Molinari - Fast On Water 2017

Go to content

Main menu:


Circuit > Boat Builders
Talking to Renato Molinari, for a non-Italian is a little like threading one’s way through a minefield. First, there is the so-called language barrier. Molinari’s ‘lack of English’ has become something of a family joke amongst the Formula 1 fraternity. ‘I remember when I went to America for the first time in 1964, when I was just 18, as a test driver for Glastron,’ he grins. ‘I had never been on an aeroplane and honestly didn’t speak one word of English. I was scared I would get lost in the airport when I arrived in the States. Then my father had this wonderful idea. He pinned a large card on my lapel saying, “Please help me I don’t speak any English.” And off I went.’
Today, as Renato’s brother Georgio laughingly admits, his English is considerably better than most people appreciate, particularly when it comes to talking business! And it is Renato who is the first to ensure that his non-Italian guests understand the noisy babble of conversation at the dinner tables in his two houses set in the hills above Lake Como at Lezzeno and Rovenna. And Renato who is usually in charge of the kitchen. ‘Yes,’ he smiles, ‘I like nothing better than to cook supper for my friends. We have to have big tables at home because often there are thirty people for supper. I find cooking very relaxing. And enjoyable.’
‘Often at the end of the racing season, I feel so tired and bored with racing that I think I will retire. Then I begin to relax, to entertain my friends, take a holiday and think – what of the future? Honestly, if I could see someone ready to take over from me – an Italian of course – I’d retire immediately. But, at the moment, there is nobody. So I begin to plan and think about a boat for the following season…’
The fruition of those ‘plans’ takes place in the splendid Molinari workshops in Laglio. A four storey building which opens directly onto the lake, where all of the Molinari boats are conceived, designed and built. It is a pristine hive of industry. But woe betide the unwelcome visitor who attempts to pierce the veil of secrecy which enshrouds the factory. The reception is warm – but guarded. Prying eyes meet only closed doors and questions are parried politely and predictably. It is not altogether surprising. Molinari’s personal success in powerboat racing – 17 world titles, 13 European titles and four Italian national titles since 1964 – has made his name a household word in Italy. And the importance of this to his boat building business is paramount.
‘When people read about me or see me winning races, they identify my name with success. So when they come to buy a boat and they see the name Molinari, they choose to buy a Molinari. It is the same in the sports boat side of the business. People like to be associated with success. So, of course, I do not want people to learn why my boats are so successful…’
The design of the Molinari Formula 1 hull is the result of years of experience and innovation. ‘We are trying to learn from the lessons of Formula 1 motor racing. We use the wind tunnel at Fiat Lancia last winter to develop a new cowling design for the boats and we have access to these facilities again this year, thanks to our Martini contacts. As the sport becomes more and more professional we must become more professional in or approach. More scientific. So we are looking at new compounds. At carbon fibre, titanium and Kevlar. I would have liked the time to build another aluminium boat in 1983 but we had so much to do with customers’ orders for racing boats that there simply wasn’t the time.’
One criticism sometimes levelled at the Molinari hulls is that only one man is able to extract the maximum from the design – Renato himself. One driver who is quick to leap to the maestro’s defence Is Britain’s Rick Frost – a newcomer to Formula 1 in ’83 who impressed Molinari with his performances last season. ‘Quite honestly, he’s the only driver who has the ability to ‘hang’ a Formula 1 boat the way that you can hang a Formula 3 boat,’ says 1982 Formula 3 World Champion Frost. ‘He has such terrific natural ability and, of course, he spends 99 per cent of his time in his boats which none of us are able to do. But he’s simply in a class by himself.’
Molinari indeed tests every racing boat produced at the Laglio factory and he is on hand to give advice to newcomers like his protégé Kicco Vidoli and Scotland’s Allan Nimmo who purchased the famous 1982 aluminium hull. ‘Watch Renato during practice,’ says Nimmo. ‘He’s never out for long. He tells his drivers to go out for ten minutes and test and then come in and think. Analyse the problems; how is the boat handling, what does it feel like, then go out for another ten minutes and come in again. And think.’
A tough nut Molinari? So some of his rivals and critics would have you believe. But behind that reserved exterior lurks a mischievous sense of humour, betrayed by the twinkle in the brown eyes. And, as the sport’s most eligible bachelor at the age of 38, he has his problems. ‘Every time I go to see my mother,’ he chuckles, ‘it’s always the same story. ‘Renato, Giorgio is married, Franco is married. You are the oldest. Why are you not married?’ his affection for his parents and family is deep. Father Angelo taught his eldest son everything he knew about boat building, which he in turn had learned from his father, a carpenter in Nesso on the shores of Lake Como. Angelo himself took up powerboat racing after the Second World war and the eldest of his three sons never had any doubts that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. That he has done in the best way possible. And so, what of the future? Retirement? Certainly not in 1984 when he will lead the two boat Martini Molinari onslaught on the Formula 1 world title once again.
Renato Molinari - about to test an OZ cat on Lake Como.
The Molinari Workshops on the edge of 
Lake Como. Now an apartment complex.
A circuit catamaran under construction at the 
Molinari workshop
The Molinari factory from Lake Como.
Back to content | Back to main menu