The last Italian driver to race a full season for the legendary Ferrari team was, unbelievably, the late Michele Alboreto back during the 1988 Formula 1 season. Since then, a few Italians have tried to live up to the hype of being an Italian in the premiere team in Italy but with not much success.
Gianni Morbidelli raced once for the team, replacing Alain Prost for the infamous 14-lap 1991 Australian Grand Prix after the Frenchman was sacked, but another drive for the team was not forthcoming despite finishing sixth in the torrential rain of Adelaide. The following year Ivan Capelli drove for the Scuderia for fourteen out of sixteen races but was dropped for the final two after disappointing results. His replacement for those final races of 1992, Nicola Larini, faired little better, though he did score a podium finish in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix while replacing an injured Jean Alesi in the team, a result that goes largely unnoticed due to the tragedy that beset that dark weekend.
It would be the 15 years later at the 2009 European Grand Prix on the Valencia street circuit that you would next see an Italian racing a Ferrari in Formula 1, with long-time test driver Luca Badoer finally given a shot after Felipe Massa suffered a season ending injury at the Hungarian Grand Prix. However two extremely disappointing outings saw him dropped for another Italian in the name of Giancarlo Fisichella, who moved over from the Force India team. Results for Fisichella were hardly any better than Badoer however, and he was not retained for 2010.
All this could change over the next few years however, with the Ferrari young driver programme unearthing a very quick eighteen-year-old by the name of Raffaele Marciello. The young Italian has just won the European Formula Three Championship, and has done very well ever since be made his single-seater debut back in 2010 in the Formula Abarth series.
Racing for the JD Motorsport in Formula Abarth, the talent was obvious when, as a fifteen-year-old, he won the first race of the season at Misano, following it up with another win at the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti in August, before finishing third in the championship behind Frenchman Brandon Maïsano and Swiss driver Patric Niederhauser. He also won one of the races at the non-championship event at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps track. His performance on track caught the eye of Ferrari, and along with Maïsano, was signed to the Ferrari Driver Academy.
For 2011, Marciello stepped up from the Abarth series to the Italian Formula Three Championship, signing with the Prema Powerteam outfit. He finished on the podium first time out at the Autodromo di Franciacorta in third place, and won race two at Misano at the next event. A second win followed at the Adria International Raceway, and with three other visits to the podium secured third in the championship, behind champion and fellow Italian Sergio Campana and runner-up Michael Lewis of the United States.
He remained with Prema Powerteam for 2012, and ran a dual-campaign in the European Formula Three Championship and the Formula 3 Euro Series. It the European F3 series, he finished second in the championship, winning seven races, including an amazing run of five consecutive races at Pau (both races), Brands Hatch (both races), and the first race at the Red Bull Ring. He was beaten the to the title by Spaniard and fellow Prema driver Daniel Juncadella. In the F3 Euro Series, he finished third in the championship, again behind Juncadella who won the title again, but also behind German racer Pascal Wehrlein. He won six races on the road (at Hockenheim, twice at Brands Hatch, the Red Bull Ring, Noisiring and Valencia) and claimed one more when a guest driver ahead of him – Alexander Sims, who was ineligible for points – finished ahead of him on the road (at the Nurburgring).
During the off-season, he travelled to the other side of the world to race in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand with the M2 Competition team. He won once at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park before finishing ninth in the championship.
For 2013, Marciello continued in the European Formula Three Championship, again with Prema Powerteam, winning thirteen times on his way to the championship, his first title in his short career. He won the first race of the season at Monza, and won on every track the series raced on apart from the Red Bull Ring and Zandvoort. He won all three races at the Nurburgring, a very rare feat in the series. He defeated highly rated Swede Felix Rosenqvist into second place in the final standings of the championship.
So what is next for Raffaele Marciello? Since the end of the European F3 Championship, he has tested for Trident Racing and Racing Engineering in GP2 series cars, and for DAMS, Tech 1 Racing, Strakka Racing and Arden Caterham in Formula Renault 3.5 series cars, with a view to racing in one or the other series in 2014. It is not out of the question that Ferrari could place him in both series, as they do not clash, apart from at Monaco. However it is most likely he will end up in one of them rather than both. As to which, no one knows as of yet.
But what is certain, Raffaele Marciello is one of the brightest, up-and-coming drivers coming through the young driver ranks right now. Ferrari have a genuine superstar in their academy, and it is likely he will be in Formula 1 sooner rather than later. If he continues on the steep development curve, he could be the next Italian Ferrari driver in F1, and the first Italian Ferrari race winner since Alboreto.