The first of NSR’S GP Greats is the charis­matic Eu­ge­nio Castel­lotti

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

FRANCESCO CASTEL­LOTTI

was a wealthy man, a lawyer who wished his son to take up the same pro­fes­sion, but from child­hood Eu­ge­nio thought only of mo­tor rac­ing. Taught to drive by the fam­ily’s chauf­feur, he first raced in 1951, not long af­ter his fa­ther’s death.

This was not in some mi­nor event, but the Giro di Si­cilia, and Castel­lotti – just 20 – drove his own, black, Fer­rari. From the out­set he was overly brave: “Af­ter go­ing off the road six times, I had to re­tire – I had no rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence…”

Eu­ge­nio’s sec­ond race was even more ex­alted, the Mille Miglia, and the fol­low­ing year he scored his first win, at Syra­cuse, then fin­ished sec­ond in the Monaco Grand Prix, uniquely run in 1952 for sports cars.

There fol­lowed, though, a huge ac­ci­dent at Vila Real. “I was lead­ing,” Castel­lotti re­lated, “but missed a gear go­ing into a cor­ner, and hit a tree. I was ly­ing in the road, but couldn’t get up – my leg and pelvis were bro­ken – and I thought I’d had it. Then two lads car­ried me to the side of the track, and cars went over where I’d been ly­ing…” Five weeks later, he raced again.

In 1953, now driv­ing a Lan­cia, Eu­ge­nio won the first of three Italian Moun­tain Cham­pi­onships, and when the com­pany an­nounced its plan to en­ter F1 Al­berto Ascari, long his idol, rec­om­mended that Lan­cia sign him.

It was a dream re­alised, but the radical D50 was way be­hind sched­ule, and Castel­lotti’s F1 de­but did not come un­til 1955, an ac­ci­dent in Ar­gentina be­ing fol­lowed by sec­ond place at Monaco – where Ascari took his cel­e­brated plunge into the har­bour.

Four days later Castel­lotti was at Monza, test­ing a Fer­rari sports car, and tele­phoned his men­tor, sug­gest­ing he come out to the track. Ascari – rest­ing af­ter the shunt – agreed, and once there un­ex­pect­edly asked for a run in the car. On his third lap he crashed at the cor­ner now named for him.

Dis­traught, Gianni Lan­cia at once sus­pended his com­pany’s rac­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, but Castel­lotti im­plored him to make a car avail­able for the next race, Spa.

In one sense, at least, For­mula 1 in 1955 was much like today: if you didn’t have a Mercedes, you didn’t have a prayer. In­vari­ably Juan Manuel Fan­gio and Stirling Moss were out on their own, but at Spa Castel­lotti was on a mis­sion, and beat Fan­gio to pole po­si­tion. It was a stag­ger­ing per­for­mance, but un­set­tling to those who watched, not least De­nis Jenk­in­son. “You saw what he’d taken out of him­self,” Jenks told me, “and couldn’t help but fear for him in the race…”

Next day the Mercs pre­dictably dis­ap­peared, leav­ing Castel­lotti to fight for third with the hard­est of hard men, Giuseppe Fa­rina: in the pits there was some re­lief when the Lan­cia’s trans­mis­sion failed.

Soon after­wards the com­pany’s rac­ing depart­ment was handed over to Fer­rari, who ex­tended Eu­ge­nio’s sports car con­tract to in­clude For­mula 1. Over the next 18 months he was in­vari­ably a front run­ner, al­though never a win­ner, but in sports cars there were sev­eral vic­to­ries, no­tably in Italy’s blue riband event, the Mille Miglia.

Given that Castel­lotti never shed his im­petu­os­ity, and that in 1956 most of the 1000 miles were run in tor­ren­tial rain, few would have bet on him to fin­ish, let alone win, but he drove beau­ti­fully, av­er­ag­ing 85mph for eleven and a half hours, trounc­ing team mates Collins, Musso and Fan­gio.

By now Eu­ge­nio was a hero in his home­land, and in other ways, too, his life was chang­ing. “He was,” Moss said, “ev­ery­one’s idea of a rac­ing driver – dra­matic good looks, like a bull­fighter or some­thing.” Rob Walker was suc­cinct: “Castel­lotti made the girls gnaw at the back of their hands…”

Rich, charis­matic, al­ways el­e­gant, Eu­ge­nio in­deed never lacked for fe­male com­pan­ion­ship, but when he met Delia Scala ev­ery­thing changed. A lead­ing ac­tress, she was fa­mous in her own right, and swiftly they were anointed as Italy’s gilded cou­ple.

The 1957 sea­son started well, with vic­tory in the Buenos Aires 1000 Kms, and Castel­lotti was shortly due to cross the At­lantic again for the Se­bring 12 Hours, which he had won the year be­fore. In the mean­time he was with his fi­ancée, then ap­pear­ing in a play in Florence. On March 14 Eu­ge­nio got an un­wel­come call from Fer­rari, de­mand­ing that he re­turn im­me­di­ately to Mo­dena. Test­ing at the city’s track, Jean Behra’s Maserati had just set the lap record, and it was vi­tal that a Fer­rari should beat it.

Quite why this should have mat­tered so much was un­clear, but some – in­clud­ing Vil­loresi – sug­gested that Enzo acted as he did af­ter ac­cept­ing a lunchtime wa­ger at Mo­dena’s Biella Club.

What­ever, Castel­lotti did as bid­den, ar­riv­ing at the track in late af­ter­noon. Out

EU­GE­NIO CASTEL­LOTTI La Dolce Vita

he went in a Lan­cia-fer­rari, and within a few min­utes he was re­ceiv­ing the Last Rites. Af­ter go­ing out of con­trol at the S-bend af­ter the pit straight, the car had som­er­saulted to de­struc­tion against a stone grand­stand. Behra, watch­ing, in­sisted it had been a gear­box prob­lem, that Castel­lotti had ar­rived at the cor­ner in neu­tral.

Delia Scala, in­formed of the tragedy early that evening, some­how kept faith with the­atri­cal tra­di­tion, and ‘went on’, as ever.

The Mo­dena au­to­dromo is long gone, but, now a leafy park ded­i­cated to Enzo Fer­rari, its soul abides, with sundry path­ways named for driv­ers down the ages. There are memo­ri­als, too, in­clud­ing one for the man they called ‘Il Bello’.

As I stood by it, I thought of some­thing Peter Usti­nov once told me: “Peter Collins was a friend, and he told me the most ter­ri­fy­ing story about the Com­menda­tore. Peter was with him at Maranello when the phone rang. Fer­rari said, ‘Pronto! Fer­rari!’ Then he went pale. ‘Non e pos­si­bile… Castel­lotti morto...’ A pause. ‘E la macchina?’”

When I men­tioned this to Phil Hill, he re­sponded with a know­ing smile: “We all knew who we were work­ing for…”

For­mula 1 drive with Fer­rari and re­la­tion­ship with Delia Scala made Castel­lotti a star

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