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Italian gem lost to touring cars



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Nicola Larini


Coloni-Cosworth FC187




1987 Spanish GP


The Spanish track of Jerez de la Frontera is the scene of Nicola Larini's race debut for Coloni. Larini's career story is best described as summer arriving too late, but when it came Nicola was shining like a radiant sun - too bad it wasn't in F1.

And it all started out so promisingly, springtime blossoming with Larini taking the 1986 Italian F3 championship for Coloni, beating team mate Marco Apicella to the title. 1987 saw him defect to the rival Forti F3000 team but Enzo Coloni took him back for a brace of late-season starts in his debuting F1 car. Enzo's project started out like many other Italian modern-day attempts into Formula 1: badly. Unlike BMS Dallara or Minardi, who had their occasional day of form, Coloni, just as Osella, never shook off the backmarker tag. It seems that only one Enzo was destined for F1 glory...

Larini's F1 years copied those of Coloni's, always stepping in with the wrong people at the wrong time: Osella, Ligier, Lamborghini. His F1 career totally in ruins after the disastrous Lambo adventure, he agreed to the role of Ferrari test driver, a job he faithfully carried out for four consecutive years. For his efforts he was paid back three times by Ferrari, first when replacing the fired Ivan Capelli at the end of 1992. His second chance of glory came when subbing for the injured Alesi in the 1994 Pacific GP, where he knocked out Ayrton Senna at the start, and in the ill-fated San Marino GP, where his career-best 2nd place was completely overshadowed by Senna's death. His last 'Ferrari' opportunity came in 1997 when Montezemolo got him into the second Sauber-Ferrari seat. But he soon fell out with Peter Sauber, accusing the Swiss team boss of favouring team mate Herbert and never being able to find his own set-up. Unlike Jean Alesi in 1998, Nicola lost. He was fired after Monaco which confined him to touring cars again.

There, his Indian summer had arrived in 1992, winning the Italian Touring Car Championship for Alfa. He followed the Martini outfit to Germany the following year and truly obliterated the fierce DTM opposition. As an Alfa Romeo driver he at last was given the opportunity to show his real, quite formidable talent, which made a lot of people wonder why F1 team bosses had managed to overlook him all those years.