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Last updated: 30-June-2004


• Forti slowly becomes a force in lower categories
With F1 now being dominated by manufacturers, Forti Corse may well go down in Grand Prix history as the last team to have attempted to enter the sport without substantial corporate or manufacturer support when they joined the paddock in 1995. Consider the genuinely new teams that followed: Stewart had at the very least moral support from Ford; Lola, though an unmitigated disaster, was a works race-car company; BAR had the might of British American Tobacco and Reynard; and Jaguar and Toyota were out-and-out manufacturer entries, plus Jaguar was really Stewart with a new name.

Forti were part of a mid-90s tail-end trio that also included Simtek and Pacific. By nature, all three teams belonged to the late-80s privateer era; by the time they entered, there was precious little breathing space left for the genuine garagiste. To prove the point, Simtek and Pacific entered in 1994, a year before Forti joined the fray, but come mid-1996 all three had disappeared into the ether. All of them found themselves trapped in a vicious cycle which eventually consumed them, with not enough money, poor cars and pay drivers, and failed organisational gambles.

But for Forti, on paper the story could have been oh-so-different. Guido Forti had formed his team in the late 1970s with Paolo Guerci, and initially had run Teo Fabi in Italian Formula Ford and Italian and European F3. Oscar Larrauri competed for them in South American F3 in 1979 before the team decided to concentrate on Italian F3 in the early 1980s, taking Franco Forini to the title in 1985. After unsuccessfully fielding Giorgio Montaldo and Nicola Marazzi in 1986, Forti then won three straight Italian F3 titles from 1987-89 with Enrico Bertaggia, Emanuele Naspetti and Gianni Morbidelli.

In 1987, Forti moved up to F3000 for the first time, participating in half the events with Nicola Larini and Nicola Tesini. The team then ran Bertaggia in 1988, followed by Claudio Langes in 1989 and Morbidelli in 1990, with Gianni taking Forti's first F3000 win. Naspetti then drove for Forti in 1991 along with Fabrizio Giovanardi and took three wins in the process, and then clocked up another victory in 1992 before moving to F1. Andrea Montermini took over Naspetti's car, claimed another win at Spa, and by now Forti was a genuine force in the F3000 championship.

Diniz racing in F3000 for Forti during 1994. Diniz racing in F3000 for Forti during 1994.
• The funds are assured, and the design team assembled
In 1993, Olivier Beretta joined the team and eventually proved to be a championship contender, but in the other car Forti had signed Pedro Diniz, the wealthy Brazilian bringing with him a seemingly endless supply of cash. As a result of the Diniz connection, Forti met Carlo Gancia, who bought out Guerci's shares in the team and started putting the pieces in place for an F1 effort. Forti then ran Diniz and Hideki Noda for one last season of F3000 in 1994, but by the start of 1995 the team, based in Alessandria in Italy, was ready to step up to the top flight.

With money problems having already devoured Lotus and Larrousse, and Simtek and Pacific already staring down the barrel, Forti and Gancia wisely ensured the immediate financial position of the new team thanks to sponsorship from Parmalat, Sadia and other Brazilian companies, underwritten by the Diniz family. In addition, Tom Prankerd tells us that along with the deal to run customer Ford ED V8 engines came some sponsorship from Ford Brazil, so the team entered their first year in F1 with a relatively healthy budget of around 7.5 million pounds.

Having got the financial part right, the next step was to obtain two drivers and build a decent car. Diniz was obviously a shoo-in, but from a pool of candidates including Christian Fittipaldi, Mauricio Gugelmin and Gil de Ferran, the team settled on veteran Roberto Moreno for the second car. Former Fondmetal designer Sergio Rinland was commissioned to design the FG01-95 assisted by former Osella man Giorgio Stirano, with composite work done by Belco Avia and aerodynamics by Hans Fouche, formerly of Brabham, using the Aerotek wind-tunnel in Pretoria, South Africa.

Rinland's last F1 design had been the Fondmetal GR02 which had been a decent machine back in 1992, allowing Gabriele Tarquini to out-qualify Ivan Capelli's Ferrari at Spa. Before the season began though, there were dark mutterings that the FG01-95 would be no more than a rehash of the GR02. The similar nosecone designs of the two cars added weight to the rumours. At any rate, it was quickly apparent that the FG01 was no world-beater. Featuring the only manual gearshift in pit lane working a thoroughly troublesome gearbox, the car was seriously overweight and aerodynamically inefficient.

Forti's launch for 1995: the FG01 in all its glory! Forti's launch for 1995: the FG01 in all its glory!
• The Fortis become (slowly) moving roadblocks
This meant that the yellow and blue cars, with their stylish fluoro green wheels to demonstrate the Brazilian flavour of this Italian team, were sluggish mobile chicanes right from the outset. Miles off the pace of even the Pacifics, improvements were agonisingly slow in coming, the noticeable changes being the addition of an airbox (the FG01 started without one) and a shark nose mid-season, around the time when Rinland left. However, attempts to fit a semi-automatic gearbox towards the end of the season got bogged down in torrid unreliability, and the plan was finally scrapped altogether.

But just how slow the FG01s were in the beginning at times beggared belief. In Brazil, Diniz qualified 25th out of 26, just under 8 seconds of Damon Hill's pole, with Moreno 23rd. Although hoping for a good showing in front of their main sponsors, Moreno spun out and Diniz finished 10th and last, but a whole 7 laps down. Matters got worse in Argentina, where in the wet qualifying sessions Moreno ended up over 11 seconds off David Coulthard's pole in 24th, and Diniz a further two seconds back in 25th. Diniz then finished ahead of Moreno in the race, but both were a massive 9 laps down.

Neither of them were classified and, more to the point, they were four laps even behind Domenico Schiattarella, the last classified finisher. It was a similar story at Imola, where the Fortis were on the last row over 9 seconds off Michael Schumacher's pole, struggling home in 15th and 16th places, 7 laps adrift, and three laps behind Luca Badoer's Minardi in 14th. This was followed by a double-retirement in Spain, Pedro suffering a gearbox failure and Roberto a water pump problem, and in Monaco Diniz finished 10th and 6 laps down from 22nd whilst Moreno crashed out after 9 laps from 24th on the grid.

By Canada Simtek had collapsed, so there were only 24 runners left in the field. There the Fortis filled the back row before Diniz encountered more gearbox troubles in the race, and his team-mate retired with a blocked fuel line. France saw Diniz clobbered and taken out by Pierluigi Martini's Minardi as the Italian recovered from a spin on the opening lap, while Moreno dawdled home 16th, 6 laps down, but in a familiar tale was three laps behind Mika Salo's Tyrrell in 15th. Seven races down, and though the FG01 was relatively reliable, at no stage had it been even remotely competitive.

Roberto Moreno on debut for Forti in his homeland Brazil. He spun out. Roberto Moreno on debut for Forti in his homeland Brazil. He spun out.
• Diniz passes the McLarens at the Nurburgring!
At Silverstone a Forti qualified in the top 20 for the first time when Diniz started 20th despite being 8 seconds off the pace, courtesy of Salo and Montermini in the Pacific failing to record proper laps. He eventually retired with gear selection problems while Moreno suffered a hydraulic press failure. But in truth, some improvement had been made, and the fact that Pacific were running pay-drivers Giovanni Lavaggi and Jean-Denis Deletraz for parts of the second half of the year meant that the Fortis were not always consigned to the last row.

That was the case in Germany where Diniz and Moreno started on the eleventh row, but at both Hockenheim and the Hungaroring the Brazilian duo scored double DNFs, both having had more gearbox problems, plus also driveshaft and engine failures to boot. Spa saw a return to their reliable ways, Diniz finishing 13th from last (having been 15.1s off Gerhard Berger's pole time), and Moreno 14th from 22nd, both two laps down. However Monza proved to be a disaster at Forti's home race. From 22nd and 23rd on the grid, Moreno ahead, the team hoped for a decent finish in what was usually a race of attrition.

But in a chaotic first start, pole-sitter David Coulthard had already crashed on the warm-up lap at the Variante Ascari. Then on the first lap, at the same place, both Fortis were involved in a multi-car pile-up with Montermini, Jean-Christophe Boullion and Massimiliano Papis. With only one spare car, normally it would have been given to the driver who was ahead on the grid. But money talks, and since Diniz was effectively the team's paymaster, Moreno was forced to sit out despite having been 1.2s faster, and watch Pedro finish 9th, three laps down, two behind even Taki Inoue's Footwork.

At Estoril, the pair came 16th and 17th, Moreno having been stuck in first gear in the final laps. The veteran had more gearbox woes at the Nurburgring having started from the pits two laps after everyone else due to a flat battery. But Diniz's race proved eventful. Having passed the McLarens struggling on slicks in the wet, he eventually came under pressure from Mika Hakkinen, letting the Finn pass when he straight-lined the chicane. He was later hit by Heinz-Harald Frentzen and went off again when lapped by Hakkinen, before finishing 13th, ahead of Gabriele Tarquini and the mediocre Deletraz.

It was at the Nurburgring that Diniz passed the struggling McLarens, for position! It was at the Nurburgring that Diniz passed the struggling McLarens, for position!
• Forti glory in Australia: one engine away from a point
By this stage, with only three fly-away races remaining at Aida, Suzuka and Adelaide, Forti tried to replace Moreno with Hideki Noda, who had already driven for Larrousse in late-1994, and whose contract with Simtek for the second half of 1995 had fallen through when that team folded. But the deal could not be concluded in time, and Moreno was confirmed as still driving whilst in transit in Hong Kong on the Thursday before the race. The Fortis then proceeded to out-qualify the Pacifics again, and like in Portugal came 16th and 17th, although this time Moreno was ahead.

Suzuka was a different story though, with Diniz spinning out and Moreno also flying off the track spectacularly when his gearbox seized at the start of the second lap. Little did the team know that they would come agonisingly close to scoring a World Championship point in the last race in Australia. There Diniz qualified 21st, only 5.4s off Coulthard's pole, while Moreno was one spot ahead. More importantly, with the 107% qualifying rule to be introduced in 1996 in the wake of Forti and Pacific's horrendously slow pace in 1995, Moreno's lap was Forti's only time within 107% of pole all season.

Come race day, Moreno followed Coulthard's example by losing control on the entry to the pits, but instead of head-butting the pit wall as the Williams did, the Brazilian spun and broke his rear wing and rear suspension. Meanwhile Diniz soldiered on as car after car fell out around him, and towards the end found himself 7th behind Hill, Olivier Panis' Ligier, Morbidelli in the Arrows, Mark Blundell's McLaren, Salo and Pedro Lamy in the Minardi. But with a handful of laps left, Panis' engine began smoking, and Forti was on the verge of its first point - but it was not to be, as the Ligier sadly held on to make the finish.

For a team that had begun the season with a good designer and a solid budget, it had been a dismal year, the FG01 having simply been too cumbersome and slow. Of the 16 drivers that participated in every GP, Coulthard had the fastest average qualifying time. Inoue was 13th, 5.65s slower on average. Moreno was next, but 7.257s adrift, and Diniz was 16th, some 7.703s behind. Week in, week out, the Fortis had simply been light years off the pace. And though reliability was OK, Diniz only completed 60.45% of the total race distance, and Moreno 57.75%, so there was still much work to do for 1996.

In Adelaide, if Panis's Ligier had packed it in, Pedro would have taken Forti's first point. In Adelaide, if Panis's Ligier had packed it in, Pedro would have taken Forti's first point.
• Diniz off to Ligier, causing Forti to flip out (literally)
But Forti then suffered what would be a fatal blow when Diniz took himself and his money off to greener pastures at Ligier. Moreno also departed, and in their place the team brought in Badoer and Montermini, with Franck Lagorce as test driver, although with such a tight budget there was little work for the Frenchman to do. Beyond F3000, Montermini had already driven for the team once, when he, Giovanni Lavaggi and Vittorio Zoboli piloted the yellow F1 cars in the Bologna motor show match-races at the end of 1995, although all three were soundly thrashed by their rivals, the three Minardis.

In other changes, ex-Ferrari man Cesare Fiorio was appointed team manager, bringing invaluable experience and expertise. The cars were also to be powered by Ford Zetec-R V8s rather than the outdated Ford EDs. Former Fondmetal and Brabham designer Chris Radage had started work on the new FG03, but eventually it was Riccardo de Marco who finished it, this being de Marco's first ever racing car design. But the new car was not ready for the start of the season, so initially the team had to make do with the FG01, and hope that the Zetec-R engine would propel it to within 107% of the pole time.

So the old cars went to Australia for the season opener with no major sponsor, but there was some backing from Replay, Roces, TAT and ITS. The team held hopes of making the grid, but neither driver were fast enough, Montermini hampered by engine failures, and Badoer getting to within 0.4s of the 107% mark but still some 3 seconds behind Diniz's Ligier, which was last on the grid. Things went better in Brazil, as the team obtained Hudson sponsorship for the South American races, and as Badoer and Montermini qualified 19th and 20th after Diniz and Tarso Marques had their times disallowed.

Montermini spun off in the race, but Badoer came home 11th, four laps down. Then in Argentina, both cars once again made the grid, with Badoer only 4.5s adrift of pole. Luca was flipped upside down by Diniz, which lead to some nervous moments as the marshals seemed not to know how to act, until Badoer emerged unscathed. Montermini made the finish in 10th, only 3 laps down, which compared well against the corresponding race in 1995, when both yellow cars were 9 laps behind. Upon returning to Europe, there was another double-DNQ at the Nurburgring, but Montermini blamed Damon Hill's extremely fast pole time for dragging down the 107% mark for missing out by just 0.6s.

Luca Badoer sunny side up in Argentina. He was unhurt in the incident. Luca Badoer sunny side up in Argentina. He was unhurt in the incident.
• The FG03 to herald a new era in Forti competitiveness?
And besides, by this stage all the team's attention was focussed on the new FG03, which was actually unveiled to the press at the Nurburgring. Montermini described the car as a "completely different world", and de Marco hoped that it would allow the team to at least battle the Minardis. Lighter, lower and more compact than the bulky FG01, it featured a distinctly thin and high raised nose, such that the nosecone, rather than sloping, was actually parallel to the ground. In addition, a narrow airbox improved airflow to the rear wing and allowed the cockpit head padding to be lower, providing and aero advantage.

Badoer got first use of the FG03 at the next round at Imola, and lapped 3.5s faster than Montermini in the old car. Andrea also briefly tried to qualify the new machine, but was 1.6s slower than Luca and 0.6s away from the 107%. Badoer's time, however, was just 0.7s behind the next slowest qualifier, Ricardo Rosset in the Arrows, and in the race the Italian lapped within 0.3s of Rosset. Although he had some gearbox troubles, he finished a creditable 10th. With much better downforce and handling, Badoer described the car as "very agile", whilst Fiorio said the FG03 had seemed to be "born in the right way".

By Monaco there was an FG03 for each driver, and both comfortably qualified on the back row. But on race day, when rain fell heavily and a wet acclimatisation session was called, Montermini crashed coming out of the tunnel and missed the start. Badoer meanwhile made a nuisance of himself, taking out Jacques Villeneuve when the Canadian tried to lap him, incurring a fine and a suspended ban for his misdemeanour. Yet behind the scenes moves were afoot, which on first glance seemed sure to help take Forti further up the grid.

Firstly, personnel changes were in the air. George Ryton was soon to become technical director, which was another step in the right direction, but Gancia on the other hand seemed to be losing interest in F1 and keen instead to start an IRL team. Secondly, the team itself was subject to a takeover bid. A mysterious lot called the Shannon organisation, believed to be an Irish-registered part of a Milanese finance group, had established teams in three separate F3 championships throughout Europe in 1996, as well as a team in International F3000 running Tom Kristensen.

On display for the paddock: de Marco's new FG03, the saviour of Forti Corse! On display for the paddock: de Marco's new FG03, the saviour of Forti Corse!
• Shannon enters the fray, bringing new livery but no cash!
Now, Shannon was keen to make the jump into F1, with 1998 being bandied around as a possible entry date, but events happened rapidly between the Monaco and the Spanish GPs. Shannon made a bid to purchase shares in Forti, a deal was made, and it was announced by Arron Colombo. Colombo was the boss of Belco Avia, the company that had done the composite work on the Forti cars. Rumours suggested that Colombo had brokered the deal because he was being owed money by Forti and Gancia. At any rate, the Fortis turned up in Spain in Shannon's attractive red, white and green livery.

Considering all the backroom upheaval, perhaps it was no surprise that the cars didn't qualify in Barcelona, but in Canada, with extra sponsorship from Sokol, both made the grid, Badoer actually in front of Rosset by almost 0.2s. Neither car saw the finish line, Montermini retiring with loose ballast and Badoer suffering more gearbox problems. Yet by the time the championship reached Magny-Cours, the Shannon deal was starting to unravel. Shannon announced that it owned 51% of the team, but Forti refuted that claim by saying that Shannon had not paid any money.

And that was actually becoming a critical issue. Forti was accumulating massive debts to Cosworth, and without Shannon's payments was unable to pay them. As such, even though both cars qualified in France, they were withdrawn during the race because they had used up their engine mileage. Seeing a sinking ship, Fiorio left and was replaced by Daniele Coronna, but to little avail. At Silverstone, Cosworth refused to give the team new engines, so the team filled up both cars with enough fuel to use up the remaining mileage on the last two engines, and sent Badoer and Montermini out in qualifying.

Both cars stopped out on the track after two laps, and naturally did not qualify. Guido Forti had had enough and went to an Italian court to wrest control of the team away from the Shannon group. Regardless, although the team went to Germany, both cars never left the pits, with no money and therefore no engines. And so the team folded, as did Shannon's other operations. As a result, eventually in September when the court ruled the ownership dispute in Shannon's favour, it was no more than a pyrrhic victory, because there was no team left to run anyway.

New livery, new sponsor, no cash. Montermini ponders Forti's future in the pits. New livery, new sponsor, no cash. Montermini ponders Forti's future in the pits.
• The end of a what-might-have-been story
It proved a most inglorious and messy end for Forti's team, which had existed for almost two decades in various categories, and which organisationally may well have had what it took to succeed in Grand Prix racing. Only trouble was, by the time it entered the top league, the sport was moving away from private teams and towards big-money manufacturer or corporate-driven teams. Plus the irony was that, in 1995, when the team had the funds, it happened to have an appalling car, but in 1996, when the FG03 seemed a decent enough machine, the team simply ran out of cash.

But that was not the end of the Forti Grand Prix machines. Four years after they had raced in F1, in January 2000 at the Autosport International show in Birmingham, the Aintree Racing Drivers' School announced a unique 'F1 Driving Experience' program, where a group of people could sample a saloon car, a Formula Ford, an F3 machine and an F1 racer all in one day. And, amazingly, the cars wheeled out by the ARDS were two Fortis - one leftover FG01 and one of the FG03s. So, for the moment at least, the legacy of the Forti Formula One team hasn't totally disappeared just yet.

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