The announcement that the iconic brand of Martini and Rosso would be returning to F1 with Williams this season brought an explosion of nostalgic joy. The colours are closely associated with the golden period of the sport in the 1970s.
Even though the brand of Martini had been involved in motorsport with Porsche since 1962, it took a full decade before an F1 car bore the now famous logo. The little known Tecno team, making the step up from F2, was backed by Count Rossi (from Martini and Rossi) during their two sporadic seasons in the sport. The results were disappointing, despite the hiring of Chris Amon for 1973, but by the end of that season the team had folded after Amon quit in Austria.
The brand would return to the grid 12 months later after being announced as the title sponsor of Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team. Indeed, the team was renamed Martini Racing to reflect the companies standing in motorsport with it’s successes with Porsche at Le Mans. The white Brabham now sported the same blue and red stripes of the German marque.
Success came almost immediately. The South American driver pairing of Argentinian Carlos Reutemann and Brazilian Carlos Pace both tasted success on their home soils respectively. Reutemann led briefly and finished 3rd at his home race, before Pace faired even better by taking his only career victory at Interlagos. The season was a great success for the constructor, and despite a distinct drop off of pace due to tyre wear, Reutemann would take another win Germany and the team would finish runners-up to Ferrari over the course of the year.
Moving into 1976 Ecclestone looked for an advantage over rivals Ferrari and McLaren and signed an engine deal with Alfa Romeo. This, coupled with increased investment from Martini, led the team to adopt a rossa corsa red colour scheme to add to it’s Italian influence.
But, the Alfa engines proved heavy and desperately unreliable, and only 9 points were scored – 45 less than the season before. The car was so bad the Carlos Reutemann negotiated out of his contract with the team with 3 races to go.
1977 saw the continuation of the red Martini Racing Brabhams, and the car proved to be more competitive yet still unreliable. The team suffered tragedy early on when Carlos Pace, who finished the opening race in Argentina in 2nd place, was killed in a light aircraft crash three races into the season.
He was replaced by Hans-Joachim Stuck, and despite his and new signing John Watson’s efforts the team suffered another season of poor reliability which cost them several impressive results. After another winless season, Martini pulled out of Formula One at the end of the season.
For 1978 the brand focused solely on Porsche’s efforts in sportscars and Le Mans, and also it’s foray into rallying, but by 1979 it had decided to re-enter F1 with the reigning champions Lotus. The red and blue stripes returned, but this time on a base of British Racing Green.
The British team, and American Mario Andretti, had dominated with the Lotus 79 but despite being the pioneers of ground effect the rest of the grid caught up quickly. The Lotus 80 debuted mid-season and was a disaster, prompting the 79 to be taken out of retirement and back into service. The champions failed to win and after the season Martini withdrew once more, this time for good.
Despite this, it still had motorsport involvement with Porsche at Le Mans, Lancia in rallying, and Alfa Romeo in German Touring Cars. The Martini name did still appear in F1 throughout, but only on advertising hoardings, and as a minor nosecone sponsor at Ferrari between 2006 and 2008.
But now the brand is back on the grid with Williams, and has reverted to the original colouring of red and blue stripes on a white background. With the Grove outfit being a pre-season favourite thanks to it’s pace in testing, and it’s switch from Renault to Mercedes for 2014, we might just see Martini Racing at the forefront of Formula One after nearly 40 years.