Mario Poltronieri, Abarth Pioneer And Italian F1 Announcer Goes Silent
Mario Poltronieri passed away on January 18th in Milan. While his name and the cadence of his voice may not be well known outside of his native Italy, he was perhaps best known as the long-time Formula 1 commentator for Italian TV channel RAI which he graced with wit and eloquence for over twenty-five years. But a closer examination into his life and career reveals he was also very much more than just a talking head on television.
Born in Milan on November 23, 1929, and the son of a concert Violinist, Poltronieri would become an engineer and driver, most notably for Abarth where he would go on to compete in the Mille Miglia from 1954-1957. In the mid-1950’s, the famed Italian racing car manufacturer decided to turn its sights away from wheel to wheel competition and more towards long-distance and timed events. Part of the Abarth racing team driving an Abarth 750 with special and very aerodynamically shaped coachwork by Bertone, Poltroneria would help set a series of world records at Monza, breaking the 24-hour record, as well as 5,000 km, 10,000 km, 5,000 miles, 48 Hour and 72-hour records just a few days later.
Poltronieri would retire from competitive driving in 1961 to pursue a second act career in journalism at RAI, debuting with a driving lesson segment called “Wheels and Streets”, but he would have to wait his place in line almost a decade before he became a correspondent for Formula 1, a position he greatly aspired to and one which would be an excellent fit. Because of his racing and technical background, Poltronieri was able to inject a deep sense of expertise into his commentary, explaining not only the epic battles taking place on the track between drivers such as Lauda, Hunt, Reggazonni, Villeneuve, Piquet, Mansell, Prost, and Sienna to name but a few, but also the technological revolution that was taking place which often included boost, aerodynamics, and sometimes even six-wheels.
Poltronieri, along with Ezio Zermiani and Gianfranco Palazzoli, formed a winning trio of commentators for many years until Poltronieri’s retirement from the Formula 1 commentator’s box at the end of the 1994 racing season. He would continue to work and remain active in journalism, more than occasionally lending his expertise on Formula 1 for other shows and programs.
With the passing of Mario Poltronieri at the age of eighty-seven, a historic voice in motorsport has been silenced.