Michele Alboreto – Underrated Drivers

Michele Alboreto is often referred to as a “kind hearted driver”, for the polite attitude he showed towards his teams. His career lasted 14 seasons, and he’s warmly remembered by Italian fans as the last Italian driver to win a race with the illustrious red team from Maranello.

Michele was born in Milan on December 23rd, 1956. He grew up watching F1’s roaring cars from behind the fences of the Monza circuit, dreaming of driving them one day.

In 1976, he crowned his dream of becoming a single-seater driver, taking part in Formula Monza with Scuderia Salvati, driving a car he helped build with his own hands. The car was very difficult to drive, even had a crooked chassis, but Alboreto’s great driving style definitely stood out, despite not achieving great results.

Alboreto stayed in Formula Monza for the 1977 season, this time putting in some great results that allowed him to take third place in the final standings. His team, noticing his great talent and the potential for a successful career, helped him get into Formula Italia in 1978.

His rookie season in the category was very successful. He managed to pick up one win, clinging fourth place in the final standings. These great performances helped him make his debut at the last race of the Italian Formula 3 season, getting an incredible fourth place. That same year, he also went on to win the Formula Fiat Abarth championship, further testament to the young driver’s talent.

In 1979 Michele raced in two different categories: he stayed in the Italian Formula 3, taking second place in the standings, and also competed in the European Formula 3, taking sixth place in the championship, with the title won by the great Alain Prost.

In 1980, Alboreto again raced in both the Italian and European Formula 3, ending up third in Italy, and incredibly winning the European championship. 

The next season, Michele got into Formula 2, driving for Minardi. Despite the car not being competitive enough to constantly battle for the lead, he managed to get a third place in Pergusa and an incredible win in Misano, ending his rookie season in eighth place in the standings. That same year, though, he got the call from Tyrrell to drive in F1 for the first time, taking part in the San Marino Grand Prix. He qualified in P17, ahead of his teammate Eddie Cheever. Despite not being able to finish the race due to an incident caused by Beppe Gabbiani, Alboreto had done enough to earn a full-time drive with Tyrrell for the rest of the season. A really uncompetitive car made him unable to score any points for the whole season, but his performances made Tyrrell want to keep him for the 1982 season.

In 1982, Tyrrell provided the Italian with a much improved car, allowing him to have a very satisfying season. He was able to constantly fight for points, even taking his first podium in Imola and winning his first race at the final round in Las Vegas.

In 1983, Michele stayed with Tyrrell, but had a slightly more disappointing season. He did manage to win a race in Dallas, but he scored points in only one other grand prix with a sixth place in Zandvoort, meaning he ended the season in P12. However, Alboreto had high hopes for 1984, as he signed for the reigning Constructors’ Champions, Maranello’s Scuderia Ferrari, becoming the first Italian driver to race for the Prancing Horse since Arturo Merzario in 1973.

His first podium in red came only at the third race of the season in Zolder. The rest of the season, though, was pretty disappointing. His Ferrari 126 C4 was very underperforming compared to the McLarens, and he only managed to take three more podiums, a P3 and two P2s, ending the season in fourth place, 41.5 points away from World Champion Niki Lauda.

1985 was Michele’s best season ever. Ferrari provided him with an incredibly fast car. Even before the start of the season, he said: “If I don’t win the 1985 championship, I shall be beaten on the ears with a stick”. The claim proved to be well-founded, as, before the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, he managed to get on the podium in every race he finished, taking two wins in Canada and Germany, except in Zandvoort, where he ended up fourth. The title now seemed to really be on the horizon, being only three points behind championship leader Alain Prost. However, he had to retire from all the five final races of the season, while Prost comfortably went on to win the title with a 20 points advantage.

1986 was a season to forget for Alboreto and Ferrari, ending the season in ninth place, with the only stand-out performance being a P2 in Austria. 1987 and 1988 were slightly better years, taking several podium places, but poor car reliability meant he had to retire from half the races he takes part in. He ended the two seasons respectively in seventh and fifth place, and at the end of 1988, he announced he would part ways with Ferrari after a relationship that lasted five years.

Alboreto would go on to spend the rest of his career driving for backmarkers in the form of Tyrrell Larrousse, Arrows, Footwork, Scuderia Italia and Minardi. At the end of the 1994 season, he finally announced his retirement from F1, 14 years after his first race with Tyrrell.

Michele died tragically in 2001 while testing an Audi prototype for the 24h of Le Mans. He was a very quick driver, showing his great talent on multiple occasions. However, uncompetitive and unreliable cars prevented him from winning that elusive World Title, thus often not being remembered among the greats of the sport.

CAREER STATS: 215 GPs, 5 Wins, 23 Podiums, 2 Pole Positions, 5 Fastest Laps, Best Championship Result: 2nd (1985)

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