Profile – Corrado Fabi

While it is unlikely that racing ability is something that passes along in genetics, there are the occasional moments, be it the Schumachers, Rosbergs or Villeneuves, where more than one member of a racing family can possess boatloads of talent. One such example which is seldom mentioned is Corrado Fabi, younger brother of Teo.

While Teo was respected enough to land simultaneous F1 and CART gigs, scoring podiums in the former and wins in the latter, his much younger brother Corrado was a European Formula 2 champion with a meteoric rise to the top series that fizzled out for tragic reasons. While he remains a GP Reject, Corrado’s career smacks of unfulfilled promise and potential, and his subsequent absence from motorsport left the latter all the worse for it.

Nationality Italian
Date of Birth April 12th 1961
Teams Osella (1983), Brabham (1984)
Races Entered 18
Races Started 12
Best Result 7th (1984 Dallas)
Early Years

Born in Milan, Corrado and Teo had the key to keys to success from birth: their father Carlo was not only the wealthy owner of a string of talcum powder mines in northern Italy, but he was also a speed freak, competing in the Mille Miglia and had one or two wins to his name around Europe. It was Corrado, the younger brother, who first stepped into a go-kart at the age of 12, that gave Carlo’s children the bug and brought them a later career in motorsport.

Very soon, Teo was old enough to leave the local leagues and face European challengers, while by the mid-1970s Corrado was signed up for local, then national karting championships. Corrado, with age on his side, had a longer incubation period, and his father persisted in him following his education alongside his passion. However, it was with the road that Teo paved that Corrado was easily able to jump into Italian F3 with his brother’s old March 783, and succeed. As a mere teenager, he was at least two or three years younger than all of his counterparts, including Italian royalty like Piercarlo Ghinzani, Riccardo Paletti, and Enzo Coloni.

He followed the best of these names to F3 Europe the following year, and competed well for the series championship. New teammate Alboreto and Thierry Boutsen were the only runners ahead of him by season-end, with two wins and seven podiums to Fabi’s name. Again, he was the youngest on the grid at only 19, but he did have the advantage that he committed to a full season of running, while much of the competition were operating part-time.

With age on his side, Corrado entered European Formula 2 before his 20th birthday. His lack of experience did nothing to hinder his quick rise to the championship in 1982. Photo: Udo Klingel.

Supporting his education, Corrado was incredibly able to study aeronautical engineering throughout this time, all the while negotiating for European Formula 2 for the following season and running year-end tests for the Brabham Formula 1 team. He was only one stage below his brother Teo, who after 1980 left to Can-Am for further opportunities in America. Corrado took his place in 1981 and had a very strong season: multiple podiums, poles, a win, and a fifth place overall. Things got better and better, and for 1982 Corrado took the championship with a mighty five wins. His victory came on countback, with teammate Johnny Cecotto taking an equal number of points, but with one dropped score and fewer wins.

There was no doubt about Corrado’s talent, and at the age of 21 he was searching around for Formula 1 drives. Brabham had teased a drive with try-outs in late 1982, but these did not go far enough for a seat. With his momentum seemingly stalling, he had the opportunity to try out Formula 1 with a slower team or to join his brother in the States. He chose F1 and the Osella team.

1983-1984: Formula 1

While the Italian had now made it to the top-flight series, it was a struggle to say the least. Osella were backmarkers with very limited funds, and just throughout 1983 they went through a variety of sponsors, backers, and even two engine suppliers to keep themselves afloat and competitive. Even after the latter came from a lucrative deal struck with Alfa Romeo, the V12 turbo was just as slow and a tiny bit more reliable than the Cosworth V8 had been.

As a result, the Osella was dreadfully slow, and each weekend of Corrado’s season was a battle to qualify as much as it was a battle to race. Lowlights saw him qualify last at Detroit, with rubber actually making lap times slower over the course of the session. Likewise at the Hockenheimring, where he was nearly 3 seconds slower than teammate Piercarlo Ghinzani.

Here we see Corrado and Piercarlo together at Brands Hatch in 1983, discussing where they can find the extra three seconds of pace that would help them qualify.

The decision to join the team was one the Italian came to publicly regret later on, as he felt it stalled his career path to finding a better and more rewarding drive at a later time. After all, a driver in a slow car can often be mistaken for being a slow driver. The scoreboard had him ahead of Ghinzani in the overall standings at year end, but that was little consolation for a horrid year.

More opportunities did beckon, however. Corrado’s big break would finally come in 1984, when his brother Teo was persuaded to return from a full year in CART to a seat with Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team. Teo had only one problem, however, which was that he had already signed with Forsythe in CART. Therefore, the deal with struck with all parties to have Teo split his American interests with a part-time season in F1. With their Italian sponsor Parmalat, Brabham hired both Fabi brothers to fill out the team’s second seat, which forced them to ditch their third option, Ayrton Senna, to move to Toleman instead. The team would swap the brothers in and out when Teo was required in America, and then likewise, towards the end of the season when Teo was in Formula 1, Corrado would make the occasional cameo in CART himself, with a sixth place at Phoenix being his best finish.

Corrado’s first race at Monaco had him 15th on the grid, three rows behind teammate and defending champion Nelson Piquet. A great start saw him jump to 11th before electrical failure caused his car to stall and eventually give up the ghost a few laps later. Canada really accentuated the differences between the teammates, as Corrado qualified over 4 seconds off Piquet who took pole. Again reliability took him out, but by the halfway mark he was still no higher than 12th, while Piquet led lights to flag. His third and final race saw small redemption: he outqualified Piquet and eventually finished where the latter crashed out.

Shown here in the centre between his brother and Nelson Piquet, Corrado was so briefly in the limelight and with a chance for greatness in F1.

While this deal between Teo and Corrado to share the drive worked in theory, Teo quickly realised it was foolish in practice, and as 1984 continued it caused the brothers a physical burnout from their commitments. This was doubled when tragedy struck the family.

Tragedy and Early Retirement

In the Autumn of 1984, Carlo Fabi died. What it meant was for the company, traditionally run, to require one of the father’s children to inherit and run it. As the older brother, Teo took over this role, and found quickly that it was too much for him. After a period of only a few months, Corrado was the one who made the permanent sacrifice to quit his motorsport career and take care of the family business. Teo, with the worse education and the far better racing prospects, continued on with his career into 1985 and beyond.

To this day, since the mid-1980s, Corrado has been the runner of the family business, and when Teo’s career came to an end a decade later, the two brothers have co-run the business together. He has also been very successful in doing so: IMI Fabi ended up expanding out of Italy and into the international markets around the world: hundreds of thousands of tons of talcum powder mined and a hundred million dollars annual turnover. It was quite the change in fortunes for Corrado, the family, and everything, in a very short time.

With the suddenness of his motorsport career ending, Corrado did not branch out too far into other series. Aside from a one-off cameo in the WEC that rewarded a second place, his career was very straight-forward, and after his father’s death he only partook in one more series: International F3000 in 1987, where he recorded two DNQs from three races. It was a sad way to go, and proof of just how quickly stock can fall from being there at the right time, but the wrong place.

Looking Back

Corrado Fabi’s career, like so many rejects, begs the “what if” question. In Corrado’s case, we ask what could have been achieved if he had either found a better offer than Osella, or what his career would have looked like without the sudden passing of his father. In the former and the latter, things don’t necessarily look too bright for Corrado. Formula 1 is a notoriously tough environment and chances do not come a-begging for the average driver. The Italian saw his stock fall considerably at Osella, even in spite of his brilliant junior career and his comparative youth. To have retired at 23 naturally leaves a whole future uncertain, though what Corrado could have done with that time remains a mystery.

Being with Osella certainly didn’t help his prospects, and the downward trend of his prospects following the F2 championship victory is shocking.

In F1, his chances to prove himself were few. If he was in a machine fast enough to qualify, that same machine would very rarely finish. Of his ten in-race retirements, two were self-inflicted, and one of those was the downpour of Monaco 1984. His greatest finish, at his final race in Dallas of the same year, saw him rise up the ranks through attrition, and many laps down. He had outqualified teammate Nelson Piquet, and finished where his defending champion teammate had spun off.

Therefore, it is a bittersweet ending that Teo’s younger brother, a reject though he may be, was able to fulfil his duty to Teo and Carlo and take the family responsibility with both hands. His motorsport career leaves nothing to be ashamed of, and respect is due to him for landing on his feet in both the avenues of his life.

Author

  • Jeremy Scott is an active member of GPRejects, having joined on the weekend of Monaco 2014(!). He writes for fun, but secretly wants to make a career out of it.