[F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: GIANCARLO BAGHETTI

Formula 1 news story about [F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: GIANCARLO BAGHETTI

You could say that Charles Leclerc received an early Christmas present on the day he formally signed to drive for Ferrari in 2019.

It would not be unreasonable, however, for the young Monégasque to wish for a gift to equal the extraordinary Ferrari debut of a man born on Christmas Day in 1934.

The scion of a wealthy family in Milan, Giancarlo Baghetti was blessed from the outset. Wanting for very little, he began racing touring cars with some success before moving into single seaters in 1958. Formula Junior had been conceived as a breeding ground for young drivers and suited Baghetti as he put his name in the frame by winning the Italian title in 1960. 

This coincided with a difficult period for Enzo Ferrari. Having lost Eugenio Castellotti and Luigi Musso (as well as Alfonso de Portago of Spain and Britain’s Peter Collins) at the wheel of his cars, the ‘Old Man’ was not predisposed to hiring any more Italian drivers and inviting further opprobrium from the Italian media in the event of another – and, regrettably, all too common – fatality.

The solution was to loan a car to a co-operative of Italian team owners and allow them to choose a local driver; if there was success, Enzo Ferrari could claim some patriotic credit; if it went wrong for whatever reason, failure would be nothing to do with him. When Baghetti was given the drive, there was some surprise; he had been good, but not as quick as the more fancied Lorenzo Bandini.

Baghetti was to enjoy further good fortune as 1961 marked the beginning of the new 1.5-litre F1, for which Ferrari was extremely well prepared with the beautiful ‘Sharknose’ 156. There was also a plethora of non-championship F1 races and Baghetti was the sole Ferrari entry for one of them; the Syracuse Grand Prix in Sicily. 

When Baghetti won, beating the works Porsche of Dan Gurney, the Italian papers enthused over this maiden victory and noted that the new Italian hero would be taking part in the Naples GP. Since this was run on the same day as the Monaco GP, opposition was minimal and Baghetti walked his second F1 race. 

But that’s where the fairy story seemed likely to end since his third outing (and first proper World Championship Grand Prix) would be against a full F1 field at Reims in France.This would be a massive reality check for the 26-year-old novice.

That seemed to be the way of it when Baghetti qualified 12th while the works Ferraris of Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Richie Ginther filled the front row. All three led at various stages before running into trouble and allowing Baghetti to move forward and challenge the Porsches of Jo Bonnier and Gurney. 

Reims, with its long straights, was all about engine power and the German flat-4 was no match for the Italian V6. On the last lap, Gurney did all he could to hold the lead but Baghetti timed his slipstream to perfection and scored a remarkable victory. He would never finish in the top three of a championship Grand Prix again.

Ferrari would be overhauled by Lotus, BRM and Cooper the following year, Baghetti’s career going even further into reverse with a move to the small ATS team in 1962 and equally uncompetitive BRMs of an Italian privateer outfit the following year. With his front-line racing then confined to a few outings in the Italian Grand Prix, Baghetti gradually faded from the scene, making only rare appearances as he cut a quietly elegant figure as a photojournalist before succumbing to cancer at the age of 60. 

At this stage, Leclerc can only dream about such a debut with the Prancing Horse. Yet he should recall the final laps of Melbourne 1996 when fading oil pressure on his Williams-Renault cost Jacques Villeneuve a rare chance of emulating Baghetti. If the 2019 Ferrari is as good as everyone hopes, Charles Leclerc could find himself believing all his Christmases have come at once.