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A new star is born at Ferrari

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A new star is born at Ferrari
Nov 28, 2008, 5:15 PM

With all the fuss about medals, you might not have paid much attention to the story of the three young Italian drivers, who got to test a Ferrari F...

With all the fuss about medals, you might not have paid much attention to the story of the three young Italian drivers, who got to test a Ferrari F1 car at Fiorano this week. But digging into what happened, it seems the test was a minor revelation.

The top three finishers in the Italian F3 championship were invited to drive Kimi Raikkonen's 2008 car on Wednesday and the guy who won the F3 championship, 18 year old Mirko Bortolotti, went two tenths under the lap record for that car at Fiorano, setting a 59.111s lap. Now this needs qualifying; the car hasn't done much running there this year and the lap record was set by sometime test driver Andrea Bertolini, but in only 14 dry laps (after 26 on a damp track), the fact that this 18 year old could do that time is hugely impressive. The other two, Eduardo Piscopo and Salvatore Cicatelli were and second and two seconds behind respectively.

Luca Baldiserri, who took over Ross Brawn's operational role at Ferrari and whom I respect enormously said, "These boys have stunned me. The extraordinary thing is that they didn't make a single error, they went fast straight away and showed enormous potential. It's also lovely to hear comments and views from boys who are not yet prejudiced.."

The next day, Bortolotti was back in school, where he is studying for a diploma in tourism. His classmates applauded when he walked in! It's quite a big story in Italy. Mirko speaks four languages and if he carries on like this he's going to need them in F1 one day, because he's very much caught the attention this week.

The test was requested by the CSAI, the national body of Italy, equivalent to the RAC MSA in Britain and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and team boss Stefano Domenicali were happy to oblige. FIAT is the engine supplier to the F3 series, so there was a commercial aspect to it as well.

It's significant not just because of how well the youngster performed but also because it reminds you that Ferrari has not hired an Italian in a full race seat since Ivan Capelli - 16 years ago! Jean Alesi was half Italian, but raced under a French licence, while Gianni Morbidelli and Nicola Larini were test drivers who made occasional appearances.

If you also consider that there has only ever been one Italian world champion, Alberto Ascari, some 55 years ago, you can see why the CSAI and Ferrari might feel that it was high time they developed the next Luigi Hamiltoni.

Speaking to the team this week, they reminded me that it is a big risk for Ferrari to take a gamble on a young driver because the pressure which comes from the Ferrari brand can be too much for a young mind. They took a punt on Felipe Massa, signing him up after he won the Italian F3000 championship, but he was then farmed out to Sauber. The only real mega punt in recent memory was Gilles Villeneuve, whom the 'Old Man' took a shine to in 1978 and who was signed to Ferrari after just one Grand Prix.

So watch out for the name Bortolotti. Ferrari will test him and the others further in a simulator and keep tabs on their progress. He's aiming for a GP2 seat next year and who know, he might have one of Bernie's medals around his neck by 2012...
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