Formula 1

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Italy Scuderia Achille Varzi

1955Arzani-Volpini Maserati 4CLT 2.5 L4F1 Formula 1 image Luigi Piotti 
1950Maserati Maserati 4CLT/48 Formula 1 image José Froilán González

Formula 1 image Nello Pagani 

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By Jeremy McMullen

If success lay in a name then Scuderia Achille Varzi had more than enough opportunity to become one of the powerhouse teams in Formula One, at least in the series' early years. If success truly lay in a name then Scuderia Achille Varzi would also have no excuse for failure. However, Scuderia Achille Varzi offers proof that success does not lay in a name but in the talent and hard work of talented individuals within a team.

Achille Varzi started out racing motorcycles when he was rather young and became quite successful. At the age of 19 Varzi won the 350 Italian Championship. In 1926, Achille made his four-wheel debut racing a Bugatti. In that race the Bugatti would fail Varzi and forced him to retire. This provided Varzi with just a taste of what would eventually become an illustrious four-wheel racing career despite the non-illustrious beginning.

From 1927 through 1930 Varzi would continue to race motorcycles. He would continue to win races throughout this period. However, in 1928 Achille joined the Bianchi race team, which featured Nuvolari as one of its drivers. Soon Nuvolari started his own team. Varzi went and joined Nuvolari's team. Nuvolari and Varzi started out by racing Bugattis. Interestingly, Varzi hired Guido Bignami as his mechanic. Bignami would later become even more famous when he would go on to be Juan Manuel Fangio's mechanic. Wanting to gain an edge, Varzi would buy and race Alfa Romeos. He also started his own race team. But he wouldn't stop there. Varzi would end up buying a Maserati too and would race both the Alfa and the Maserati. With these machines, Achille was able to win the Italian Championship in 1930.

Varzi's first major victory would come just a little while later in 1930 in the Targa Florio. Starting well back, Varzi was able to make up the difference and take the lead. Varzi would end up holding onto the lead despite fighting a fire throughout the last couple of laps.

One of Achille's other high points was a victory at the 1933 Monaco Grand Prix in a Type 51 Bugatti after a hard fought battle with Nuvolari that lasted almost the entire race distance. That same year, Varzi would also win the Tripoli Grand Prix amidst allegations the race had been fixed.

In 1934 Achille switched back to Alfa Romeo and would end up winning 9 races in the P3. This all helped him to be able to win the Italian Championship for the second time. From 1935 to 1937 Varzi raced for the Auto Union team. However, victories were much harder to come by. Although Achille would end up winning the Tripoli Grand Prix for the third time he was rather overshadowed by his teammate Bernd Rosemeyer. After these couple of dismal seasons Varzi seemed to drop out of sight, and then, World War II broke out.

Despite his struggles just prior to the outbreak of the war, Achille returned to grand form afterward. For two seasons, driving an Alfa Romeo 158, Varzi experienced some impressive results.

Achille would travel to South America to race and became very popular in Argentina. Varzi planned to retire there. While in Argentina, Varzi formed Scuderia Achille Varzi. Juan Manuel Fangio ended up starting out his grand prix career with the team.

Varzi was always known for his smooth driving style and car control. However, while practicing for the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten, Achille lost control on the damp track. He ended up spinning several times. It appeared the car would harmlessly come to a rest after the spins. However, the car rolled over and crushed Achille. This incident was only the second or third accident Varzi suffered throughout his racing career. However, this incident cost Varzi his life. Achille entered less than 150 races throughout his career and won over 30 of them. This data proved a testament to the talent and ability Achille was blessed with.

Despite Achille's death, the team continued on and would compete in Formula One's inaugural season in 1950. Coming into the season, Scuderia Achille Varzi would have a number of drivers at the controls of their cars. However, technically Jose Froilan Gonzalez would end up being considered the team's number one driver. Besides Gonzalez, others like Toni Branca, Nello Pagani, Alfredo Pian, and Gianfranco Comotti would all drive for the team throughout the season. With the exception of Toni Branca, who would only drive for the team during the first part of the season in a Maserati 4CLT, the Scuderia Achille Varzi team would use Maserati 4CLT/48s (see article Maserati 4CLT for details) throughout the inaugural season.

Scuderia Achille Varzi would not take part in Formula One's first race at Silverstone, the British Grand Prix. However, at the next race in Monaco the team would bring two cars and would demonstrate they were strong competition for the front runners. Despite Alfredo Pian's crash in practice, and subsequent failure to start, Achille Varzi did have one of its drivers, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, qualify 3rd overall for the race. Things were looking good for the team going into the race. However, an accident on the first lap of the race took out Gonzalez, while he was running second, along with a good majority of the field. Gonzalez tried to carry on in his damaged car, but it would eventually catch on fire and would consume Gonzalez in the flames. He would miss the next couple of races due to having suffered burns.

After the Indianapolis 500, which was a race in the championship, the Formula One season next stopped in Switzerland for the Swiss Grand Prix and the 4.5 mile course at Bremgarten. After racing a couple of times for the team earlier on Toni Branca came to Switzerland with his own team, driving a Maserati 4CLT. This undoubtedly led to Scuderia Achille Varzi entering only one car with Nello Pagani at the controls. Despite not qualifying all that well in 15th, Nello had a better race. Pagani stayed out of trouble and drove a steady race all the way up to the 7th spot, only two places out of the points.

At the next race, the Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa circuit, only 14 cars arrived to compete; the pace of the season was beginning to take a toll. Achille Varzi was experiencing the toll that was being exacted and thus did not make the trip. However, the team did arrive for the French Grand Prix, held at Reims-Gueux. Achille Varzi was to come with two drivers for this race. Gonzalez was back after nursing his burns and Gianfranco Comotti was to take the reins of the second car. Comotti, however, did not arrive. So, Achille Varzi was down to a one man team again. Gonzalez appeared to be suffering not at all from his burns as he qualified well in 8th. Things again did not go well for Jose during the race however. After only three laps, he was forced to retire with engine problems. This frustrating result appeared to be the final straw for the team competing in Formula One's first season. When the season drew to a conclusion in Monza, the Achille Varzi team did not make an appearance. The team would end up settling for no points and a best finish of 7th.

Scuderia Achille Varzi suffered throughout Formula One's inaugural season. The team was unable to compete at each grand prix, but compounding that fact was a series of other unfortunate events that hindered the team from showing its true ability. Gonzalez missed time behind the wheel due to suffering burns. Pian missed a start due to an accident during practice. Comotti failed to show for one race. When combining these events with car failures, the number of opportunities for good finishes rapidly diminishes. Despite all these disappointing results, the pace Gonzalez was able to achieve in the Maserati 4CLT/48 was indicative of what the team could do and, as a result, did the team's namesake proud.


'1950 Formula One season.' Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 10 Feb 2009, 16:38 UTC. 16 Feb 2009

'Achille Varzi.' Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 10 Feb 2009, 15:01 UTC. 16 Feb 2009

' Achille Varzi.' Historic Racing. 16 Feb 2009