Life Racing Engines

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Life logo F1.png
Full nameLife Racing Engines
BaseFormigine, Italy
Founder(s)Ernesto Vita
Noted staffOliver Piazzi
Noted driversAustralia Gary Brabham
Italy Bruno Giacomelli
Italy Franco Scapini
Formula One World Championship career
First entry1990 United States Grand Prix
Races entered14 (0 starts)
Race victories0
Pole positions0
Fastest laps0
Final entry1990 Spanish Grand Prix

Life was a Formula One constructor from Modena, Italy. The company was named for its founder, Ernesto Vita ("Vita" is Italian for "Life").[1] Life first emerged on the Formula One scene in 1990, trying to market their unconventional W12 3.5-litre engine.[1]

The team had a disastrous single season,[1] and failed to make the grid in all 14 attempted starts during the 1990 season, often clocking in laps many seconds slower than their next competitor.[2]

The W12 adventure[edit]

Life's W12, or "broad arrow", engine had been designed by the former Ferrari engineer Franco Rocchi,[1] who had been responsible for, among others, Ferrari's 3-litre V8 for the 1970s 308 GTB and GTS. Rocchi's W12 plans dated back to a 1967 single-module W3 of 500 cc (31 cu in) as a prototype for a 3-litre W18 Ferrari engine of a planned 480 hp.[1] After his dismissal in 1980, Rocchi worked privately on an engine in a W12 configuration.

Life W12 engine on display at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2009

According to his concept, the engine had three banks of four cylinders; hence it was short like a V8 but taller than a regular V-banked engine. In France, Guy Nègre from Moteurs Guy Nègre worked on a similar machine that saw the light of day in 1989 before being tested privately in an out-dated AGS JH22, chassis. Apart from the W12 configuration, both engines bore no other similarities, nor were there any links between their designers.

Franco Rocchi's W12 was ready in the first half of the 1989 Formula One season. It was the time when turbocharged engines were no longer legal in Formula One and the rules required a normally aspirated motor. New engine manufacturers entered Formula One (such as Ilmor, Judd and Yamaha), and new ideas broke through. Ferrari and Lamborghini used V12 engines (successfully in the former's case), Carlo Chiti's Motori Moderni unsuccessfully tried to revive flat-12 engines, badged as Subarus and used by the Coloni team, whilst Renault and Honda developed V10 engines, used successfully by Williams and McLaren.

In this situation, the Italian businessman Vita hoped for fast money. He bought the rights to the W12 from Franco Rocchi and tried to supply the engine to a well-funded Formula One team. During 1989, he searched for a partner without any success. Finally, he gave up his search and decided to run the engine on his own in the 1990 Formula One season.

The birth of the team[edit]

Vita founded the Life Team, "life" being the English translation of his family name. The team's headquarters were originally split between the technical offices in Reggio Emilia and the factory in Formigine, near Modena, then regrouped under the same roof in Formigine. While not having state of the art facilities, the factory was equipped with a "Borghi e Severi" dyno bench and related AVL datalogging computers, which was used for the development of the W12 motor, standard toolshop machines, and a warehouse. As Life was not able to build a car on its own, the team purchased the still-born Formula One chassis from First Racing that had been designed by Richard Divila for Lamberto Leoni´s abortive Formula One team the year before. In late 1989, the chassis was fitted with his W12 engine. The major engineering work had been done by Gianni Marelli, another former Ferrari man. The car – now dubbed Life L190 – was ready by February 1990, and tested briefly at Vallelunga and Monza.

The 1990 season[edit]

The Life L190 at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2009 driven by Arturo Merzario

When the new season came, the team had one chassis, four engines and spare parts, and a spare chassis. The W12 turned out to be the least powerful engine of the year: its output was 480 hp while others produced 600 to 700 hp. At the same time, the ex-First L190 chassis was one of the heaviest cars in the field at 530 kg. Handling was bad and reliability was poor. As a result, the Life was no faster than a Formula 3 car. Even in Formula 3000, it would have been outclassed.[citation needed]

Several drivers were approached to drive for the team, including Gabriele Tarquini, Pierluigi Martini, Marco Apicella, Roberto Moreno and Gianni Morbidelli.[3] Ultimately Sir Jack Brabham's son Gary Brabham was signed to drive with Franco Scapini hired as test driver and Sergio Barbasio as team manager.[4] When Brabham failed to pre-qualify twice he left the team for good, as the car had coasted to a halt after 400 yards with a malfunctioning battery. Brabham later stated that the car did not have a functioning tachometer in either of the pre-qualifying sessions, and that the team did not possess a tyre pressure gauge, having to borrow one from the EuroBrun team.[5] This claim is disputed by the team's former mechanics. He also made efforts to persuade the team to switch to a Judd CV V8 engine, but was unsuccessful.[5] Designer Gianni Marelli also left the team at this stage, after a disagreement with Vita.[6]

After Brabham left, Vita tried to replace the Australian with Bernd Schneider, who had stood in at Arrows at the first race of the season, but the German driver refused. "I definitely don't want to drive for them", he said.[7] Test driver Scapini was also a candidate to replace Brabham, but the Italian was not granted an FIA Super Licence.[8] Another driver contacted by the team was New Zealander Rob Wilson, who said he would be interested in driving for Life, especially if the team expanded to two cars.[9]

Bruno Giacomelli, an Italian veteran who had last raced in Formula One in 1983, was then signed by the team. Giacomelli was an attractive proposition as he had recent experience of Formula 1 cars in his role as test driver for Leyton House Racing and good contacts with Engine Developments, who designed and manufactured the Judd Formula 1 engines. The most laps made by the car during pre-qualifying was twenty-two in Silverstone. At the 1990 San Marino Grand Prix Giacomelli said that he was scared he might be struck from behind as his car was so slow.[citation needed] At the pre-qualifying sessions for that race, Giacomelli completed his run with a gap of nearly six minutes to the second slowest time.[10] For the Portuguese Grand Prix, the team replaced their own engine with the more conventional Judd CV V8, but then found that the engine cover did not fit; it flew off the car on its first lap of Estoril.[11] They withdrew before the final two Grands Prix.

The race team usually consisted of only nine people: the racing driver; Sergio Barbasio (team manager); Franco Scapini (test driver); Francesca Papa (Ernesto Vita's wife); Maurizio Ferrari (engineer); Emilio Gabrielli (truckie and mechanic); and the three mechanics, Heinz Willi Mueller, Olivier Piazzi and Luca Cassoni.

After Formula One[edit]

The single Life L190 was fully restored in 2009 and ran at the 2009 Goodwood Festival of Speed with its original W12 engine back in place.[2] It made two successful attempts at completing the Goodwood hill climb, driven by Arturo Merzario, and Lorenzo Prandina, who at that time was the owner of the car.

Complete Formula One results[edit]


Year Chassis Engines Tyres Drivers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Points WCC
Australia Gary Brabham DNPQ DNPQ
Judd CV 3.5 V8 DNPQ DNPQ 0 NC


  1. ^ a b c d e Ludvigsen, Karl (2005). The V12 Engine. Sparkford, Yeovil: Haynes. pp. 356–358. ISBN 1844250040.
  2. ^ a b Collantine, Keith (June 29, 2009). "Life L190 – the worst F1 car ever – to run at Goodwood Festival of Speed". RaceFans. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  3. ^ "Life Racing F1, la pire écurie de tous les temps". Histo-Auto. August 22, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2022.
  4. ^ "Franco Scapini". 19 February 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Brabham: Life after Life?". Motoring News. 11 April 1990.
  6. ^ "Life endangered?". Motoring News. 25 April 1990.
  7. ^ "Schneider rejects Life". Motoring News. 11 April 1990.
  8. ^ "Life in danger?". Motoring News. 2 May 1990.
  9. ^ "Wilson for Brabham at Life?". Motoring News. 23 May 1990.
  10. ^ Jenkinson, Denis (June 1990). "Delusion". Motor Sport magazine archive. p. 6. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  11. ^ Giuntini, Anne (3 November 1990). "Life N'Est Pas Beautiful". L'Équipe Magazine. p. 22.
  12. ^ Small, Steve (1994). The Guinness Complete Grand Prix Who's Who. Guinness. pp. 157 and 409. ISBN 0851127029.

External links[edit]