object a second before crossing Brambilla lines.
“I wouldn’t even think of cheating! – answered Heard. – Maybe the scoreboard accidentally slipped out of my hands, 50 meters before the end of the circle. But Vittorio’s lap was great! ” Starting from pole, Vittorio stayed in the first position, but due to problems with the tires, the Italian first rolled back, and then completely retired due to a car breakdown.
Brambilla at the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix
In the Netherlands and France, Brambilla retired, but again drew attention to himself at the British Grand Prix. The Italian was one of the fastest on Friday and qualified in fifth position. In the course of the race over “Silverstone” hung black clouds and it was obvious that sooner or later a downpour would break out.
Brambilla and the leading Emerson Fittipaldi literally with the first drops of rain turned into the pits, but those who did not have time for the “rain”, one after another began to fly off the track: in one of the turns formed a whole bunch of eight wrecked cars. The race was stopped with red flags, Brambilla could count on the podium, but after long deliberations, the judges decided to count the distance up to the 56th circle – and Vittorio was sixth, and Schecter and Hunt, who got into the blockage, were third and fourth.
Victory in Austria
On the “Nordschleife” Brambilla got off after three laps, and then Formula 1 went to Austria – and again, like at Silverstone, a downpour broke out over the track. This time, however, he went before the start, which in the end had to be postponed for an hour and a half. The rain did not stop, and the track was completely flooded with water, there was no grip, visibility was zero. Everyone rode by touch – and only Brambilla flew like he was in his own league.
Vittorio started eighth, but already on the first lap he took sixth place, on the second he passed Emerson Fittipaldi and went on to fifth, by the sixth lap he passed Stuck and Depaye and went third! On the 15th Brambilla is ahead of Hunt, on the 19th – Lauda and takes the lead in the Austrian Grand Prix. The rain does not subside, but Brambilla continues to attack – in the next 11 laps he will leave the peloton for 11 seconds!
The race organizers gave up – 15 laps before the finish, realizing that the conditions on the track were really dangerous, the race was stopped. This time – whichever circle of the judge was chosen – there was only one winner – 37-year-old Italian, the oldest pilot on the grid, Vittorio Brambilla. There was no equal to him that day.
Crossing the finish line, Brambilla threw up both hands for joy and … lost control of the car and flew into the nearest bump stop! The speed, of course, was no longer combat, neither the racer nor the car suffered much, although Vittorio had to do the lap of honor in a car with a broken nose cone. However, the joy of victory was not overshadowed by this – in Friday training, Mark Donoghue flew off the track, and a debris from his car killed track marshal Manfred Schaller , and the pilot himself fell into a coma the next day. On Tuesday, the second day after the race, Donoghue will pass away.
Gorilla in the paddock
In the two races remaining until the end of the season, Brambille failed to shine. However, these results were also a miracle for “March”, as their car, in principle, was unable to cover the race distance! “It was actually a Formula 2 car with a Cosworth engine,” Robin Heard recalled to March 751. – Light, small, fast on straights, well balanced, but the brakes were from F-2. We just didn’t have enough money to drive the entire race. “
“That’s why I loved the way Brambilla attacked in the early laps, and in qualifications he was just great,” said Heard. – He was an unusual person and loved to drink a glass or two of wine before the Grand Prix. Max Mosley, the head of March at the time, was against such preparation for performances and forbade him. And one day Vittorio hid under a Ferrari truck to avoid being spotted.
Brambilla at the 1976 German Grand Prix
He was not really appreciated, and I could never understand it, – continues the engineer. – I think it’s snobbery. Like, who is this mechanic from Italy? And I think that his understanding of technology helped a lot – it was a pleasure to work with him. He was one of the best pilots ever to compete for us. Yes, he was not afraid of anything and sometimes risked too much, but he was a great racer – and it can be seen from the way he raced in the rain. ”
In the paddock, Brambilla was condescendingly called the Gorilla – for character, manners (rather, their absence) and a dense physique. On the grid, he was the oldest pilot and fought with young pilots who had everything ahead. But Vittorio never gave up: in the rain on “Fuji” in 1976, he almost passed James Hunt, but flew off the track. Brambilla returned to the race fourth, but retired due to engine failure. And in the out-of-competition race in Zandvoort he was second, finished fourth in the Race of Champions, losing only to Hunt, Jones and X.
Tragedy in Monza
After three seasons with March, Brambilla moved to Surtees, a much less competitive team, but in 1977 he earned them six points. And in 1978 he almost died in her car. At the start at Monza, Brambilla found himself off the edge of the track, tried to get back on track and hit another car, which provoked a huge blockage with the participation of Reuthemann, Pironi, Regazzoni, Depaye and several other riders. Two were taken to the hospital – Brambilla and Peterson.
Ronnie Peterson, at 34, was already one of the main stars of F1, and no one doubted that the Swede was waiting for the title. On that day, a rider with fractures in both legs was pulled out of a burning car. Doctors studied the Swede, counting a total of 27 fractures, and said that nothing threatened his life – Brambilla caused much more concern.
The Italian had numerous head injuries and fell into a coma. Brambilla was saved, but Peterson fell into a coma at night and died from a fatty embolism. Vittorio spent a whole year in painful recovery. And even returned to the start of the Italian Grand Prix in 1979 as part of the newly formed Alfa Romeo project. He, alas, did not shoot, and at the end of the 1980 season, Brambilla decided to end his career.
A few years later, he opened a Formula 1 artifact store in Monza and his garage – it is said that there is still a fairing repulsed by Brambilla in Austria. Vittorio even managed to return to the Italian Grand Prix – however, already as a driver of a medical car. Sid Watkins, the now deceased head physician of Formula 1, recalled that one day Brambilla asked how close he needed to stay to the peloton on the first lap. “Stay close, but I don’t want you to go ahead of them,” he replied then.
“Vittorio was a nutcase – but in a good way, a funny, funny guy,” – recalled Brambilla Joe Ramirez , the legendary McLaren engineer. “In the 70s we constantly traveled together, lived in nearby motorhomes and knew each other well,” recalled Giancarlo Minardi . – We called him Brambillone – Big Brambilla. No other word can describe it better. “
Brambilla died on May 26, 2001 of a heart attack. He did not leave behind records or high-profile titles, but his entire career in some sense became a complete reflection of Formula 1 of the late 70s, when the races did not bring big money, but they could easily finish off anyone on the starting grid. And in this sense, Vittorio was much more fortunate than others.