F1 Retro: Fittipaldi’s Monza backflip – was Martini really to blame?

Motorsport.com has asked former Minardi F1 teammates Christian Fittipaldi and Pierluigi Martini to explain what happened at Monza in 1993. Guess what? They agree on one thing – to disagree!

F1 Retro: Fittipaldi’s Monza backflip – was Martini really to blame?
Race winner Christian Fittipaldi, Action Express Racing
Pierluigi Martini, in a Minardi at the Legends Parade
Christian Fittipaldi, Minardi and Pierluigi Martini, Minardi collide at the finish
Christian Fittipaldi, Action Express Racing
Pierluigi Martini, in the Minardi M186-01 at the Legends Parade

It is almost 22 years since one of the most spectacular conclusions to a Grand Prix in Formula 1 history occurred at Monza.

The 1993 Italian Grand Prix ended with Minardi’s Pierluigi Martini and Christian Fittipaldi crossing the finish line in seventh and eighth respectively – only Fittipaldi did so after a spectacular 195mph backflip, having clipped the right-rear wheel of his teammate's car.

After all this time, has Fittipaldi mellowed over the incident? Not one bit. In fact, he labels Martini a “fool”, “idiot” and “imbecile” in our interview.

But we also asked Martini for his version of events, and he tells a very different story. So they don’t even agree on what happened!

Let’s start with…

Fittipaldi’s version of events

Motorsport.com: You have previously said that the contact with your team-mate Pierluigi Martini was his fault, yes?

Christian Fittipaldi: “Yes, and I keep saying the same thing today. The speed differential was 289km/h [Martini] against 314km/h [Fittipaldi]. You can't take it all in the slipstream, because you gain no more than three or five km/h. Telemetry was very clear that he took his foot out of throttle [Martini denies this, his version of why he slowed comes later].

“But you're talking about an Italian driver, Italian team, Monza... Giancarlo [Minardi] muted everything. I had the data on Monday. I called Fernando [Paiva], who was the one who made the telemetry for Minardi. I asked him, 'What happened?' and he replied to me: 'The guy took his foot out'. That's it. I'm lucky to be here talking to you today.”

What happened next? What did you say to Martini afterwards?

“The car stopped, I undid the belt and walked away. I got into the motorhome to change, and ‘Piero’ came to me and said, 'ahh, I'm sorry’. If he had no guilt or heavy conscience, he would not have to come talk to me and apologize.

“He'll never admit it, but he had a heavy conscience. Then I looked at him and said, 'you know what, Piero, let's not talk, never mind'. I was so glad to be alive, I won't waste time in my life to argue with a fool like him.

“For me he was dirty, an imbecile. From that day I never talked to him again. I have nothing against him, but for me, him and a trash can on the street is the same thing.”

We’ve heard one side of the story, so we must hear the other… 

Martini’s version of events

Motorsport.com: Tell us what exactly what happened, Pierluigi?

Pierluigi Martini: "In the last two laps I was overtaken by Eric Comas in the Larrousse-Lamborghini, because I had broken fifth gear in the sequential gearbox on my Minardi M193, so I had lost what would have been a brilliant sixth place. In the last lap I was under pressure from my teammate, Christian Fittipaldi. He stuck behind me after the second Lesmo and Ascari, had rehearsed a move, but then he overtook me before the Parabolica and I reacted by attempting an attack on the outside.”

And then what happened?

"The finish line was halfway down the straight, not immediately after the exit of the Parabolica as it is today. I knew Monza well because the Formula 3 races always ended with three or four cars [battling] on the track: I learnt that you had to stay on the right side of the track to make the road [distance] less, and can force opponents to make their move on the outside, but taking more road. And so I did that.”

Nothing strange so far, then what?

"Well, when you are sprinting you search for the highest possible speed. However, I had to move from fourth to sixth gear, pushing the sequential gearlever twice because I had broken the fifth gear.

“So I have suffered a loss of engine speed, and my acceleration was less rapid than that of Christian following me. I moved to the right side of the track to force him to overtake me on the outside, but he seemed attached to the opposite side [on Martini's right]. I felt a little contact in the back-right wheel… and then I have not seen the Minardi of my teammate any more.”

We all know Christian did a huge backflip, what did you think at the time?

"I lived terrible moments on the in-lap. I thought that Christian was over in the pitlane, and I expected to return to see a tragic scene, I had chilled blood in my veins."

And instead, he was OK, but you expected Giancarlo to be furious?

"He took me immediately to the Minardi motorhome, he did not want me to talk to the journalists who flocked to our garage. Meanwhile, Christian entered – who accused me of having held back on purpose, claiming that I had tried to kill him!

“We had a fight, while Giancarlo was trying to keep us calm and we waited for the telemetry. "

What happened then?

"Minardi told us with a resolute tone that if something abnormal would emerge, the driver who had made a risky manoeuvre would be fired. It was clear that he was talking to me, but I knew that I hadn’t done anything improper.

“The fact is that Christian had calmed down. The telemetry traces showed that I have never taken the foot off the gas, let alone I tried to slow. Just my Minardi did not accelerate as quickly as that of Fittipaldi, because I missed the fifth gear. Come to think of it [the double gearshift] went really well.”

Have you ever spoken again with Fittipaldi about it? Have you clarified the situation?

"No, we put a lid on it.”

Christian Fittipaldi was talking to Felipe Motta

Pierluigi Martini was talking to Franco Nugnes

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