Giovanni Bonanno

Why did you decide to become a racing driver?

I became a racing driver because it was my passion and because the competition was what gave me zest for life, enabled me to grow as a person to seek to improve myself by hard work and personal sacrifice. When I used to race karts, I remember that Alessandro Zanardi and I, along with both our fathers were always the ones with our hands dirty with grease because we were the ones who changed our own engines or changed tyres with our own hands. That was the passion and love we had for karting.

You raced in Italian F3 when it was very competitive - you raced against the likes of Morbidelli, Chiesa, Naspetti etc. What are your memories of racing in the category at this time?

It was a very difficult championship, there were more than 40 cars in the field, all with seasoned drivers with the goal of getting to Formula 1. It was the era of Hakkinen, Schumacher etc.

What are/were your personal highlights in Italian F3 - you had a few good results and podiums?

I made various podiums in F3 and I was third in the European Championship. That year Michael Schumacher was racing and if I’m not mistaken so was Mika Hakkinen and Heinz- Harald Fretnzen. I perhaps could have done better but it was a year when I was amongst the fastest but unfortunately my impetuousness hasn’t helped me much in my career.

You moved up to F3000 in 1990 with Becsport.You made an excellent start to the season, but when you were injured at Jerez, your season lost a bit of momentum. Do you look back and feel that if you hadn't crashed then, you would've had a different career path?

Yes I definitely think so. In my F3000 debut in 1990 I had a new team but I got on well and nevertheless was fast, so much so that in the pre championship tests I was always amongst the fastest and believed I would have had a good championship. When the accident happened in Jerez, I was in one of the leading positions but unfortunately that’s one of the risks of the job. The impact was hard and I left the track at over 200km per hour going headfirst into the barrier and breaking both legs. Obviously I was out for a year and the season was bad, but I think that for me it was a good year with a fast car, a good team and strong motivation that meant I already had contacts and the budget to be able to make the leap to Formula 1.

How difficult was it to come back from that injury? Did you consider stopping? Is it more difficult mentally than physically when you have a bad accident?

Actually it wasn’t that difficult because at 20 I feared nothing. I was brave and felt strong. The only thing missing was afterwards, was being in the right place at the right time. I never found a team like the first and with a competitive car.

A few months later, Martin Donnelly had a terrible accident at Jerez. Was the circuit too dangerous at the time, or was it just bad luck for you both?

The circuit in Jerez wasn’t safe, the run-offs were limited, especially where the fast bends were located so leaving the track wasn’t forgiving and both me and Donnelly paid with our legs. I was lucky because the car broke in two with my legs trapped in the broken section but since I ended up in a pile of tyres the front end didn’t fly away and rip off my feet. I recall that after I was removed from the car I was trapped in they took me away in an ambulance on a dirty track full of potholes towards the infirmary. I remember it as the most painful moment of my life. Every bump caused me more pain but the idiot who was driving just didn’t seem to notice or care less about my screams from the pain I was feeling at the time. I was then immediately transferred by private plane to Bologna and underwent emergency surgery to set my fractures.

You returned in 1991 with the First Team, then with GA/BGF. Obviously, the situation with First was an unhappy one and has been dealt with in the courts, which you won. Then your family and friends created a team to keep your career momentum - do you feel that if that hadn't happened, you wouldn't have been to return to F3000 again?

I think having put together a team was shown to be a big mistake. In hindsight it might have been better to wait and lose a year and maybe come back with another team. Unfortunately my adventure with First Racing was a disaster as I was ordered to indemnify damages of 1.5 million

You had good and bad moments in 1992 - you did brilliantly to qualify 4th at Enna. Is that your personal highlight of your time in F3000? If not, what was?

Yes it was my best performance as after the accident I wasn’t able to race a full season with a high level car. That year I was in the unlucky position of finding myself in cars that didn’t perform that well.

You raced against some excellent drivers in F3000 - Panis, Coulthard, Barrichello, Zanardi, Hill, Irvine, Wendlinger, Frentzen etc. Who would you rate as the best driver you raced against?

In my view the most rounded drivers were Alessandro Zanardi, Mika Hakkinen, Stefano Modena and obviously Michael Schumacher. I can say that because we grew up together karting and I saw them grow up and become strong minded and then they also confirmed this in F1. I think Stefano Modena would have deserved to win the Formula 1 championship.

Who were your best friends in racing? What are your memories of some of those you raced against?

I was good friends with Roberto Colciago and Andrea Gilardi. I was friendly with Schumacher, Hakkinen, Frentzen and the others from my era also but we didn’t see each other often, only during European or World championships where we each raced for our own countries.

You tested a Benetton in 1992 on a wet track and unfortunately you had an accident. What are your memories of the day? What was it like to drive a Formula 1 car? Was that your best chance to reach Formula 1?

It was very emotional driving a Formula 1 car especially with Benetton for whom I think Michael Schumacher won a world championship. I did that test with David Coulthard on the Silverstone track on a circuit that had recently been modified and that I didn’t know. With a track wet from rain and with only 20 laps in these conditions I only performed a tenth of a second slower than Coulthard who was British and knew the track well and if I’m not mistaken had already driven F1 for Williams. In any case in trying to do better than David I had a crash. The car wasn’t excessively different in comparison to Formula 3000 but the horsepower was so much greater. A dream, that has come true for all but a few drivers.

Were there no more single-seater opportunities in 1993, or did you decide to move on to other forms of racing by your own choice?

Once I had lost the chance of driving in Formula 1 I decided to drive only for business, driving where I earned well thanks to my sponsors.

What do you do now for a living?

I work in Rome now in the watch making and jewellery business. I have to say that the sport was an education in life that helped me grow as a person and was character building. I’m happy to have had such an experience and I feel lucky to have lived those unique moments full of passion.

Do you still follow the sport? What do you make of the new regulations and what do you think of the season so far?

I rarely follow Formula 1. After I stopped racing I didn’t really watch F1 by choice. I felt bad as I was sad not to be there. I dedicated myself to my work, my family and my hobby and cycling.


Interviewed by Richard Jenkins May 2014

Where Are They Now: Giovanni Bonanno