Daniele Audetto: A man of many parts

It is perhaps appropriate that I should talk about Daniele Audetto, particularly as he was team manager of Ferrari in 1966 at the time of Niki Lauda’s terrible accident at the Nurburgring as described in the article on Lauda in the Members Stories section of this site.

Daniele Audetto may be one of the least known Scuderia Ferrari team managers but his period at Ferrari was indelibly marked by the horrendous accident to Niki Lauda in 1976.

Daniele had originally been invited to join the Scuderia  in 1974 but, as we shall see, he had to turn this down in favour of his Lancia contract and his early life was dominated by Italy’s big three, Lancia, Ferrari and Fiat.

Audetto was a war child, born in 1943 in Turin. His father was a career army man but after the war he retired from the Army and moved to the Riviera seaside town of Bordighera near the French border where he became involved in the import and export of coffee.

Young Daniele had the usual upbringing but as he pointed out “ If you lived in Bordighera you either became involved in art or in motor sport”. As a result he became involved in both. He went to art school and became an artist but it was motor sport that took over his life. He was mad on rallying and one January he borrowed his father’s Alfa Romeo Giulia and drove to the legendary Col de Turini to watch the cars slither and slide on the ice of this notorious Monte Carlo Rally special stage and was hooked.

He competed in a few rallies with his friend Amicale Balestrere and on the Isola d’Elba rally they finished second in their Lancia Fulvia HF. He had now come to the notice of Cesare Fiorio the Lancia team manager and was brought into the factory team as co-driver to the great Leo Cella for the San Remo Rally.

Tragically Cella was killed at the Alfa test track of Balocco testing an Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 before the rally and Audetto persuaded Fiorio to bring his friend Balestrere into the team.

The following year, 1971, Audetto was made co-driver to a young Luca de Montezemolo who was making a name for himself in rallies. They did a few events and then it was a case of all change. Audetto became team manager for the Lancia team, when Fiorio became marketing director of Lancia, and Montezemolo retired from competition to move to the Fiat Group.

By 1974 Lancia had done well and Audetto was approached by Enzo Ferrari to become team manager of Ferrari. “ At the time I had a contract with Lancia whose President was Mr Gobatto. If I went to Ferrari it would create a problem with Lancia and Gobatto persuaded me to stay with Lancia even though it was not easy to say no to Enzo Ferrari”.

 As it turned out Montezemolo took the job for just one year. Then at the end of 1974, with his Lancia contract at an end, Audetto was contracted directly to Fiat but was seconded to the  Ferrari team manager’s post because Montezemolo was called back to Fiat as a senior executive.

Daniele Audetto is a very smooth and skilful operator and fitted in at Ferrari. The team were doing well, Niki Lauda was leading the Formula 1 World championship and then came Nurburgring and the German Grand Prix.

The story of how Lauda crashed his Ferrari and was trapped with the car on fire, has been told many times but what happened next. “ Immediately after the accident I went with the Nurburgring race director Huscke von Hanstein to the small hospital at Adenau where the doctors told me there was very little chance to save Lauda’s life because of the flames he had inhaled into his lungs. I convinced Huscke that I knew a professor Peter in Ludwigshaven who was a specialist in burn accidents and was at a US airforce base. He was about to go on holiday but told me he would go to a major hospital in Ludwigshaven and prepare a clean room if we immediately  arranged to fly Niki by helicopter from Adenau. When we arrived there the surgeon got to work we were told that if we had been ten minutes later he could not have been saved”. 

Obviously Audetto immediately telephoned Enzo Ferrari from the hospital to tell him of Laudas condition, which was still very bad, but was surprised at Ferrari’s reply. “ What are you doing in hospital, you are not a doctor, get back to Nurburgring and offer the drive to Emmerson Fittipaldi”.

 As Audetto recalled: “ I went to see Emmerson, who was flattered that he had been offered Lauda’s car for the rest of the season, but explained that he could not cancel his contract with Coppersucar.

“After three or four days Nicki was getting better but we never thought he would race again so I offered the drive to Ronnie Petersen and we even started to prepare a car for him as he was much taller than Niki. When Niki heard about this he was mad so I did a deal with Bernie Ecclestone for Carlos Reutemman to replace Niki until he was fit enough to return to the team.

 “By the time of the Italian Grand Prix Nicki had made a wonderful recovery and came to Fiorano to test the car. We set him a time and told him if he was fit he had to do this time which, of course, he did.  As a result we entered Nicki for the race in a third car and he drove a remarkable race in his condition”.

 Despite all this drama Niki Lauda could still win the World Championship at the final round in Japan where heavy rain nearly caused the cacellation of the race. However it was agreed the race would go ahead despite the terrible conditions and many of the drivers stopped, including Lauda, but James Hunt continued and took the Championship. It was a sad end to one of the most dramatic come-backs in motor racing history.

So what was Enzo Ferrrari like to work with ? “ Well we always remained friendly but at the same time I sometimes got it wrong. I remember trying to defend my choice of Ronnie Petersen telling Mr Ferrari I thought it was a fantastic solution. However at one point he lost his temper and told me that ‘ Here I am the boss and if I tell you something you must do it’. He was so red in the face I told him, of course, Mr Ferrari. Then he told me the day after that that with the support of Luca Montezemolo and Giovanni Agnelli they did not want to upset Niki Lauda and I think they were right”.

As Audetto was still officially under contract to Fiat he was ordered back to Turin to help Fiat develop the 121 Mirafiori by turning it into a rally car and so his stint at Ferrari came to an end  However, Audetto  was still very close to Enzo Ferrari and indeed was asked by Ferrari to negotiate for James Hunt, then the new World Champion, to join Ferrari but the deal fell through due to a contract Hunt had with another manufacturer. However, Audetto was also the man who engineered the signing of Giles Villeneuve,even though Danielewas now back working with Fiat.

Daniele went on to give Fiat a number of World Rally Championships, not only with the Fiat Mirafiori but the Lancia Stratos . He later  moved to Lamborghini just before the company was taken over by Chrysler and got the go-ahead from the legendary Lee Iacocca to  form Lamborghini Engineering  which created a V12 Formula 1 engine.

In recent years he has been a freelance consultant working with various Grand Prix teams until retiring almost completely from the sport.

His story, then,  underlines the tight-knit  Fiat family  of that period and the switching back and forward of various executives between Fiat, Lancia and Ferrari, particularly Audetto, Montezemolo and Cesare Fiorio, who were all, at one time, team managers at Ferrari.

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