Modena (racing team)
Modena Team SpA was a Formula One team from Italy that contested a single season in 1991. The team had a rather confused history, and is often referred to as the “Lambo” or Lamborghini team because of its connections to the Italian automotive manufacturer. It competed in 16 World Championship Grands Prix (6 starts) but scored no Championship points. Its best result was seventh in the 1991 United States Grand Prix.
|Full name||Modena Team SpA|
|Noted staff||Carlo Patrucco (Team Principal)
Mauro Forghieri (Technical Director)
Mario Tolentino (Designer/race engineer)
Dave Morgan (Race Engineer)
|Noted drivers|| Nicola Larini
Eric van de Poele
|Formula One World Championship career|
|First entry||1991 United States Grand Prix|
|Races entered||16 (6 starts)|
|Race victories||0 (best result: 7th in the 1991 United States Grand Prix)|
|Final entry||1991 Australian Grand Prix|
The team first emerged as GLAS in early 1990. It was to be financed by wealthy Mexican businessman Fernando Gonzalez Luna, who was reported to be investing around $20 million in the team, and it was to be run by former Italian journalist Leopoldo Canettoli. The young team had approached Italian sportscar manufacturer Lamborghini, to not only supply them with their latest V12 Formula One engines, but to also design and build the chassis. Lamborghini had established a Formula One specific division in 1988, — Lamborghini Engineering — to oversee their burgeoning Formula One programme and they entered the sport in 1989 as an engine supplier. 1991 would be the firm’s first attempt at designing and building a Formula One car. Former Alfa Romeo and Spirit driver Mauro Baldi was proposed as a part-backer and driver for the team.
Lamborghini Engineering had tasked Mauro Forghieri, with the assistance of Mario Tolentino, to design and build a Formula One car. By the summer of 1990 they had completed the process and had a rolling chassis ready for testing, only for Luna to disappear, taking all his money with him. This left a huge hole in the team’s finances and effectively put its future in doubt. However, Lamborghini were determined to keep the project going as they already had the engines and now they had a Formula One car. So, the Italian firm injected a sum of money into the team to keep it running, they relocated it to Modena in Italy, which resulted in a subsequent name change taken from the team’s new home, installed Italian industrialist and former Fila boss Carlo Patrucco as Team Principal, and entered the 1991 Formula One season. Lamborghini were reluctant to have the team viewed as a “works” team though, as this might reflect badly on the marque, so it was entered as Modena Team SpA. Most media sources and fans ignored this, referring to the team as Lamborghini, or more colloquially as, “Lambo”. However, it was noted that after an initial lump sum from Lamborghini, Modena Team were an entirely independent business entity and received no further investment or financial assistance from Lamborghini.
The change of name would cause confusion throughout the season. It was essentially a Lamborghini Engineering team, as they had designed and built the chassis, the chassis carried the firm’s name and it was powered by a Lamborghini engine, but they were adamant on having it named differently and went about registering it under a different name, resulting in the team known as Modena but the cars as Lambo 291’s on the official entry list. “Modena” was also the surname of Stefano Modena, a driver who would be contesting the 1991 season for Tyrrell.
The Lambo 291 was a rather eye-catching and sleek looking chassis, with its distinctive blue colour scheme, triangular sidepods and slanting radiators. Slanting radiators would actually become a key Formula One design trend some years later, continuing to this day. Mauro Baldi was the first driver to test-drive the new car, testing it in late 1990. The team then hired former Minardi man Jaime Manca Graziadei as Team Manager, who resigned before the first GP of the season. Former Italian Formula 3 champion, Coloni and Osella driver Nicola Larini, and 1990 International F3000 runner-up Eric van de Poele were signed as the team’s drivers. Mario Tolentino would be Larini’s race engineer while former Formula One driver Dave Morgan was hired as van de Poele’s engineer.
Both cars had to face pre-qualifying for the first half of the season and each driver only made it through into the race on one occasion – Larini eventually coming 7th at the opening United States Grand Prix, and van de Poele running 5th at the San Marino Grand Prix, and on course for 2 world championship points, before a problem with the fuel system brought him to a halt on the last lap, literally within sight of the flag, resulting in van de Poele being classified as 9th.
By mid-season the team were in financial difficulty, unable to secure any meaningful sponsorship and Lamborghini refusing to release any additional funds. Though the team were now clear of pre-qualifying when the process was reorganised, thanks to a count-back to Larini’s 7th place at Phoenix, they were unable to make any progress. Larini got through to a further four races (spinning out of the German Grand Prix, coming 16th at the Hungarian Grand Prix and Italian Grand Prix and colliding with Jean Alesi at the Australian Grand Prix). Foghieri had also left his post as Technical Director mid-season to refocus on his role with Lamborghini Engineering and oversee the design of an all new engine for the 1992 Formula One season.
By season’s end, Modena Team SpA were in debt and with Lamborghini no longer providing financial aid, the team was at the end of the road. Forghieri returned to try and organise Modena as a viable independent entity from Lamborghini Engineering, or attempt a merger with the Larrousse Formula One team or Reynard’s stillborn F1 project to save the team. However, neither proposal came to fruition. The questions about its future had not prevented the team from independently commissioning Sergio Rinland to design a car for the 1992 Formula One season, a project Rinland had already begun in October 1991. Rumours were that the team would either use Judd V8 engines or continue the relationship with Lamborghini as engine suppliers. Ultimately, the team disappeared before the 1992 season, unable to overcome their financial problems.