This article first appeared in the January 31st edition of Autosport magazine
Making my first F1 start was a dream but getting there was a nightmare.
The Fondmetal GR01 chassis was quite competitive in 1991 when Gabriele Rumi bought the team from Enzo Osella. But by 1992 when I joined the team it was not so quick. The biggest problem was that the cockpit was so tiny. To make it worse at the start of 1992 the FIA started a rule that the pedals had to be behind the front axle. So there was some space but I just couldn’t use it. Crazy. At least the new GR2 car was coming after three races, or at least that was what Signor Rumi told me!
Going in to qualifying we were really up against it because the team had to change an engine. The mechanics were working frantically but it was not possible to get everything ready until halfway through the qualifying session. So, I got in the car and flew out of the pitlane. No speed limit in those days! I went up through the gears, down the long straight and when I get to the first corner the throttle is wide open still. Luckily there is a lot of grass at the exit of the first corner and I was able to stop before I hit anything.
At this stage there were 20 minutes to go in qualifying and my adreheline levels are out of control. I ripped the seat out of the cockpit and started running back up the side of the track to the pitlane. Well, I can tell you that it was the best work-out I have ever had! Over one kilometre with overalls and helmet on, running like crazy in 85-degree heat at massive altitude and with all that pollution in the air too. I got back to the pits and was about to have a heart attack.
The mechanics had seen me running back and got the t-car ready, but it was set up for Tarquini who has much shorter legs than me. I threw my seat in and they did the belts up. It was crazy, like when you are a kid in a toy car.
To this day I do not know how I made it in to the race but I qualified in 23rd position. The lap came from a very deep anger within me and it worked. When I got out of the car in parc ferme all the mechanics lifted me out and threw me up in the air and cheered. It was a fantastic feeling.
Lining up on the grid the next day was a tremendous experience and here I was making my Grand Prix debut. The race itself was good but I spun on lap 37, mainly due to the cramp I got in my legs because of the lack of room in the cockpit.
Of course those three races that Signor Rumi promised in the GR01 became seven races! When I finally got in to the GR02 at Magny Cours, Gugelmin pushed me off on the first lap and the chassis was destroyed. That was the end of racing for me in F1 because I was forced back in to the GR01 for Silverstone and Hockenheim and there was no chance of getting it on the grid again. But I will never forget my first Grand Prix and especially what it took to get there.
Andrea Chiesa profile
Runner up in the 1987 Italian F3 Championship the Milan-born Swiss spent four seasons in F3000, winning the 1989 Enna race before claiming two 2nd places in 1990. He competed in 3 Grand Prix in 1992 before racing in sports cars and more recently in the International Superstars Series.