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Editorial | Ivan Capelli: from karts to F1

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IVAN CAPELLI FROM KARTS TO F1

10 April 2017

At the beginning of the 2017 season, thanks to Antonio Giovinazzi, Italy is represented once more at the start of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Antonio, third driver for Ferrari, is the last in a tradition that has provided a series of important figures to motorsport. Such as, for example, that of Ivan Capelli, an extraordinary driver who, like Giovinazzi, began in karting and made it all the way to Ferrari F1. Here is his story.

My dad and I decided we wanted to give karts a try after watching coverage of a karting championship on Swiss TV. I was 14 and we headed to the shop without knowing a thing and ended up leaving with a 125 cc, for sure not what you want a kid to start on! Sometime later my dad found the phone number of the CIAK (Centro Italiano Assistenza Karting / Italian Karting Assistance Center). He called them up and they confirmed that, yes, I needed a different kind of vehicle. So we headed to the Parma track, walked inside the shop and sold the 125 for a 100 Cadet kart, the hot new thing for beginners back then. I did my first lap right there with help from Gianni Mezzadri and Vittorio Marzi and... I laughed the whole way around. I was so happy to be at the wheel of my very own go-kart in Parma that I bounced from corner to corner like a drunk driver, grinning from ear to ear.

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Parma ended up being where I came of age as a rookie, learning about the basics like trajectories, corners, and braking from Pietro Sassi, back then already an experienced guy. That’s where my racing life began.
Instead, my first time on a Formula 1 car was traumatic. It was 1983, I had just won the F.3 Italian Championship and Brabham invited me to try the BT 53, the car on which Piquet would win the World title that year. Let me tell you: those first laps propelled by a 700 horse power 1500 turbo engine with the kind of tires and dampers used back then and mechanical shifting... it felt like I was being slapped around. I remember talking to the mechanic afterwards like I was cool with it all, but all the while wondering: “What the hell was I thinking?”
My world Championship debut came two years later, in ‘95; Brands Hatch, England again, but this time with Tyrrell. Another intense experience! They called me up last minute, saying: “We have just enough time to come up, get the seat toegther, and race”... In addition, it poured like mad on Thursday, so I only got to step on track for free practice, without prior chance to get a feel for either the track or the car. I qualified in the bottom rows, but in the feature race I managed to rise all the way to tenth place - a dream recovery! Unfortunately, I ended up making a shifting mistake and that sent me spinning in a one-eighty and crashing against the barriers. That was the end of my debut weekend, but my Formula 1 adventure had just begun.

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