24 February 2020

Fascinating F1 Facts: 83 - The story of an emblem

If you go to the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna you will be able to see the Fontana di Nettuno, a larger-than-life bronze statue of the god Neptune, which has stood there since 1567. It may seem an odd story, but this was the inspiration for one of the best-known motor racing emblems, which fatured on Grand Prix cars from the late 1920s until the 1960s.

It is a story which begins in the town of Voghera, to the south of Milan, but still a long way from Bologna, where Rodolfo Maserati worked in the late Nineteenth Century as a train driver for the Italian state railways. Rodolfo was passionate about machinery and new technology and he passed this passion on to his six sons, five of whom grew up passionate about engineering.

The eldest, Carlo, was born in 1881 and when he was 17 had already designed his first internal combustion engine for a motorised bicycle. At 19 he joined Fiat but then moved on to Isotta-Fraschini three years later. He recommended that his brother Alfieri join the firm but he then departed and Alfieri followed him. Carlo's dream was to set up his own engineering business. Alas, in 1910 he was struck down by tuberculosis at the age of only 29.

That year another brother Bindo joined Isotta-Fraschini and convinced Alfieri and another brother Ettore to work for the company. But Alfieri had acquired Carlo's ambitions to start his own empire and after three years he left Isotta-Fraschini and moved to Bologna in order to set up his own firm in league with Ettore. Bindo stayed at Isotta-Fraschini. The timing could not have been worse. World War I broke out and soon both Alfieri and Ettore had been called up into the military, leaving their 16-year-old brother Ernesto in charge of the workshop, until the war was over.

It was four years before the were able to start building their first racing specials, which Alfieri drove. The first was a Diatto chassis fitted with a 6.3-litre Isotta-Fraschini engine. This showed well in early events after the war and as the car was developed, Diatto became more and more interested and commissioned the Maserati brothers to prepare a car for Diatto for the 1922 Italian GP. This was promising and so Diatto agreed to fund more racing machines and Maserati designed a new 2-litre engine. But then Diatto ran into financial trouble and had to stop the whole programme. The Maserati brothers decided to buy 10 Diatto 30 Sport models in order to use them as the basis for their own cars. The problem was funding.

Through his racing, Alfieri had met the Marquis Diego de Sterlich, then in his early twenties. The last survivor of a dynasty that could trace its roots back to Austria in a round 1100, the family had settled in Lombardy in the Sixteenth Century, with the main branch then establishing itself in the Abruzzo region. Diego had emerged as the sole heir to the estates of not only the De Sterlich family but also the barony of Aliprandi, as a result of a series of tragedies when he was growing up. His estates amounted to 23,000 acres, with a string of castles and palaces, farms and mills.

He had soon discovered motor racing and had helped to fund the construction of the Autodomo Nazionale at Monza, was a founder member of the Automobile Club d'Abruzzo, which organized the Coppa Acerbo in Pescara, and had began racing himself in 1923.

He agreed to provide the money for the Maserati brothers to buy the Diattos, which were transformed into the first Maserati Tipo 26s, a highly successful racing machine that created demand for customer cars for the road and for racing. This all meant that the company needed a proper emblem and it was de Sterlich who suggested that the Maserati brothers adopt the trident from the fountain of Neptune. It was decided that Mario Maserati, the only Maserati brother who was not mad about cars, and worked as an artist, should be commissioned to design the logo based on the trident.

Twenty years later, although the Maserati brothers had long gone from the company that bore their name, the trident logo became an integral part of the Formula 1 World Championship, notably with the celebrated Maserati 250F…

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