F1: How the dream died for Forti Corse

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Before they joined the pinnacle of motorsport, Forti Corse were a successful team which competed in the junior categories.

Forti Corse before Formula One

Formed in the late 1970’s by Guido Forti and Paolo Guerci, the team wouldn’t have to wait long for its first triumph. In 1977, Teo Fabi won the Italian Formula Ford 2000 Drivers’ Title.

Further success came in the latter half of the 1980’s in the Italian Formula Three Championship.

Using a Dallara chassis and an Alfa Romeo engine, Franco Forini, Enrico Bertaggia, Emanuele Naspetti and Gianni Morbidelli all won the Drivers’ Championship between 1985 and 1989.

Furthermore, Bertaggia also won the Macau Grand Prix and the Formula 3 race at Monaco for Forti in 1988. In addition, Morbidelli added the European Formula Three Cup to the team’s honours list in 1989.

Morbidelli claimed Forti’s first victory Formula 3000, after winning at Pergusa in 1990. Although the team never won the F3000 title, they managed further race win with Naspetti, Andrea Montermini and Olivier Beretta.

Enrico Bertaggia at Brands Hatch for Forti Corse during his title-winning 1988 International Formula 3000 Season. Image Copyright Rick Autosport Pictures. 

Guido’s F1 dream

By this time, Guido Forti had started looking into the possibility of entering Formula One and was influenced by the successes of Eddie Jordan’s Formula 1 team, Jordan Grand Prix.

Like Forti, Jordan had also previously competed in Formula Three and Formula 3000 before his F1 adventure.

At the end of 1992, the team had formed a business partnership with Brazilian businessman Abilio dos Santos Diniz, who owned a large Brazilian distribution company

He provide a large amount of funding for Forti Corse as his son, Pedro Diniz, would go on to race for Forti in the 1993 and 1994 F3000 campaigns with little success. Diniz’s fourth place at Estoril in 1994 would prove to be his only points finish for the team.

On top of Forti’s existing sponsorship with Italian insurers Assitalia from Formula 3000, the team’s association with the Diniz family brought in several new partnerships.

The likes of Arisco, Duracell, Gillette, Kaiser, Marlboro, MasterCard, title sponsor Parmalat, Sadia and Unibanco all contributing to the team’s rumoured budget of $17Million for their F1 debut.

Starting afresh

The team’s main obstacle though was building a car from scratch, and Guido Forti wanted a car that was reliable, rather than fast.

Argentine Sergio Rinland left Dan Gurney’s Eagle Toyota IndyCar project to join Forti to help create the team’s Forti FG01.

Rinland had prior experience in Formula One, having worked on the chassis for the 1991 Brabham BT60 and the 1992 Fondmetal GR02.

Driver and Shareholder Pedro Diniz pictured in the garage of the Parmalat Forti Ford team during the 1995 Formula One Season. Image sourced from Mais Futebol website.

Rinland also brought in many people to Forti who he’d worked with on the Fondmetal GR02 at Astuato. The most notable was aerodynamicist Hans Fouche, who worked from South Africa, and designer Chris Radage.

Paulo Guerci had stayed on as the team’s race engineer, but by this point his stake in the team had been sold to Carlo Vallarino Gancia. Gancia was an Italian-Brazilian businessman who helped Pedro Diniz secure a drive with the team in Formula 3000.

Sporting and Technical Director Giorgio Stirano also contributied to the creation of the Forti FG01, as did Giacomo Caliri. Both of them also received help from Rinland in forming the car’s shape.

The FG01 would also use a 580bhp, 3-Litre Ford Cosworth V8 engine that was largely financed by the Brazilian subsidiary of Ford. Goodyear was also signed to the team as their tyre supplier.

With his family providing the basis of the team’s budget, Pedro Diniz was signed to Forti as the number one driver on a three-year contract.

In the sister car, the experienced Roberto Moreno was initially drafted in on a race-by-race basis but stay for duration of 1995.

A sluggish start in the fast lane

At the beginning of the season, the florescent yellow and blue Forti’s were well off the pace. Their car was bulky and lacked aerodynamic grip, which had negative effects. Unsurprisingly, the FG01 also didn’t have an airbox to begin with.

Roberto Moreno driving the Forti FG01 during the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix. Image sourced from Typewriter International.

In fact, Diniz and Moreno were so slow, they weren’t classified in Argentina and San Marino, which wasn’t helped by the use of manual gearboxes.

In addition to this, the car proved to be fragile and recorded 18 retirements.

As the campaign progressed numerous updates were made to the car and received a semi-automatic gearbox. But as Stirano explained to AutoCourse that year, things did not improve:

“It simply wasn’t efficient and we had to restart it,” Stirano said.

“We took off more than 60kg from the first version to the last and by Silverstone, we were on the minimum weight limit.”

“During the year we also had to re-homologate the nose and side pods, develop the semi-automatic gearbox, which was worth about half a second a lap, and redesign the monocoque. Not in terms of shape but in terms of the lay-up of the skins.”

Pedro Diniz would go on to record the team’s best finish of seventh in the high-attrition season finale at Adelaide. However, he finished four laps down on race winner Damon Hill and a lap behind sixth-placed Pedro Lamy.

After this, Forti’s reputation as a credible team had been shattered.

Team owner Guido Forti (centre) poses alongside Pedro Diniz (left), and former F1 driver Rene Arnoux. Image sourced from f1sport.it

A bunch of ‘amateurs’

At the close of 1995, Forti had become the butt of many jokes within the Formula One paddock. During the off-season, Joe Saward assessment of the team was nothing, but brutal:

“Pedro Diniz made [Pacific’s] Lavaggi and Deletraz look like amateurs when it came to throwing money away.

“The Forti was a fearful pile of junk and not even Roberto Moreno could make it go quickly.”

Saward added: “Diniz has some talent, but it will be his money which wins him a Ligier seat in 1996. Moreno should not have been driving for Forti. It was sad to watch.”

As Saward foreshadowed, Pedro Diniz took the backing of his father Abilio to join Olivier Panis at Ligier for the 1996 season.

Despite claims of Diniz having a three-year contract, it was claimed that the contract wasn’t in writing Subsequently, the Brazilian left without any legal dispute.

Most of the other sponsors Diniz had brought with him also departed Forti, leaving the team in financial troubles. Roberto Moreno also left the team to seek refuge in CART.

The Forti Pit Crew service the car of Pedro Diniz during the 1995 Spanish Grand Prix. Image Sourced from Pinterest.

Forti try to fill the void

Japanese driver Hideki Noda was linked with Forti for 1996, having raced with for the team in Formula 3000. Instead, it was another former F3000 driver of Forti Corse who joined the team.

Andrea Montermini was signed for 1996, after leaving the defunct Pacific Racing team. Alongside him was Luca Badoer, who himself had left Minardi to create an all Italian line-up on the grid.

Frenchman Franck Lagorce joined Forti as their test driver, who also had previously driven for Ligier at the end of the 1994 season.

Forti managed to get some new sponsor for the new season. Antera, Hewlett Packard, ITS, TAT, Replay, Roces all took up small spaces on the car, with Elf on-board as a technical partner.

Parmalat surprisingly remained, though they had a significantly smaller presence this time around, as did Brazilian beer brewery Kaiser.

Andrea Montermini’s qualifying run for the 1996 Australian Grand Prix in the virtually sponsor less Forti FG01B, in which the Italian driver failed to qualify. Video courtesy of EuroSport and Formula One World Championship Limited.

New characters, same old story

Sergio Rinland was now the team’s Head Technical Director. Cesare Fiorio was hired as Team Manager, having previously worked at Ferrari, Minardi and Ligier in Formula 1, as well as Lancia in the FIA World Rally Championship.

The Forti FG01B was a revised version of the team’s 1995 car, and was used until its 1996 car was ready. Both cars used a 3-Litre, Ford Zetec-R ECA V8 engine which produced between 610 and 630 bhp. Forti also maintained the use of Goodyear tyres.

Unsurprisingly, the team’s fortunes didn’t change as Badoer and Montermini failed to qualify for most of the races due to the new 107% rule.

At the 1996 San Marino Grand Prix, Badoer debuted the team’s new challenger; the Forti FG03. By this point, Rinland had left and George Ryton took over as Head Technical Director.

Ryton had designed the new car, along with Chris Radage and Riccardo de Marco, which saw a significant step in terms of aerodynamics and downforce.

Although Badoer would go on to finish in tenth, he was four laps down on the leaders. This would also be the only classified finish for the new car.

Drivers Andrea Montermini (left) and Luca Badoer (right) stand alongside Team Owner Guido Forti (centre) with the Forti FG01B. The car featured significantly less big money sponsors compared to 1995. Image Sourced from Pinterest.

Shannon and Shenanigans

Ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, Forti announced a partnership with the new Formula 3000 outfit Shannon Racing. As a result, the team’s livery on the car change to white and green.

The team received new sponsors in the form of Bettina, the Fin First Group and Gaiero.

Shannon claimed they had a 51% stake in the team from the deal. Guido Forti then denied this, and stated that Shannon hadn’t made the necessary payment within the agreed deadline during a meeting in Milan.

Because of this, Forti turned up to the British Grand Prix and only ran a handful of laps.  They were in debt with Cosworth and were running out of engine mileage. Forti then pulled out of the German Grand Prix whilst discussions with Shannon Racing continued, but this was to no avail.

A deal wasn’t reach and Forti Corse withdrew from Formula One. Ironically, had Forti made the start of the 1997 season, the team might have survived.

Guido Forti had signed the new Concorde Agreement shortly before the team’s demise, which meant they were entitled to a share of the extra television revenue.

Andrea Montermini aboard the Shannon Racing-liveried Forti FG03 during the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix. Despite the upgrades on the new car, Montermini failed to qualify. Image Sourced from @DNPQ_ via Twitter.

Speaking to Italian website F1Sport in 2014, Stirano labelled Pedro Diniz’s departure and Guido Forti’s stubbornness as the root of the team’s eventual downfall:

“When we entered F1 in 1995, the team had behaved in a dignified way,” Stirano said.

“The ’95 season was positive [in a way], we finished bottom in almost all the races with one driver or another. Even, for a very unfortunate case, we did not take points in Adelaide with [Roberto] Moreno.”

“We were able to create a structure with a hundred people but in the team, there was a problem related to the pilot, Pedro Diniz, who at the end of the year abandoned the team of which, among other things, he was a shareholder.”

“He moved to Ligier and we found ourselves without a sponsorship [for 1996].”

“I was a fraternal friend of Guido Forti, as well as sports director and technical director of the team.”

Giorgio Stirano (left) in the OPC EuroTeam garage talking to Team Owner Gabriele Seresina and their driver, Jeroen Bleekemolen, during the 2003 DTM season. Image Sourced from autosport.nl. 

“Just as a friend, I advised him to leave F1, to stop at the end of the year because of Diniz’s departure, because without resources we would not have had an easy life.”

“He decided to continue, engaging [Andrea] Montermini and [Luca] Badoer, and I remained in the team until the end of the construction of the new car [the FG03].”

“Guido was stubborn, that was his character, but this led him to failure. In the end he was cheated for not having a written contract with the Diniz family.”

From the 54 entries Forti Corse made across 27 Grand Prix, their cars made 44 starts, in which their drivers retired on 25 occasions.

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