|Date of Birth||31st August 1953|
|Best Result||Ret (San Marino, 1981)|
There is an oft-discussed obscure Formula One record: who had the shortest Formula One racing career? The driver most often cited for this record is Marco Apicella, the Italian driver who was knocked out of the 1993 Italian Grand Prix at the first corner. More clued-up fanatics will know that Ernst Loof’s 1953 German Grand Prix lasted all of two metres when his fuel pump failed at the start. But this fact wasn’t semi-common knowledge for a long time, and Apicella was credited with the record for years. His career arc echoed that of the man whose record he had supposedly beaten: Miguel Ángel Guerra.
Before F1: early days and Formula 4
Born in Buenos Aires on August 31st 1953, Guerra got his motorsport career started at the age of 18. These days, certain drivers already have thousands of miles in Grand Prix machinery under their belts by this age, but in the 1970s, this was not the case. Under the tutelage of Renault importer and tuner Osvaldo Antelo, Guerra entered his first Argentine Formula 4 race in 1971 in Nueve de Julio. He certainly made an impression on début, when he passed a swath of cars in a single corner. Unfortunately for Miguel, the stewards were less impressed, as he had made the move under yellow flags!
Nonetheless, Miguel proved himself to be rather deft behind the wheel and became a mainstay of the Argentine Formula 4 scene with his Crespi-Renault. In his first full season in 1972, he was the championship runner-up to Carlos Jarque, and in a similar turn of events, he finished behind Jorge De Amorrortu in 1973. Once both drivers left the series to drive more powerful machinery, Miguel was free to dominate the championship. In 1974 and 1975, he beat Agustín Beamonte to two consecutive Argentine Formula 4 titles. Like Jarque and De Amorrortu, Guerra was ready to move up in the world.
1974-77: Argentine feeder series
In fact, in 1974, Miguel had already made his début in the Argentine Formula 2 Championship and promptly finished runner-up in the championship. As he won his second Formula 4 title in 1975, he also took his first Formula 2 crown. Going from strength to strength, he won the title again in 1976 and 1977. By then, he had also begun to drive in the Argentine Formula 1 series.
Fórmula 1 Mecánica Argentina – to refer to it by its proper name – was a series for Formula 1-styled single-seaters with 3-to-4-litre engines. The championship had notably been won by Nasif Estéfano and was contested by constructor Oreste Berta, who had made an abortive attempt at a World Championship entry in 1975. Argentine Formula 1 was a very competitive series, and it was driving a Berta that Miguel made his début in 1977. One of five drivers to complete the full season, Miguel scored three victories and seven podiums in nine races. However, this was not enough to beat defending champion Pedro Passadore, from Uruguay, who scored four wins and eight podiums.
In an era when the Argentine Grand Prix was a championship event and Carlos Reutemann was a major figure in Formula One, single-seater motorsport was very popular in Argentina. Feeling ready to move to Europe after his F4, F2 and F1 successes, Miguel found sponsors back home and got on a plane to Italy.
1978: First steps in Europe
Arriving in Europe with few connections and an obscure reputation, Miguel began to search for a drive. His first opportunity arrived in the form of Scuderia Emiliani, a small Italian team looking for a driver to make their first appearance in Formula Three. Miguel jumped on the opportunity, and on May 14th 1978, he was on the grid at Imola for the European F3 Championship. Driving a Wolf-Toyota, Miguel qualified fourth in his heat and finished fifth, ahead of the likes of Arie Luyendyk and Huub Rothengatter. Starting the final in ninth place, he ran a clean race and finished seventh, half a second behind eventual champion Jan Lammers and just ahead of Michael Bleekemolen, by then already an F1 driver.
Miguel had also beaten two drivers by the name of Gianluca Bagnara and Marco Micangeli. The pair was driving for Scuderia Everest, the outfit owned by Giancarlo Minardi. Everest were also competing in European Formula Two, with a rotating cast of Italian drivers supporting Elio de Angelis. Impressed by Guerra’s performance on a track he had never driven before, Minardi offered the Argentine a drive for the rest of the season.
Two weeks later, Miguel made his European F2 début at Mugello in a Scuderia Everest Chevron-BMW. Qualifying 22nd, less than a second behind de Angelis in a Chevron-Ferrari, Miguel finished the race 16th of 23 finishers, ahead of fellow Argentine Ricardo Zunino and motorcycle legend Giacomo Agostini. The going was tough for Everest, as the team could only rarely hope to trouble the upper midfield. After Rouen, de Angelis left the team for the works Chevron concern, and Miguel was promoted to lead driver in the Ferrari-powered car. Results improved marginally, including seventh place at Donington.
No points were scored by the team that year, but the Donington result led to an invitation to Maranello to discuss engine development. During a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, Miguel – partially in jest – asked about the possibility of testing a Ferrari in the future. Il Commendatore reportedly replied: “You never know…” Miguel capped the season with seventh place in a non-championship F2 race in his native Argentina.
1979-80: Formula 2
Miguel’s flashes of pace in 1978 led to a contract renewal, while Everest switched to a March chassis for 1979. Miguel would occasionally be joined by Clay Regazzoni, Gianfranco Brancatelli and Ferrante Ponti. The performance gains were immediately noticeable, as Miguel qualified in the top ten in Silverstone. He would spend most of the rest of the season starting from the sixth and seventh rows, with four exceptions: Hockenheim, Vallelunga, Pergusa and Misano. He retired from the Italian rounds, but starting from sixth in Hockenheim, he finished an excellent third behind Keke Rosberg and Rad Dougall. Along with fourth place in Thruxton and sixth place in Pau, Miguel finished the season with eight points in 14th position, tied with Alberto Colombo.
This return to form for Everest was associated with Giancarlo Minardi’s nascent partnership with a Milanese Fiat dealer called Piero Mancini. A wealthy benefactor who would later create Motori Moderni, Mancini’s much-needed funds allowed Scuderia Everest to become a manufacturer in its own right. Thus, Minardi was born.
The first Minardi, powered by BMW engines, was not at the same level as the Toleman, but its reliability (four retirements in 16 starts) allowed it to often beat the more fragile March entries. Guerra himself was extremely consistent, finishing nine of eleven races, all of them in the top ten and five of them in the points, though he did not score another podium. His ten points allowed him to claim ninth place in the championship, and an impressive run of five consecutive top-ten starts were a testament to his raw pace.
1981: Formula One
In 1979, Miguel had carried out testing for Osella in preparation for their return to Formula Two. Eddie Cheever went on to drive the car to fourth place that season, eventually following Osella into Formula One in 1980. As 1981 came about, Enzo Osella prepared a second entry, but Cheever had already signed for Tyrrell. One of the Osella higher-ups remembered Miguel’s Formula Two tests and suggested him as a possible driver alongside the Italian Beppe Gabbiani. Coupled with his 1980 results, Miguel was offered the drive on the condition that he find more sponsors. The promise of Formula One exposure and Miguel’s impressive run of form made this a mere formality, and by February, the deal had been secured.
Unfortunately for him, time was short, and he only had the time to carry out a straight-line shakedown at a Turin airfield before the cars were transported to the first race at Long Beach. By the time Miguel made his Grand Prix début, he had not yet turned a corner in anger. The United States Grand Prix West confirmed that Osella would resume their 1980 role as a firm backmarker. Of the 29 cars present in California, Guerra was only the 27th fastest, setting a 1:22.673, 3.274 seconds behind polesitter Patrese and 0.460 behind Gabbiani. To make things worse for Miguel, Gabbiani had qualified 24th, taking the last spot on the grid.
The situation did not improve in Brazil. Enzo Osella had not sent the team’s only engineer to the circuit, and stayed in his hotel room from Saturday onwards due to the heat. Discounting March – who had a horrendous weekend where neither driver set a meaningful lap – Gabbiani and Guerra were the two slowest drivers. Guerra’s fastest qualifying lap of 1:40.984 was almost six seconds slower than Piquet’s pole and over a second from Ricardo Zunino in 24th place. However, he was only 0.275 seconds behind Gabbiani, at the very least pointing towards familiarisation with the Osella FA1B.
Things began to look up at Miguel’s home race, as Osella cemented their place ahead of March. Both drivers outpaced Daly and Salazar, as well as Ligier’s Jean-Pierre Jabouille, still recovering from a broken leg. As Miguel was more familiar with the Argentine circuit, he qualified ahead of Gabbiani by 0.512 seconds, but he nonetheless came 0.145 seconds short from 24th, once again held by Zunino. It was clear that the Osella was not living up to its full potential. In a 2004 interview with Motor Sport Magazine, Guerra recalled: “In those days you needed good ground effects, and Osella and I simply could not get the best out of the FA1B in this respect. Something to do with adjusting the ride-height properly, I think.”
By the time the Formula 1 circus returned to Europe for the inaugural San Marino Grand Prix, Osella had taken a leaf out of Brabham’s playbook. The engineers had installed a hydro-pneumatic suspension system, allowing for a replication of ground effects and ride height control. However, this development occurred at the peak of the Lotus 88 fiasco, and the Sammarinese scrutineers did not take kindly to the system, or indeed to any attempt at bending the rules. Lotus were banned from the weekend, and all cars bar those of Renault, Ligier and Toleman were deemed illegal for various infringements.
Many teams changed their cars overnight, but those with hydro-pneumatic suspension didn’t. Observers were posted around the track to report unusual ride heights to the stewards, but they relented when it became clear that every team had such a system. Lotus’ withdrawal gave Osella a free pass to qualifying, and the new suspension system put them ahead of ATS and the new Toleman. Miguel set a 1:38.773 in qualifying, 4.250 seconds behind Villeneuve on pole and 0.471 seconds behind Gabbiani. Nonetheless, this was the 22nd-fastest time, and Miguel was cleared to make his first start.
Starting just behind Miguel on the damp grid was another South American driver making his first start: Eliseo Salazar. All drivers got a clean start, but as the field rounded the fast left-hander at Tamburello, Salazar made contact with Guerra, sending the Osella head-on into the inside retaining wall. As yellow flags were waved, an ambulance was sent onto the circuit to help extricate Guerra from the wreckage.
Miguel spent the night at Enzo Osella’s family home, and when the pain continued, he went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a double fracture of his left ankle. The injuries did not require surgery, but his recovery was long and painful. Osella hired Piercarlo Ghinzani and Giorgio Francia to replace him temporarily, as he was expected to return to the cockpit by the French Grand Prix. This didn’t materialise, and Osella instead hired Jean-Pierre Jarier as a permanent replacement. Guerra would never drive in Formula One again.
After Formula One: Back to F2!
Upon his recovery, Miguel began to test for Minardi’s F2 team again, the 281 chassis occasionally scoring points in the hands of Johnny Cecotto and Michele Alboreto. For his loyalty, Miguel was offered a free drive at Misano towards the end of the 1981 season. Out of racing practice, Miguel nonetheless qualified 16th, ahead of teammates Cecotto and Farnetti, but behind Alboreto. The race was harsher on the Argentine, and he finished 13th and last while Alboreto, already in a full-time F1 drive, won the race.
Miguel did not stop looking for drives in Europe after his recovery, but his job was made difficult by a worsening economic crisis in Argentina, drastically reducing his sponsorship budget. As 1982 appeared, with it came the infamous Falklands War. The conflict notably caused Carlos Reutemann to leave Williams and retire from Formula 1, while the resulting blow to Argentina’s economy and global reputation ended any chance of Miguel finding another Formula One drive.
Giancarlo Minardi – who had become a close friend – told Miguel not to despair, and that he soon would have his own Formula 1 team. Miguel responded: “How are you going to have your own F1 team when you don’t even have a bolt?” Offered only a couple of part-time F2 drives, Miguel returned to Argentina. There would be no Argentine in F1 until Oscar Larrauri in 1988.
1982-87: Return to Argentina
Upon his return, Miguel resumed his activities in Argentine Formula 2, by then being dominated by Guillermo Maldonado (no relation to Pastor). Once again driving a Berta-Renault, he scored four podiums, including a convincing victory at Concordia, and three fastest laps. He finished fifth in what would be the final season of Argentine F2. With most South American motorsport sanctioning bodies merging into a single confederation named Codasur, a new continental Formula 2 series would be created. Two exhibition races for the new series were held in late 1982. Miguel won the first of them in Tarumá, in Brazil.
Perhaps cautiously waiting to see if the series would be a success, Miguel did not compete in the first few races of the new championship. By the sixth race of 1983, held at Interlagos in June, over 20 drivers were regularly entering. Guerra tested a new Berta-Renault shortly thereafter, and he was on the grid in time for the next race in Rafaela. Against largely the same opposition as 1982, Miguel was immediately on the pace. Scoring two podiums in his first four races, he capped his season with victory and fastest lap in Buenos Aires. With 23 points, he finished the year in sixth place despite competing in only half of the races. The following season, he kept up his form, winning races in Rafaela and San Juan on his way to second place behind the ever-dominant Maldonado.
Miguel kept driving in Formula 2 Codasur in 1985, still in his trusty #46 UFO-sponsored Berta-Renault, but he struggled to keep the pace with the likes of Maldonado and Guillermo Kissling. Nonetheless, his ability to consistently perform allowed him to score four podiums, all third places, and finish a distant fourth in the championship with 22 points. The following year, Miguel’s race pace improved, leading to victories at Florianópolis and Buenos Aires. Three other podiums put him third in the championship behind Maldonado and Kissling. This would be the last season of Formula 2 Codasur, as dwindling interest led to a complete rebrand of the series.
Formula 3 Sudamericana was created in 1987, with the F2 regulars joined by new up-and-coming drivers in the same cars as the previous championship. Miguel had a lot of difficulty adapting to the new field. Only managing a single second place in the season-ending race at Villa Carlos Paz, he finished a lowly ninth. Aged 34, Miguel decided to bring an end to his open-wheel career.
1987-2001: Tin-tops and a new career path
While competing in Formula 3, Miguel had made a select few appearances in the Argentine TC2000 touring car series. His competitive performances in those outings encouraged him to pursue a new career path, and from 1988, Miguel would be driving in TC2000. Driving a Renault Fuego, Miguel made an impression on his full time début at Mar del Plata by holding up Guillermo Maldonado and Hugo Olmi, angering both drivers. Third place on début was a good indicator of Guerra’s pace, and with his trademark consistency, he scored another two podiums that year, including a maiden win at the penultimate round in Balcarce. He finished the season in fifth place.
In 1989, Miguel faced competition from Juan María Traverso, who won five races out of 12. However, despite winning only two races in San Jorge and Pigüé, Guerra scored four more podiums (as many as Traverso) and regularly finished well. At the final race in Mendoza, Guerra finished second behind Traverso and sealed the TC2000 title by eight points. The video embedded above shows the race itself and an interview (in Spanish) with Guerra.
While this was Miguel’s last title, he remained competitive in TC2000 for a few more years. Finishing fifth in 1990, he switched his allegiance to Ford and Volkswagen in 1991 after almost 20 years with Renault. This led to a fourth place finish in 1991, including a race win, but as his results worsened, he changed again, this time to Peugeot. After a couple of difficult seasons, he returned to form in 1996, when two pole positions led to as many wins and four podiums.
In 1997, Miguel moved to the brand new South American Super Touring Championship. Competing for Ford, Chevrolet and Honda, the different cars didn’t help him to perform, as all five of his finishes were in the lower third of the top ten. For 1998, he signed full-time with INI Competición, taking the Chevrolet Vectra to a single pole position and tenth place in the championship. The following year, he set up his own team and returned to Peugeot. Top ten finishes were plentiful and culminated in victory at the penultimate round in Olavarría and ninth in the final standings. This would be Miguel’s final race victory.
The Super Touring championship already on its last legs, Miguel would drive in Turismo Carretera in the year 2000. He had occasionally won invitational races in the series throughout the 1990s, and driving a Chevrolet Nova, he scored podiums in Olavarría and Buenos Aires and finished the year in eleventh place. He continued to race into 2001, but by this point, he was 47 years old. With most of his early rivals already retired, he decided to end his career after four more races.
In 2004, Miguel became vice-president of the Top Race championship, another Argentine touring car championship. Overseeing the series’ rebranding to Top Race V6 in 2005 and the launch of two junior categories, he remained vice-president until his retirement in 2014 at the age of 61. Today, Miguel follows the career of his son Lucas Ariel, born in 1987, who won the Top Race Series in 2014 and now competes in Top Race V6.
Miguel Ángel Guerra is best remembered as a supremely consistent driver and one of the best Argentine drivers of his generation. Though he generally lacked the killer instinct and sheer pace to regularly contend for championships, he had enough talent and contacts to hold his own in Europe. His Formula 1 career was unlikely to last past 1981, even without his injury, but his friendship with Giancarlo Minardi is still strong. At the 2016 Minardi Day in Imola, Miguel was there to drive his old Formula 2 car. He may have regretted his decision to return to Argentina in 1982, as when Minardi finally became a Formula 1 team in 1985, Miguel was there at Jacarepaguá…to change the tyres for his old friend’s car.