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Luigi Villoresi


Luigi Villoresi, nicknamed "Gigi", was one of the strongest Italian racers of the first half of the 20th century, in whose fate there were plenty of both great victories and very tragic events, but the main successes of the Italian came in the immediate post-war period, while in the Formula-1 world championships, Luigi was already in the shadow of the great champions of the 50s. Nevertheless, being a close friend and mentor of Alberto Ascari, it can be said that it was Villoresi who created the foundation on which the two-time world champion built his future successes, while, of course, this was exactly the case when the apprentice surpassed his master.

Luigi was born on May 16, 1909 in Milan, and his family was quite famous in the northern capital of Italy, making an invaluable contribution to the development of the city. Luigi's father, Gaetano, was the owner of a company that carried out the electrification of Milan, while his grandfather Eugenio was the chief engineer under whose supervision the large irrigation canal from the Ticino River was built, which still bears his name.


Needless to say, the Villoresi family was quite wealthy, and already at the age of 22, Luigi was able to afford to buy his first Lancia Lambda car, in which he began to compete in local competitions. Two years later, Villoresi changed it to Fiat Balilla, and already on it the Italian took part in the famous Italian race Mille Miglia, finishing 5th in his class on the first attempt. At the same time, his teammate in this race was his younger brother Emilio, nicknamed Mimi, who, like Luigi, adored speed and soon also became a race car driver, following in his brother's footsteps. In total, Luigi had three brothers and one sister, but it was Mimi who became his true soul mate, and their racing duo became very famous in motorsport circles, earning the nickname "wild couple".


Until 1935, Luigi continued to drive Fiat, and his highest achievement was 3rd place in the Coppa Ciano race, but he had no equal in his class, and this year he earned the title of Italian champion in the sports car class up to 1100 cc.


This success allowed the Italian to take the next step in his career, and in 1936 Luigi purchased his first single-seater racing car, Maserati 4CM, gaining the opportunity to race in the Voiturette class.


The very first performance on this car was quite successful for Villoresi, and in Monaco he managed to finish 6th, while four months later Luigi won his first podium in the Coppa Ciano race. At the same time, Mimi also competed in the same car and was quite successful too, finishing 2nd in Milan. However, already in the next year, 1937, the brothers' paths diverged, as Mimi received an invitation from Enzo Ferrari himself and became a factory driver of the Scuderia.


Luigi himself this year, with the help of his friend, Count Giovanni Lurani, founded his own Scuderia Ambrosiana team, and driving the new Maserati 6CM car, the Italian won his first Grand Prix victory in the Voiturette class in Brno.


Naturally, Luigi's successes could not go unnoticed in the Maserati, and in 1938 the Italian became a factory driver of the Modena team, having at his disposal a new 8-cylinder Maserati 8CTF, on which he took part in several Grand Prix of the European Championship.


However, this car could not boast of special reliability, and in none of the races did the Italian manage to reach the finish line, but in the Voiturette class Luigi was once again one of the best and, having won victories in Albi, Coppa Ciano and Coppa Acerbo, at the end of the year he won the title of Italian champion in the class of cars with engines up to 1.5 liters.


The next, 1939, was no less successful for Villoresi in terms of sports, and, having won three victories in Carnaro, Targa Florio and the South African Grand Prix, the Italian repeated his last year's success. However, in the same year, a tragedy also occurred, which became one of the hardest blows in the Italian's life. On June 19 in Monza, during a demonstration test of the new Alfetta, Luigi's brother Mimi lost control on the section between the first and second turns, and, crashing into a tree, received fatal internal injuries, due to which he died in hospital the same day. At the same time, when Luigi, crushed by grief, asked Enzo Ferrari about the causes of the accident, the head of the Scuderia replied in a rather rude manner that Mimi had simply eaten too much spaghetti before the race and flew off the track due to indigestion. It is not surprising that after such words, Luigi literally hated the Commendatore, while he still found out the true cause of the accident, albeit much later, from Alfa Romeo test driver Consalvo Sanesi, who blamed the faulty steering. In any case, Mimi could not be returned, and, having buried his brother, Luigi has since worn his wristwatch before every race.

Meanwhile, the Second World War was approaching, and, anticipating the coming storm, the teams began to curtail their racing activities, but even in the last pre-war 1940, Luigi managed to win one victory, winning the Targa Florio race for the second year in a row. When the war nevertheless overwhelmed Europe, Villoresi, like the rest of the racers, was forced to hang his racing helmet on a nail and engaged in cargo transportation for the needs of the army, founding his own transport company. Interestingly, the co-owner of this enterprise was none other than Alberto Ascari, the son of the famous Italian racer of the 20s, Antonio Ascari, who had achieved considerable success in motorcycle racing before the war and, despite a rather large age difference, immediately became one of Luigi's closest friends. At the same time, if for Alberto this formidable period passed quite peacefully, then Villoresi was much less fortunate, and he barely survived the ruthless millstones of war. During the transportation of one of the military cargoes, the ship on which the Italian was located was hit and sank off the coast of Greece, and Villoresi managed to avoid death in the abyss only thanks to his excellent physical shape. After staying on the surface of the water all night, Luigi was eventually picked up by Greek partisans, who, without hesitation, immediately sentenced him to immediate execution, however, fortunately, a British officer intervened, and Villoresi was sent to a prisoner camp, where he spent several years until the very end of the war.

Having received his freedom in 1945, already fairly gray-haired, but not at all broken in spirit, Villoresi returned to his homeland, to his usual way of life. Meanwhile, already in 1946, motorsport began to revive again on the tracks of Europe, and, surprisingly, it was Villoresi who won the first Grand Prix of the new era in Nice, who, despite the hardships of recent years, did not lose a bit of his talent! Also that year, Luigi made his only attempt to conquer the American Indy 500, and performed quite well, finishing 7th.

The next two years were the most successful in the career of the Italian at all. Driving the Maserati 4CL/CLT of his own Scuderia Ambrosiana team, Villoresi scored a total of 12 (!) victories, winning the title of Italian champion twice.


At the same time, it was Alberto Ascari who became Luigi's teammate in his own team, who after the war changed two wheels to four and already in 1948 celebrated his first success by winning the San Remo Grand Prix. In general, we can say that these two great Italian drivers complemented each other perfectly. Having lost their younger brother and father in motor racing, Villoresi and Ascari found in each other the very missing links in their lives, and, having become, in fact, Alberto's mentor in the world of speeds, Luigi acquired a truly brilliant student who understood him literally from a half-word.


In 1949, both Italians continued their performances at the wheels of Maseratis, celebrating victories in South America, but already in the middle of the season Villoresi was unexpectedly contacted by Enzo Ferrari, who invited Luigi to drive a Ferrari in the Grand Prix of Brussels and the sports car race in Luxembourg. Of course, for Luigi this call was a big surprise, because after the death of Mimi, he was, to put it mildly, not on the best of terms with the Commendatore. Nevertheless, he accepted the offer and eventually won both of these races, after which Enzo invited him to talk to his own house. As Villoresi himself recalled, at the meeting he immediately made it clear to the Commendatore that he did not feel much affection for him, but was ready to listen to everything that he saw fit to say. However, the result of this meeting only once again proved that the head of the Scuderia was a truly great man, because on that day he got into his team not only Villoresi, but also Ascari, who was ready to follow his mentor even to hell.


After the signing of the contracts, success in the new team was not long in coming, and soon Villoresi celebrated his first major victory in the Dutch Grand Prix, while Ascari showed even more outstanding results and took three prestigious victories in the Swiss Grand Prix, Italian Grand Prix and the Daily Express Cup.


Meanwhile, the next year, 1950, the first Formula-1 World Championship started, but this season was not very successful for Ferrari, since the Alfa Romeo drivers, who had at their disposal the invincible Alfettas, became the undisputed favorites of the championship. Scuderia did not even go to the first stage at Silverstone, preferring to perform in the Belgian Formula-2 race, and its debut in the World Championship took place at the second round in Monaco. This race was remembered for the massive blockage that Nino Farina arranged on the first lap, and although Villoresi and Ascari managed to safely pass the scene of the accident, both of them lost too much time making their way through the thick of wrecked cars, and Fangio in Alfa Romeo was already out of reach.


Nonetheless, both Ferrari drivers outran other rivals quite easily, after which they arranged an amazing fight for 2nd place among themselves. It is not known which of them would have ended up in front, but about halfway through the distance, the rear axle broke on Villoresi's Ferrari, and the Italian was forced to retire, while Ascari, in the absence of his teammate, calmly finished 2nd, bringing Ferrari the podium in its debut World Championship race. However, the next two Grand Prix in Switzerland and Belgium clearly showed that Ferrari cars were losing in speed not only to Alfa Romeos, but even to the French Talbots, and after a disastrous race in Spa, where Ascari and Villoresi took only 5th and 6th places, the team temporarily suspended its participation in the World Championship, focusing on preparing their new Ferrari 375 cars with new 4.5-liter naturally aspirated engines.


It was during this period that Villoresi had one of the most serious accidents in his life, which happened to him during the non-championship Grand Prix of Nations in Geneva. This race did not work out for the Italian from the very beginning, as the engine on his car began to work intermittently already at the start, as a result of which Luigi began to lose ground one by one. Later, at some point, the engine of one of the rivals exploded right in front of the Italian's car, and Luigi, slipping on leaked oil, lost control of his car and flew off the track, ramming the fence.


Unfortunately, the impact was so strong that the fence broke down and its fragments flew straight at the spectators, killing four of them and hurting more than twenty. As for Villoresi himself, after the impact, his car bounced back and, turning over, threw Luigi right onto the track, where the Italian immediately lost consciousness! Fortunately, Farina, who was following, noticed his compatriot lying right on the road in time, and the future world champion, albeit at the cost of his own accident, still managed to pass him by. When Villoresi was still carried off the track and taken to the hospital, it turned out that the Italian was in a coma and, in addition to this, he badly injured one of his fingers. Naturally, after these injuries, Luigi had to miss the last Grand Prix of the season, which took place in his native Italy, and as a result, the debut of the new Ferraris 375 took place without him. At the same time, in Monza, the new cars immediately showed their speed, allowing Ascari to become one of the main contenders for victory, however, due to problems with the engine, Alberto again finished only 2nd, while the race, as well as the title, was won by the same Farina.

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If we talk about the results of Villoresi, then at the end of the World Championship, Luigi did not score a single point, and all his successes were in non-championship races, among which were victories in Buenos Aires, Rosario, Marseille, Erlen and Monza.

Meanwhile, already in the next year, 1951, thanks to their new cars, Scuderia managed to achieve technical parity with Alfa Romeos, and the Maranello team seriously hoped, if not to overcome, then at least impose a serious fight for the championship title on the Milan team. However, despite high expectations, the first half of the season was left to the Alfa Romeo drivers. The first stage of the championship was held in Switzerland, and it was marked by heavy rain, which played into the hands of the Alfa Romeo drivers, who in rainy conditions looked much more confident than their rivals from Maranello.


At the same time, at the track in Bremgarten, Ascari was forced to drive his car with a badly burned hand and thus finished only 6th, while Villoresi flew off the track already on lap 13, fortunately, this time without serious consequences for his health.

Meanwhile, at the second stage in Belgium, the Ferrari drivers already looked much better, and Villoresi, after a great start, even managed to lead the race in the first laps! However, the Alfa Romeo drivers were faster here too, and Luigi lost his position first to Farina and then to Fangio, after which he spent the rest of the race in a fight with Ascari. In the end, after Fangio had problems in the pit stop, both Ferrari drivers managed to get on the podium, and thus Luigi finally earned his first points in Formula-1.

The third round of the World Championship was held in France, and at the track in Reims Ferraris finally showed their true speed, in no way inferior to their rivals from the Milan team, however Ascari encountered mechanical problems during the race, and the victory again went to Fangio in Alfa Romeo. As for Villoresi, he, unlike Alberto, was not as fast and could not participate in the fight for the victory, but still he again finished in 3rd place, earning a second podium in a row.


The very first victory in the World Championship came to Ferrari at the next stage in Great Britain, however, surprisingly, it was brought to Scuderia not by one of the Italians, but by the Argentine newcomer of the team, Jose-Froilan Gonzalez, who turned out to be fantastically fast on the track at Silverstone.

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Following this success, the next ones immediately followed, and having won two races in a row in Germany and Italy, Ascari came to the last stage as a real contender for the championship title. However, at the final Grand Prix of the season in Spain, Scuderia bet on the wrong type of tires and ended up losing the race, as well as the championship title, to Fangio, while Ascari had to be content with the title of vice champion.

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As for Villoresi, he consistently scored points in almost every race and, having won three podiums, eventually took 5th place in the overall standings, but this season clearly showed that Luigi's best years were already behind him, and he could no longer fight on equal terms with Fangio, Farina, Ascari and Gonzalez.


However, as in the previous year, Villoresi still managed to score a couple of victories in non-championship races, as well as win the prestigious Mille Miglia sports car race.

Meanwhile, at the end of 1951, Alfa Romeo announced its retirement from Formula-1, and the next two World championships were held according to the technical regulations of Formula-2, which allowed the Scuderia drivers to reign supreme on the Grand Prix tracks throughout the 1952 season. Nonetheless, Villoresi was never able to take full advantage of the technical advantage of the Scuderia, because even before the start of the championship he had a road accident that put him out of action for most of the season, and as a result, the Italian took part only in the last two stages in the Netherlands and Italy, where he finished 3rd both times.


The undisputed favorite of this championship was Ascari, who, having won 6 victories in 7 Grand Prix, brought Scuderia its first championship title.


Meanwhile, in the following year, 1953, the Maserati team returned to the World Championship, led by the Argentine champion Juan Manuel Fangio, and the Scuderia cars no longer had such a clear advantage as last year. However, at the beginning of the season, the reliability of the Modena cars left much to be desired, and this played into the hands of the Ferrari drivers, allowing Ascari to easily win the first three rounds, while Villoresi, having won two second places in Argentina and Belgium, was able to take nothing less than the second place in the standings.


However, once the Maserati reliability issues were resolved, the Modena team became a truly formidable force, and if Ascari still managed to perform at the same level, Villoresi's results immediately began to decline, and as a result, at the end of the season, the Italian again took only 5th place in the overall standings.


However, Luigi still had a reason to be proud, since his friend and apprentice Ascari again won the championship title, becoming the first two-time world champion in the history of circuit racing!

Meanwhile, in the next year, 1954, the World Championship returned to the technical regulations of Formula-1, which led to the emergence of new teams, including such significant names as Daimler-Benz and Lancia. Naturally, the arrival of new strong teams immediately led to a significant change in the balance of power and serious rearrangements among the drivers, and one of the most significant events of the off-season was the transfer of two-time world champion Alberto Ascari to the Turin team. At the same time, the main reason why Alberto left the Scuderia was the rather vague position of the Commendatore regarding the further participation of his team in Formula-1, which is why he delayed signing new contracts to the last. As a result, having received a counter, and very generous, offer from Gianni Lancia, Ascari preferred a bird in his hands, especially since none other than Vittorio Jano, who created victorious cars for his father, became the chief designer of the Turin team. And of course, along with Alberto, his mentor also moved to Lancia, who was only too glad to have the opportunity to leave the Scuderia and start the new season with a clean slate.


However, when the new season did start, it turned out that things in the Turin team were not at all so rosy. The development of the new Lancia D50 cars, which really became a real masterpiece of engineering, was greatly delayed, and as a result, two Italians had to miss the first two Grand Prix in Argentina and Belgium. When it turned out that the new cars would be ready only in the second half of the season, Gianni Lancia gave his drivers the go-ahead to temporarily join any other team, and in France Ascari and Villoresi came to the start at the wheels of Maseratis. However, they failed to shine in this Grand Prix, since it was here that the debut of the new Silver Arrows took place, which immediately showed their fantastic speed and easily won a double, while Ascari retired due to mechanical problems already on the first lap, and Villoresi, due to a malfunctioning engine, reached the finish line only in 5th place.


The next round of the World Championship was held in Great Britain, and here the Maserati drivers encountered problems already in qualifying, because due to logistics errors their cars were not delivered to the track on time, and as a result they had to start from the last places of the starting field. However, in the race itself, both Ascari and Villoresi managed to make a very impressive breakthrough, but their efforts were in vain again, since both of them, due to technical problems, did not see the checkered flag.


For Ascari, this failure was the last straw that overflowed the cup of his patience, and having already lost any chance of defending his title, Alberto ended his cooperation with Maserati. As for Villoresi, on the contrary, he continued his performances in the Modena team, in which he felt at home since his first steps in motorsport. However, already at the next stage in Germany, he, like the whole team, was in for a real shock when the young team leader and favorite of the entire paddock, Onofre Marimon, tragically died in qualifying, and Maserati never entered the start of this Grand Prix.


Nevertheless, Villoresi got another opportunity to drive for the Modena team at his home Italian Grand Prix, and, as it turned out, this race was perhaps the strongest performance of the Italian in his entire Formula-1 career. At the same time, it is interesting that this Grand Prix was, in fact, the only one in which Villoresi and Ascari found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades, since Alberto, not wanting to miss his home stage, decided, as an exception, to get back behind the wheel of a Ferrari. The race itself, as often happened in Monza, turned out to be incredibly exciting. At first, as usual, the Silver Arrows took the lead, but the Italian cars looked just as good on their home soil as the Germans, and soon Ascari became the new leader, behind whom a magnificent fight unfolded between Fangio in a Mercedes, Moss in a Maserati and Gonzalez in a Ferrari. Villoresi started the race only 10th, and it seemed that he would again play a supporting role. However, on that day,  Luigi seemed to be possessed by some kind of demon, and to the utter delight of the local public, the Italian broke through to 5th place by the 10th lap, and by the 40th, having passed Fangio and Moss, Villoresi was already 2nd!


Moreover, on the next lap, Luigi caught up and began to push Ascari hard, however, unfortunately, it was at this moment that the clutch failed on his Maserati, and thus the Italian missed his only opportunity to win the World Championship Grand Prix. As for Ascari, he was unlucky too, and as a result, Fangio celebrated the victory in Monza in a Mercedes, who had already won his second championship two weeks earlier.


Meanwhile, at the last stage of the championship in Spain, the long-awaited debut of the Lancia team finally took place, and the Turin cars immediately showed their speed, allowing Ascari to easily take pole position and Villoresi to show a very good 5th result.


However, reliability problems crossed out any chances of the two Italians for success, and already on the 2nd lap Villoresi turned into the pits with faulty brakes, and a little later he was joined by Ascari, whose clutch failed.

Nevertheless, the speed of Vittorio Jano's new creations was impressive, and the drivers of the Turin team were full of the brightest hopes before the start of the new season. At the same time, in addition to Ascari and Villoresi, a third driver also appeared in Lancia in 1955, who became a protege of Ascari himself, a young Italian Eugenio Castellotti.


However, the first stage of the World Championship in Argentina was not very successful for the Turin team. Despite the fact that Ascari, like last year in Spain, almost immediately took the lead, already on the 22nd lap, the two-time world champion made a mistake and flew off the track, crashing his car.


As for Villoresi, he had problems with the car even at the start, and already on the 2nd lap, Luigi was forced to drive into the pits with a faulty fuel pump. However, some time later, the Italian returned to the track again driving Castellotti's car, who was completely exhausted by the hellish heat that prevailed that day in Buenos Aires, but Luigi managed to hold out only 20 laps, after which he also made a mistake and flew off the track, crashing another car.

The second stage of the 1955 World Championship was held in Monaco, and it was here, on the famous street track, that the Turin team finally managed to achieve their first serious successes, but the main event of this Grand Prix was, of course, the incredible incident that happened to Lancia leader Alberto Ascari. Having started the race quite confidently, Alberto later began to experience serious problems with the brakes, and it was at the moment when the last Mercedes left the track and the Italian took the lead that Ascari's brakes failed completely, and his Lancia, not fitting into the turn , flew over the fence and fell right into the sea!


Fortunately, Alberto remained conscious and immediately surfaced, where rescuers picked him up a minute later and provided first aid. When Ascari was taken to the hospital, it turned out that the Italian came out of this amazing accident with only a broken nose. As for his teammates, then Castellotti, after a very competitive race, managed to win the first podium for Lancia, while Villoresi, who was not as fast as Eugenio, also made it to the finish line in a very respectable 5th place.


However, just four days after the Monaco Grand Prix, Ascari, while testing a Ferrari sports car in Monza, had an accident again that no longer left him the slightest chance of survival, and Alberto, like his father, died in an ambulance, never made it to the hospital.


Naturally, this tragedy greatly shocked the entire motorsport world, and all of Italy mourned the loss of its brightest star, but for Alberto's family and friends, including Villoresi, his death was a truly irreparable bereavement.

The same was true for the entire Lancia team. Having lost its leader, the Turin team soon faced serious financial problems and left Formula-1 already in the middle of the season, having sold all their cars to Enzo Ferrari. For Villoresi, this actually meant that the racing season was over for him, however, in any case, the Italian was still too deeply shocked by the death of his friend to get back behind the wheel of a racing car. Nonetheless, Luigi could not miss the Italian Grand Prix, and therefore in Monza he joined the Scuderia again, which decided to test the new cars here. However, as it turned out, due to excessive loads on the newly rebuilt banking, the tires on Lancia cars began to collapse after just a few laps, and as a result, after qualifying, the team decided to withdraw them from the competition.


It would seem that this was the right moment for the 47-year-old Italian to stop and end his career, but Luigi nevertheless took part in the next World Championship in 1956, driving a Maserati 250F in the private teams Scuderia Centro Sud and Luigi Piotti.


However, from the very first Grand Prix, it became clear that Ascari's death had a strong impact on Luigi's motivation, and as a result, he managed to finish in points only once in the whole season, in Belgium, where only eight cars reached the finish line.


The last time Luigi entered the Grand Prix as the main driver of Maserati in Monza, where he replaced the injured Cesare Perdisa, however, the Italian failed to shine on his favorite track, and due to problems with the engine, he was forced to stop the race already on the 4th lap.


Meanwhile, at the end of the year, during a sports car race at Castelfusano, Villoresi had another accident, suffering a rather serious leg fracture, after which his relatives began to literally beg him to leave motorsport.


Succumbing to persuasion, Luigi finally hung up his racing helmet in 1958, but before he left, he still scored his last big victory, winning the Greek Rally Acropolis. At the same time, even after leaving motorsport, Villoresi continued to rotate in motorsport circles, becoming an honorary ambassador of Maserati, and in 1960 the Italian government recognized his merits by awarding him the Gold Medal for sports prowess. The rest of his life, Luigi lived in Modena and his native Milan, and, having lived to the age of 88, on August 24, 1997, the Italian died peacefully in the Santa Caterina nursing home in Modena. Looking back at the fate of the Italian, full of dangers, tragedies and great victories, it is safe to say that Luigi was one of the greatest Italian racers in the history of motorsport, and with his exploits on the tracks he managed only to multiply the glory of his famous ancestors and immortalize the glorious name of Villoresi forever.

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