Fascinating F1 Fact:46

Being in the right place at the right time is key to success in a Formula 1. One might complain that a driver did not deserve the success he had, but that’s the way it is, the way the cards are dealt, and the way the dice fall.

In motor racing many believe that you make your own luck by being in the right place, being prepared and always doing a good job. As we have seen in recent days, Valtteri Bottas was in the right place at the right time. Now he must deliver. The best example in F1 of being in the right place at the right time is probably Giancarlo Baghetti, who won the first three F1 races he entered.

Born on Christmas Day in 1934, Baghetti was both fortunate and unfortunate at birth. It meant that he would be given fewer presents throughout this lifetime, as everyone combine their Christmas and birthday gifts, but at the same time his family owned a foundry – Stabilimenti Metallurgici Accorsi e Baghetti – which was based in Lecco, in the beautiful lakeland to the north of Milan. This was a business big enough to have its own football team, and it meant that Giancarlo and his brother Marco did not struggle for money.

Giancarlo always wanted to be a racing driver, but he was worried about his father’s reaction to the idea and so raced secretly, borrowing his father’s car, which was tuned by night by Angelo Dagrada, a local garage owner and borrowed for weekends, ostensibly so the boys could spectate at events. His first race was the Coppa della Madunina at Monza in 1956 and his adventures expanded the following year with events such as the Trieste-Opicina and Coppa del Cimino hillclimbs and the Coppa Carri at Monza. There was a similar programme in 1958 with the primary exception being that the Baghetti brothers entered the Mille Miglia rally. The classic event had been banned the previous year, but there was a gruelling  32-hour 1,593 km trial through the mountain roads of northern Italy, with seven timed stages along the way. There were 111 entries and the Baghetti brothers were second in class and seventh overall.

This led to a friend, Mario Poltronieri, a racer who went on to become a celebrated TV commentator (and who died last week), mentioning Baghetti to Carlo Abarth as someone to look out for. Abarth signed Baghetti to race for him in 1959. This was quite successful and in 1960 Baghetti tried single seaters, driving a Formula Junior built by his friend Dagrada. This too was a great success.  At the end of the year Giancarlo received a phone call from Eugenio Dragoni, who ran Scuderia Ambroeus, and was also team manager at Ferrari. Dragoni took Baghetti to meet Enzo Ferrari and, much to Giancarlo’s surprise, he was offered a Ferrari contract. He tested a sports car  soon afterwards and was sufficiently fast for Ferrari to decide to enter him for the 1961 Sebring 12 Hours, as team-mate to Willy Mairesse. The car would be taken over by Wolfgang Von Trips and Ritchie Ginther in the course of the race, but they would all be listed as having finished second.

Ferrari was keen to promote an Italian in F1 and agreed to loan a Ferrari 156 to Scuderia Ambroeus for the Gran Premio di Siracusa on April 25 and the Gran Premio di Napoli at Posillipo on May 14. Despite strong opposition at Syracuse, Baghetti used the Ferrari horsepower to good effect and beat all the big names from Porsche, Cooper, Lotus and BRM. It was a stunning victory. Two weeks later, with most of the stars racing at Monaco, he won at Posillipo as well. Two F1 races. Two wins.

Ferrari had expanded to four cars for the Belgian GP with local hero Olivier Gendebien driving alongside the regular stars Wolfgang Von Trips, Phil Hill and Richie Ginther, and Enzo Ferrari decided to send a fourth car to Reims as well, to try Baghetti in a World Championship race. Hill, Von Trips and Ginther qualified 1-2-3, with Baghetti 12th, five seconds slower than pole position.

Hill led from the start with Ginther and Von Trips chasing as Baghetti worked his way up the order. Von Trips then stopped with engine trouble on the 18th lap, Hill led for 20 laps then spun and stalled and was a lap behind. Ginther led for three laps and then his engine failed. This left Gurney’s Porsche fighting Baghetti, they changed places a number of times but on the last lap Baghetti pulled out of Gurney’s slipstream and took the lead a couple of hundred yards before the finish line to become the first and, to date, only man to win on his F1 World Championship debut.

He raced twice more that year but failed to repeat his success and in 1962 Ferrari had lost its advantage. He raced four times and scored points three times but then decided to follow Hill and many of the Ferrari staff to join the ATS team. This was not a success and with the doors closed to him at Maranello, he could only find a two-year-old BRM entered by Scuderia Centro Sud in 1964. He enjoyed some success in other forms of racing and appeared at the Italian GP each year until 1967 but the machinery was never competitive.

He retired from racing in 1968, married Chichi Vianini and started a new career as an art photographer and later as a journalist. He became the editor of the weekly car magazine Auto Oggi in 1986, but died of cancer at the age of 60 in November 1995. His son Aaron is an art photographer now based in London.