Back in the early nineties, I was a short, chubby teenager who owned an Amiga 500. It was my prized possession that I loved and adored, ground breaking gaming technology that had me running home from high school to power up and play. Titles such as Rolling Thunder, Stunt Car Racer, Lemmings, Cannon Fodder – brilliant games that I played over and over again. But there was one title that I played more than most:
Geoff Crammond’s Microprose Formula One Grand Prix.
For the very first time, I could line up on the grid alongside my heroes (once I’d edited the names of course) and race them around the iconic pixelated streets of Monaco, the hills of Spa and the straights of San Marino. I fought with Senna, diced with Mansell and clattered into Comas. It was incredible.
Wikipedia says it best:
“Although not quite on the level of later simulations, the most important variables, such as gear ratios, tyre compounds and wing settings were available to tune and, more importantly, proved to make an actual difference when driving. Important were also the functional rearview mirrors and an “instant replay” system with a wide range of adjustable camera settings not seen in other games of the era.
Despite several continuity hiccups, the game offered a completely new experience for players at the time. The accurately modelled tracks meant that players could actually recognise their location on the real-life circuit. The detailed physics engine provided a more realistic driving experience than had been seen before, drivers could easily experience the differences in handling depending on how you entered a corner and how soon or late you accelerated out of it. Unlike other racing simulations of the time, the accuracy of the simulation actually made the 1/1000 of a second chronometer meaningful, as races could be won or lost by a few thousandths of a second.
Vitally, the combination of graphics and physics meant players could actually “feel” whether they were driving fast or slow, and could predict how the car would respond. Even details such as tyre wear were modelled throughout the race, qualifying tyres are an extreme example of this: players could not drive more than a couple of laps without beginning to lose grip and eventually spinning out on nearly every corner. Together with the 16 tracks and the atmosphere-packed rendition of complete Grand Prix weekends, it made F1GP a favourite.”
It was made all the better when my best mate Will would drop by. We’d have a multiplayer game at full race distance, taking turns to pilot our cars before the AI took over the running. Whilst I considered myself to be a fairly decent racer, qualifying well and keeping out of trouble, numerous times the AI driver of my car wasn’t to be trusted, and wound up at the rear of the grid – and more than likely missing the front wing.
It was here that Fabrizzio Barbazza began his entry into the F1PP Hall of Fame.
I’d lovingly recreated the 1993 season of cars and drivers, placing Barbazza in the Minardi. As art imitates life, the Minardi struggled with performance, and my digital Barbazza had the same amount of luck as his real life counterpart. He was also quite good at getting in my way.
You see, I would carve my way through the field and come up on back markers quite quickly. That little black dot on the horizon that would slowly morph into a polygon of an F1 Car would be something I would slowly hunt down, like a cheetah stalking its prey. Unless it was Barbazza. Then I would have to be very careful in planning my pass, for he always had a way of clattering into me and taking me off track, taking off my front (or rear) wing or taking me out of the race completely. It became a running joke with my fellow players who would wait for me to come up behind Barbazza, hope the AI would take over and then watch the impending chaos.
Good old Barbazza was born in Monza, Lombardy in April of 1963 and was destined for a career in motorsports. After spending time in motocross in his teens, he began racing Formula Monza in 1982. The following year, he moved into Italian Formula Three Championship and, in 1984, finished sixth in the series. In 1985, he won four races and finished third in the championship. He then went to the United States and entered the American Racing Series, where he won four races and the title in his first attempt.
After his success in ARS, Barbazza entered CART in 1987 and finished third in the 1987 Indianapolis 500, becoming CART’s Rookie of the Year. Despite his success he could not find a ride in CART for 1988 and only made two starts in Formula 3000, along with failing to qualify three times. He returned to CART for 1989 for eight races with a best finish of eighth at Toronto. He also drove in eight Japanese Formula 3000 races.
In 1990 he joined International F3000 full-time driving for the Crypton team, where he ended 16th in points with a best finish of fourth at his home track in Monza, his only point-scoring finish of the season. For 1991 Barbazza signed on with the struggling AGS Formula One team for the third round of the championship, replacing Stefan Johansson. Barbazza failed to qualify for all twelve races he attempted with the team and the team shut down after both Barbazza and his teammate Olivier Grouillard both failed to pre-qualify for the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix.
For the 1992 racing season, Barbazza again returned to the Arciero team in CART. However, after respectable performances in two-year-old equipment for the first three races of the season, he wrecked his 1990 vintage Lola in practice for the 1992 Indianapolis 500 and was not able to qualify. It would be his last appearance in CART.
In 1993 Barbazza rejoined Formula One with the Minardi team, scoring points twice in his first four races. However, Barbazza would be replaced by Pierluigi Martini after eight races.
In 1995, while racing a Ferrari 333SP sports prototype at the Road Atlanta circuit, he was involved in a major accident with Jeremy Dale, which resulted in heavy head and chest injuries which left him in critical condition, in a coma and on artificial respiration. Although he fully recovered, he did not return to racing. Instead he started a go-kart circuit in Monza and began designing crash barriers.
He has since relocated to Cuba where he has set up a fishing resort in the north of the country called La Villa Clara. He has also raced again, at a local karting track in Cuba, where he has re-discovered his love for the sport.
Barbazza may have played a small role in the history of Formula One, but thanks to Geoff Crammond and a gathering of polygons – along with some dodgy (or authentic?) AI, he will always hold a special place in the F1PP Hall of Fame.