Even today, Italian race fans can border on the fanatical. Not long after the first car entered a motor sport event, it seems the Italians expected much of their home born heroes, and nothing less than victory would satisfy these most demanding of supporters.
In return, a successful driver would receive the sort of adulation reserved for footballers and film stars in other countries. The Italian enthusiast cared little for mechanical matters and was not interested in the fact that some foreign cars might be faster than their beloved Ferraris and Alfa Romeos.
Enzo Ferrari tended to pair a very fast foreign driver with an Italian driver in his Formula One team, with the result that the Italian driver often drove too fast for his ability. Drivers like Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castellotti and Lodovicco Scarfiotti lived and died in the shadows of team mates like Juan Manuel Fangio, Mike Hawthorn
, and Chris Amon, while Bandini invariably had to play second fiddle to Phil Hill and John Surtees
in the Ferrari team.
Despite this emotional and psychological handicap, Lorenzo Bandini captured the imagination of the Italian public as well as the Press. Darkly handsome in the typical Latin manner, he behaved the way Italians felt their motor racing heroes should behave.
Bandini was born in Cyrenaica, North Africa to Italian parents in 1936, but in 1939 the family returned to Italy and he spent the war years in Florence. When Bandini's father died, at an early age, Lorenzo was obliged to take a job as a motor mechanic in Milan, but he was fortunate in his choice of employer, as Goliardo Freddi was a racing enthusiast who helped the young Bandini by loaning him saloon cars for local events.
From Formula Junior Volpini to Stanguellini
His racing career began in 1957 and he soon graduated from cars like the Fiat 1100 to the more potent Fiat V8 sports car. In 1958, Freddi loaned Bandini a Lancia Appia Zagato with which he won his class in the Mille Miglia. Bandini knew, however, that to get anywhere in motor racing he had to take part in single-seater racing. When the new Formula Junior was announced he rapidly acquired first a Volpini and then a Stanguellini. Although these front-engined Italian cars were no match for the mid-engined British types, which were setting drivers like Jim Clark, John Surtees
, Peter Arundell and Trevor Taylor on their way to the top, Bandini gained some good victories in Italian events during 1959 and 1960, bringing his name to the notice of Ferrari who considered him for a place in his team in 1961.
In the end Bandini, however, was passed over in favour of Giancarlo Baghetti. Despite this setback, Bandini did drive in Formula One during 1961, as the Italian private entrant, Guglielmo Dei, provided him with a Cooper-Maserati. This was not a very competitive car, but the young Bandini placed it third in his first Formula One race at Pau in France behind Jim Clark and Jo Bonnier
. He followed up with a third place in the Naples Grand Prix
which gained him a drive in the Ferrari sports car team. At the end of the season he won the Pescara Four-Hours sports car race, co-driving with Giorgio Scarlatti.
He also found time to win the Coppa Junior at Monza with his Formula Junior Stanguellini and, in the winter of 1961/62, he toured New Zealand with a Cooper-Maserati. For 1962 he was signed by the Ferrari factory for both Formula One and sports car racing, but, with drivers such as Phil Hill, Ricardo Rodriguez, Willy Mairesse and Giancarlo Baghetti in the team, he did not get many drives. However, he finished a brilliant third in the Monaco GP and, with Baghetti, co-drove a Ferrari to second place in the Targa Florio. He also beat Baghetti to win the Mediterranean GP at Pergusa, Sicily at the end of this short but promising season.
Ferrari allowed Bandini to go in 1963 so Mimmo Dei of the Scuderia Centro-Sud offered him a 1.5-litre V8 BRM
, painted in Italian red, for Formula One races. The BRM
had good handling, having given Graham Hill
the World Championship the previous year, and Bandini enjoyed the English car, picking up his idiomatic English from the BRM
mechanics who looked after it. Later in the 1963 season, Ferrari realised his mistake and signed Bandini as number two to Surtees. In the 1½ litre Ferrari he finished third in the Rand GP, fifth in both the South African and United States GPs and won the Le Mans 24-hour race, co-driving a Ferrari with Scarfiotti.
Bandini remained faithful to Ferrari for the rest of his career. In 1964 he finished second in the Syracuse GP and third in the Italian, German and Mexican GPs, as well as obtaining several good sports car placings. His team leader, John Surtees
, won the World Championship in 1964. Bandini's first Formula One victory came in 1965 on the rough Zeltweg airfield course where the Austrian Grand Prix
was first held. He finished second in the Monaco GP, third at Syracuse and fourth in the Italian and United States GPs. He also co-drove the winning Ferrari in the 1965 Targa Florio, with Nino Vaccarella.
remained with Ferrari in 1966 and Bandini was becoming fretful at having to stay in the shadow of a foreign driver, but he drove the new Ferrari to second place at Monaco and Syracuse and third place at Spa. Then Surtees had a much publicised row with the Ferrari team manager at Le Mans and abruptly left, elevating Bandini to the position of number one in the team. However, success did not come, and his best places subsequently in 1966 were a couple of sixth places in the Dutch and German GPs.
The 3-litre Ferrari was much bigger and heavier than the fleet little Brabham which was doing most of the winning in 1966. Bandini was now a prosperous garage owner and married to Margherita Freddi, the daughter of his first benefactor. He started the 1967 season as Ferrari team leader, very conscious of his position in Italian eyes. Victories in the sports car races at Daytona and Monza early on augured well for the season, as did a good second place in Britain's Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.
Then in the Monaco GP he was running second to Denny Hulme's Brabham when his Ferrari touched the barriers at the chicane; the car flew across the road, mounted the straw bales, over-turned and caught fire. The primitive fire-fighting equipment was unable to cope with the blaze and every time the flames appeared to be under control it would flare up again. None of the fire crew had protective clothing and could not approach the blaze. It was several minutes before the fire was finally quenched and the terribly injured Bandini was taken across Monaco harbour to hospital.
Bandini's burns were extensive, with third degree burns covering more than 70% of his body. The worst burns were on his arms and legs with slight burns on his face. Doctors were forced to wait for twenty-four to forty-eight hours before resolving to move Bandini to a hospital in Lyon, France, which specialized in the treatment of burns. Other options considered, by the doctors, were flying in skin grafts from Italy or a specialist burns unit team from East Grinstead in England. The burns caused severe lesions. He also sustained a chest wound and ten chest fractures.
By some miracle, he survived until the following Wednesday, but he finally succumbed to his injuries. He was 31. Bandini's death came as a great shock to the members of the Grand Prix
'circus' and his death gave the first impetus to the great drive for safety in motor racing. Bandini was buried in Reggiolo on May 13.100,000 people attended the funeral.