16/5/1909 - 24/8/1997
Italian Grand Prix motor racing driver who raced on the Formula One circuit at the time of its inception and was at his zenith in the immediate post-war era. Luigi Villoresi died 25 years ago, he was 88
Italian Grand Prix motor racing driver who raced on the Formula One circuit at the time of its inception and was at his zenith in the immediate post-war era.
Luigi Villoresi was born in Milan, Italy, and nicknamed "Gigi," he was the older brother of race car driver Emilio Villoresi who was his co-driver in several races at the beginning of their careers.
From a prosperous family, Villoresi could afford to buy a car and began competing in local rallies at the age of twenty-two with a Lancia Lambda and a few years later acquired a Fiat Balilla with which he and his brother Emilio competed in the Mille Miglia. He began racing back in 1931 with Fiats before turning to the marque that would make his name: Maserati.
In 1935, he raced in the Coppa Ciano, finishing third and went on to capture the Italian driving championship in the 1100cc sports car class. The following year he and his brother purchased a Maserati which they drove individually in different races. Emilio was so successful that he was signed to drive an Alfa Romeo for Scuderia Ferrari in the 1937 season.
By 1936, he and his brother Emilio had established a reputation as a pretty wild pair. Nevertheless Luigi won the voiturette Brno GP in Czechoslovakia in 1937 to earn promotion to the Maserati Grand Prix team. He became the 1500 cc Italian champion in 1938 and 1939, and took wins in the Albi, Pescara and South African GPs. He also won the Targa Florio in both 1939 and 1940, again in a Maserati, but the period was clouded by the death of Emilio, who was by now racing as a rival in the Alfa Romeo team, while testing an Alfa Romeo factory racer at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
In 1938, Luigi Villoresi became part of the Maserati team, driving the 8CTF model that Maserati had designed to compete with the dominant German Silver Arrows. In 1939 he won the South African Grand Prix but the onset of World War II interrupted his racing career.
During the war Villoresi was held as a prisoner of war, but upon his release he was immediately looking to race again.
He and Farina soon vied for the title of Italy's fastest driver, and with Wimille he was regarded as the world's best. In 1946 he scored victories in Nice and the Circuit of Voghera with his Maserati and took a 3-litre 8CL to Indianapolis, where he finished seventh, and the following season he notched up wins at Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata, Nimes, Nice, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.
The 1948 season saw him suffer a major crash at Bremgarten which he was lucky to survive, though he was to triumph as Italian champion for the second successive year. Wins were recorded at Buenos Aires in two races, Comminges, Albi, Silverstone (the first post-war British GP) and Barcelona. After winning the Libre races at Interlagos and Gavea, Villoresi finally forsook his beloved Maserati to join Ferrari in 1949 along with Ascari who became his closest friend and to whom he passed on much of his racecraft.
Debuting in Formula One with a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo on May 21, 1950. At the 1950 Monaco GP, already 41 years old, Villoresi served as an elder statesman for the F1 team. He was soon winning races for the Scuderia at Zandvoort in the supercharged car and in Formula 2 at Brussels, Luxembourg, Rome and Garda.
The 1950 and 1951 seasons were spent chasing the Alfa Romeos, but Villoresi still found success aplenty; wins at Buenos Aires and Rosario were followed by more success at Marseilles, Erlen and Monza in 1950, while the following year saw a very consistent championship campaign with the Type 375, which he took to victory at Syracuse and Pau in non-title events. It was a good year for 'Gigi', for he won the Mille Miglia and was second in the Carrera Panamericana, and shared a Lancia with Ascari to win the Sestrieres Rally.
During 1952-53 he was forced sit in the shadow of his brilliant pupil Ascari, but could still do the job when required, taking wins at Turin and Modena. Villoresi signed for Lancia for the 1954 season along with Ascari, but they were forced to wait for their Formula 1 car, which failed to appear until the last Grand Prix of the season. 'Gigi' raced for Maserati in the interim, but a crash in the Mille Miglia had dulled his edge.
In 1954, he and Ascari joined the new Lancia racing team but Ascari's death in the spring of the following year profoundly affected Villoresi and his career went into steep decline. He retired from Grand Prix racing in 1957 after 32 Formula 1 championship starts without a victory but made it to the podium 8 times while scoring a total of 49 championship points. By now well past his best, he drove privateer Maseratis and the works OSCA in sports car events. It was in this form of racing, driving a Maserati, that he suffered yet another serious injury when he crashed at Castelfusano and broke his leg very badly. Begged by his family to retire, he deferred to their wishes. However Villoresi continued rallying and won the Acropolis Rally in Greece in 1958 before retiring to a home in Modena. Luigi Villoresi died in 1997 at the age of eighty-eight, sadly ill & financially bereft in his final years.