F1: How the dream died for Guido Forti

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

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

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, the Swiss Franco Forini, in addition to Italian drivers 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 F3 race at Monaco for Forti in 1988, with Morbidelli adding the European Formula Three Cup to the team’s honours list in 1989.

On top of this, Gianni Morbidelli claimed Forti Corse’s first victory in the International Formula 3000 Championship, after winning the Pergusa round in 1990.

Although the team never won the F3000 title, they managed further victories in the early 1990’s courtesy of Naspetti, Andrea Montermini and Olivier Beretta, the latter of whom claimed Forti’s final win at the 1993 F3000 season opener at Donington Park.

Enrico Bertaggia at Brands Hatch in the Forti Corse-entered Dallara 3087 during his Championship Winning 1988 International Formula 3000 Season. Image Copyright belongs to rickautosportpictures.com. 

By this time, Guido Forti had started looking into the possibility of entering Formula One, having been influenced by the successes of Eddie Jordan’s F1 team Jordan Grand Prix, who had also previously competed in a national Formula Three Championship and Formula 3000 respectively.

At the end of 1992, the team had formed a business partnership with Brazilian businessman Abilio dos Santos Diniz, who a large Brazilian distribution company in a deal which saw Abilio provide a large amount of funding for Forti Corse.

His son, Pedro Diniz, would go on to race for Forti in the 1993 and 1994 F3000 campaigns with little success, as 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 F3000, the team’s association with the Diniz family brought in several new partnerships, with 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 the 1995 Formula 1 season.

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 first Formula One car; the Forti FG01.

Rinland had prior experience in Formula One, having worked on the chassis for the 1991 Brabham BT60 and the 1992 Fondmetal GR02; the latter of which was done under his company, Astuato Ltd.

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, with the most notable names being 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, 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 whom received help from Sergio 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 American car manufacturer, Ford, and Goodyear tyres.

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 would end up contesting all 17 races in 1995.

At the beginning of the season, the florescent yellow and blue Forti’s were well off the pace, as their car was bulky and lacking aerodynamic grip which had negative effects and 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 at the end of the Argentine and San Marino Grand Prix, which wasn’t helped by the fact that their engines used 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 Giorgio Stirano explained to AutoCourse that year, things did not improve:

“It simply wasn’t efficient and we had to restart it. We took off more than 60kg from the first version to the last and by Silverstone [for the 1995 British Grand Prix] 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, Australia, albeit four laps down on race winner Damon Hill and a lap behind sixth placed Pedro Lamy’s Minardi-Ford.

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

Team Owner Guido Forti (centre) poses with his driver, Pedro Diniz, and former Grand Prix driver René Arnoux. Image Sourced from the F1Sport.it website.  

The Italian outfit had become the butt of everyone’s jokes within the Formula One paddock, as demonstrated by this quote from Joe Saward during the 1995/96 off-season.

“Pedro Diniz made [Pacific’s pay drivers Giovanni] Lavaggi and [Jean-Louis] Délétraz 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.”

“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 wasn’t stated in writing, hence why the Brazilian left without any legal dispute.

Subsequently, most of the other sponsors Diniz had brought with him departed Forti as well, leaving the team in financial troubles.

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

Roberto Moreno also left the team to seek refuge in CART.

Japanese driver Hideki Noda was linked with Forti for 1996, having raced with for the team in the 1994 F3000 Championship.

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, and 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 Corse as their test driver, who also had Grand Prix experience after he drove twice for Ligier at the end of the 1994 season.

Forti would start the 1996 season with new sponsors, as Antera, Hewlett Packard, ITS, TAT, AG Jeans Brand Replay, Inline Skates producer Roces and fuel lubricants Elf took up small spaces on the car.

Parmalat surprisingly remained, though they had a significantly smaller presence this time around, whilst Brazilian beer brewery Kaiser maintained their presence on the side of the front wing.

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.

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

The Forti FG01B, a revised version of the team’s 1995 car, was used until its 1996 car was ready, in which 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 as the team struggled to overcome the new 107% rule, which was introduced to prevent unfit cars, such as the FG01B, from competing.

At the 1996 San Marino Grand Prix, Luca 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, albeit four laps down on the leaders, this would prove to be the only classified finish in a Grand Prix for the FG03.

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

Ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, Forti announced a partnership with Shannon Racing, who’d debuted that year in the International Formula 3000 Championship and saw 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 had claimed they had a 51% stake in the team from the deal, only for Guido Forti to state that this wasn’t true, as Shannon hadn’t made the necessary payment within the six-day deadline agreed during a meeting in Milan.

Because of this, Forti turned up to the British Grand Prix and only ran a handful of laps, as they were in debt with Cosworth and 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 that was due to be paid out.

Andrea Montermini aboard the Shannon Racing-liveried Forti FG03 during the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix. Despite the upgrades on the new car, both Montermini and Luca Badoer failed to qualify. Image Sourced from Did Not Pre-Qualify Twitter Page.

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

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

“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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