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Lorenzo Bandini is the most popular Italian driver of the 1960s, in a nation where motorsport is a cult but struggles to find a champion since the days of Ascari.

Lorenzo is not the type of superstar to whom everything comes easy; he doesn't have the look of a playboy devoted to the good life, nor does he race for show. Yet, people love him, perhaps for his simple and clean style.

Bandini's story isn't even one of redemption from a popular novel; Lorenzo grows up in an affluent bourgeois family, after being born in Libya during the grim days of colonialism. The family owns a hotel in Brisighella, the birthplace of his father.

After a long apprenticeship, Lorenzo moves to single-seaters and immediately catches the eye of Enzo Ferrari. The year 1961 seems to be the right time to debut in Formula 1 with Ferrari, but the race car is assigned to Baghetti, who wins immediately at Reims.

Bandini still makes his debut with a Cooper from Scuderia Centro Sud. A debut without fireworks, four races and an eighth place at Monza.

The following year, Ferrari employs him in three races valid for the World Championship; in the first one, at Monaco, Bandini immediately lands on the podium, third. 1963 is a season where Bandini shines, although he doesn't achieve much in Formula 1.

In the top category, he first races with BRM, proving to be strong even without Ferrari, then with the red from Maranello he gets two fifth places.

The highlight of the year, however, is at Le Mans, where Bandini wins alongside Scarfiotti, with a Ferrari 250 LP.

In 1964, Ferrari finally fields him for the entire year, as Surtees' sidekick.

The first part of the year is disastrous: four races and not even a point. From Great Britain, Bandini unleashes himself: 23 points and a victory in Austria, the only one of his career.

In the second part of the championship, only Surtees does better than him and wins the title.

In Mexico, the maneuver with which Lorenzo takes out Graham Hill sparks some controversy. Without him, Surtees couldn't win the title. Bandini, in the end, finishes fourth. 1965 is disappointing, with Ferrari not always competitive and only a second place in Monaco to remember, but Lorenzo proves to keep up with Surtees.

1966 starts off great: Bandini is second in Monaco and third in Belgium.

At the third race, the Italian leads the World Championship; not only that: Surtees argues with Ferrari and leaves, leaving Lorenzo as the lead driver. At Reims, Bandini takes pole position and dominates for 31 laps, then the accelerator cable breaks. With the victory, Lorenzo would have escaped in the standings.

From there on, however, everything goes wrong.

Ferrari skips some races and Lorenzo loses two almost certain victories at Monza and Watkins Glen due to trivial failures. At the end of the year, he's only ninth.

1967 should be the year of consecration. Bandini starts as the lead driver and Ferrari seems to have the car to beat. In Monaco, a track where he always feels comfortable, he immediately qualifies second. In the race, he quickly takes the lead but slips on Brabham and Hulme's oil and Stewart overtakes him.

The Scotsman retires, and the race becomes a battle between Hulme and Bandini.

Lorenzo climbs up one second at a time, but he seems increasingly tired. From the pits, they see him almost absent-mindedly making various driving mistakes. On the 82nd lap, Bandini tackles the port chicane too fast, in fifth instead of third.

The Ferrari goes off track, overturns, and catches fire. Rescues, as always at the time, are slow and ineffective: there is nothing to be done for Bandini.

For Ferrari and the entire nation, it's a tremendous blow, so much so that the Drake will always be reluctant to field Italian drivers since then.

Bandini is so popular that even Pope Paul VI participates in mourning with a message of condolence. Italy has lost its hero with the simple face, the champion everyone loves.

© "Formula 1, Le Storie"


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