Giovanna Amati

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Last updated: 6-May-2001


Before Formula One Formula One After Formula One

Before F1

Victim of a kidnapping, buys herself a 500cc Honda at age 15

Born in Rome, Italy, Giovanna Amati's life has seemingly revolved around adventure and danger. The daughter of a wealthy Italian businessman, Amati is already unique in that she is part of the elite club of five women to have tried their hand at F1. However, chances are she belongs to an even more elite club, being to our knowledge the only F1 driver who, as a child, was kidnapped by thugs and held for ransom in a bid to extort money from her father.

Now, we don't know if Mr Amati ever paid up, but the fact that the Amatis were affluent enough to be such tragic targets, would certainly help explain why Giovanna could afford to buy a 500cc Honda motorcycle at age 15. What's more, she kept it a secret from her family for two years, leaving her helmet and overalls in the garage. Furthermore, she even went a step beyond that and attended a motor racing school with her friend, the late Elio de Angelis.


A winning Italian F3 racer, no luck in Japan

After all that, she began to race in Formula Abarth in 1981, continuing until 1984, clocking up some good wins. She stepped up to Italian F3 in 1985-86, recording occasional good results and the odd win, especially in 1986 driving for Prema Racing and Forti in a Dallara 386 VW. 1987 saw her step up to F3000 in a BS Automotive Lola T87/50 Cosworth for 4 entries, but apart from one start at Donington she failed to qualify three times.

Competing in 8 events in F3000 for the Colt team in a Lola T88/50 with a Nicholson-prepared Cosworth engine, Amati failed to qualify 4 times, but managed two 10th places at Jerez and Monza. Indeed, at Jerez, she was just behind Jean-Denis Deletraz, but she had both Jean Alesi and Marco Apicella behind her! In 1989 she then went to Japan for a season of F3000 there, but it was not a success.


Makes presence felt (physically) in F3000

For 1990, Giovanna returned to International F3000 in Europe, and engaged in some serious team and car-hopping. She started out in a Roni Motorsports Reynard 90D Cosworth for rounds 1 to 4, before the team changed to a Lola T89/50 Cosworth for round 5. After that, Amati jumped ship and joined Cobra Motorsports to drive a Reynard 90D Mugen for the remaining five events. Not that it made an iota of different in terms of results: in 10 events, she only qualified 26th twice!

In fact she probably gained more notoriety that year for what she did off the track. Tom Prankerd and Paul Valentine tell us that at one of the meetings that year, Amati did the very ladylike thing of walking into fellow competitor Phil Andrews' garage, and kicking him up the backside! Giovanna apparently claimed she had been blocked in practice. But frankly, looking at her performances, Andrews possibly did the rest of the field a service!


Briatore connections? Takes the Benetton for a spin

In 1991 there was some improvement in her GJ Motorsports Reynard 91D Cosworth, for in 10 entries she got onto the grid 7 times, including an 11th-place grid spot at Hockenheim. She also managed to finish a few times, culminating in a fine 7th, just one spot outside of the points, at the Le Mans Bugatti track.

No doubt however that all this time dollar signs and not necessarily driving ability kept her going. And dare we suggest that looks had something to do with it too. According to David Tremayne's book Damon Hill: The Legacy of Speed, during this time she was romantically involved with Flavio Briatore, who had just become Benetton supremo. No surprise then that, prior to 1992, Amati's only F1 experience came courtesy of a Briatore-arranged drive in a Benetton 191 for 30 laps.

Formula One

Buys her way into elite group of Grand Prix women racers

Either way, the dollar signs certainly explain how Amati landed an F1 seat with Motor Racing Developments, otherwise known as Brabham, in 1992. In simple terms, she had money, Brabham did not, put 2 and 2 together, and voila. Although admittedly Brabham did originally seek out a driver with both money and talent in the form of Japanese F3000 champ Akihiko Nakaya, but the trouble was that the FIA didn't really recognise Japanese F3000 as a stepping stone class. Thus Nakaya wasn't granted a superlicence, but lo and behold Amati qualified for one!

Towards the end of January 1992, it became more and more likely that Amati would end up in the second Brabham. Now, a woman in F1 naturally caused quite a stir. Amati was only the 5th to have raced in the World Championship, after Maria Theresa de Fillipis, Lella Lombardi (who managed to score half a point), Olympic skier Divina Galica and Desire Wilson.

Giovanna Amati at Kyalami trying desperately to get to grips with an F1 car.
Giovanna Amati at Kyalami trying desperately to get to grips with an F1 car.


In a spin on the track - although there were mitigating circumstances

Signing for Brabham, as team-mate to Eric van de Poele, a mere two weeks before the season kicked off in South Africa, she spent no time acclimatising to the car. In fact, the mechanics were still trying to make a seat for her after they got to Kyalami, but they had a hard time pulling her away from all the journalists and photographers. It was about as much publicity as Brabham would get all year.

Amati's inexperience with an F1 gear-shift and carbon fibre brakes meant she spun at least six times in practice at Kyalami, and that was hardly surprising. Remembering that Nigel Mansell's eventual pole time was 1:15.486, Amati got down to a 1:25.176 in first timed practice, but could only manage 1:25.942 in first qualifying. She improved to a 1:23.345 on Saturday morning, but her best time that afternoon was only 1:24.405.

Hear Giovanna Amati herself comment on the pollution levels in Mexico.

"I felt the difference more jogging than er driving. Yeah - I been jogging and er I had a short breath. But not driving."
(.MP3 format, 208k, 13 secs)


Makes history for Brabham in Mexico and slips further off the pace

This was almost 9 seconds off Mansell, nearly 4 seconds from Van de Poele, close to 3 seconds from Stefano Modena's Jordan which was 29th quickest, and Amati was bog last, 30th, with a nice DNQ. With no funds to organise any testing, Brabham scraped together just enough to make the trans-Atlantic flight to Mexico for round two.

Here Mansell's pole time was 1:16.346. On Friday morning all Amati could manage was 1:27.623, and she failed to record a time in first qualifying. The next morning she did a 1:24.306, but, as in South Africa, she went slower in qualifying, recording a 1:25.052. This was once again the slowest time out of 30, and she was almost 3 seconds off Van de Poele in 29th. It was the first time in their history that neither Brabham had qualified.

Giovanna was 3 seconds off the pace of her teammate van de Poele come the second round in Mexico.
Giovanna was 3 seconds off the pace of her teammate van de Poele come the second round in Mexico.


Brabham gives her the shove, as rumours spread

And so to Brazil. Not only did things not improve, but Amati's performances got infinitely worse. Here Mansell was on pole again with a 1:15.703. Amati did a 1:26.810 on Friday morning, lost 4 seconds (!) to record 1:30.420 in Friday qualifying, dipped back down to a 1:26.882 the next morning, and finished with a 1:26.645 as he best qualifying time. Marginal improvement, to say the least. Not surprisingly it left her in 30th spot again, with Van de Poele once again 29th, but this time just about 5 seconds faster.

Now she was merely attracting attention, not for her ability to drive, but for the fact that, according to Tremayne's book once again, she was flirting with none other than Niki Lauda. But more important to Brabham than her romantic liaisons, was the fact that she wasn't delivering any money. If they were going to have someone in the car who wasn't going to pay, they might as well go for someone who was half-decent. So for the fourth round in Spain, Amati was booted out and replaced by Damon Hill. He didn't qualify either.

After F1

Wins Women's SuperCup Championship in 1993, more tilts at sports car racing

This dabble in F1 enhanced her profile, though, and the fact is, for women racers, she is definitley one of the better ones. In the 1993 Porsche SuperCup, she won the Women's European Championship. Racing against men in the Ferrari Challenge from 1994-6, she scored some podium finishes, and also ran midfield in a Calloway Corvette in the BPR series. But in recent years things have been more exciting. In 1998, she again competed in the Ferrari Challenge in a Ferrari 355, while also taking part in the International Sports Racing Series in an Alfa Romeo Giudici Gaiero SPN.

She also did the Sebring 12hrs in a BMW M3, co-driving with Craig Carter and Andy Petery, but retired thanks to clutch gremlins. She had already had a nasty moment in qualifying whe she was hit by a slower car which she had just overtaken. A tilt at the 1000km of Monza saw her Centenari shared with Loic Depailler and Xavier Pompidou fail to start, but she did come 11th in a 2hr race at Le Mans, driving alongside Guido Knycz and Giovani Gulinelli.


Part of celebrity karting, a further assault on the ISRS

It seems she is also a motor racing celebrity of sorts. At the Homestead round of the CART championship, she was invited to take part in a celebrity kart race, featuring Jacques Laffite, Mario Andretti, Henri Pescarolo, Clay Regazzoni and Arturo Merzario. Then she also took part in the prestigious annual celebrity Master Kart event at the indoor Bercy stadium, joining the likes of Johnny Herbert, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, James Courtney, Michele Alboreto and Carlos Reutemann.

Apart from racing at Bercy again, 1999 saw Amati competing once more in the ISRS, initially piloting a Tampolli RS2-RTA99 for the Cauduro Tampolli team with Angelo Lancelotti in the SR2 class. After some OK results early on, the mid-season was hit by gearbox and engine problems, but at the Nurburgring and at Magny-Cours the combination won at SR2 class (with Knycz also joining them). At Magny-Cours they were even a brilliant 4th overall.

Giovanna Amati in ISRS action at the Nurburgring in 1999, a race in which her Tampolli won the SR2 class.
Giovanna Amati in ISRS action at the Nurburgring in 1999, a race in which her Tampolli won the SR2 class.


Jumps ship for final home round in failed bid to win

Heading into the last round at Kyalami, Pierre Bruneau was leading the SR2 championship with 73 points, with Martin Henderson, Lancelotti and Amati all tied in 2nd place on 67. But in a bid to land the title on her own, Amati dumped her Tampolli team and jumped ship to rival constructor Pilbeam, to pilot one of their MP84 cars for Michael Phillips' MMP Motorsport team, partnering South Africans Hennie Greonewald and Nicke Blom.

Despite a blown engine in practice, in the race they were as high as 4th, before a long 3-minute pit stop after problems changing a wheel. In a 90-minute race, this was disastrous, and they ended up 6th. Henderson wound up 4th, but Bruneau fell completely out of the picture. But Lancelotti had done enough to end up with 82 points, and take the SR2 crown, ahead of Henderson on 77 and Amati on 75. Nice choice, Giovanna!


Support series for ALMS proves a hit with famous faces

In another bold initiative, in 1999 a Women's Global GT Series was established as support events to American Le Mans Series races. Set up by former Indy 500 driver Lyn St James, an invitational field of 41 women were selected. Both Amati and Divina Galica were included, so too kartists such as Jenny Holfeldt, saloon racers like Heather McAlpine, NASCAR drivers like Shawna Robinson, and fellow Italian touring car driver Tamara Vidali.

And there were other more obscure invites as well, such as a former radio personality, a police officer, a second-year law student, and even a lady named Kiki Wolfkill, racing simulations art designer for Microsoft, who proved extremely competitive. But ultimately, it was Cindy Lux who proved to be the class of the field, with Amati there or thereabouts without ever being a major threat.


Rumoured role for Cadillac at Le Mans

However, Amati continues to be fairly well known, so much so that, in 2000, her name was bandied about as a possible reserve driver for Cadillac's all-out assault on Le Mans and the ALMS, which ultimately proved highly unsuccessful. So if indeed she was approached, she made the right choice this time round.

On a personal note, Amati is a motorsport journalist on TV and in the print media in her native Italy. She writes a column for Amica, a women's magazine in Italy, and she is also part of the RAI-UNO team which covers F1 for Italian TV. Her hobbies include alpine skiing, water sports and playing the piano.

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