Tico Martini, a famous single-seater builder, was also one of the three pillars of the Winfield Racing School, along with Mike and Richard Knight. Of all the champions in the making he worked with, there was one who was particularly dear to his heart. From Formula France to F1, Formula Renault, F3 and F2, he was one of the most successful single-seater designers of all time. Until 2004, Automobiles Martini was a benchmark on the international scene in the same way as Reynard, Ralt and Dallara. But it wasn’t just in this field that Tico Martini was a leading figure, as his teaching during the glorious early years of the Winfield also made him a name for himself in the world of driving.



Born on December 6, 1934 in Pigna, a small Ligurian village overlooking Bordighera, Renato Martini, aka “Tico”, was forced into exile during the Second World War, and found refuge with his parents in Jersey. Followed Liberation, at the age of 17, he was forced to return to his native Italy to complete his apprenticeship as a mechanic, as Italian emigrants were then only allowed to work in the hotel trade.

Once the restrictions were lifted, he returned to Jersey, where he was quickly hired by Bill Knight. Affiliated with the same Automobile Club, and racing on the same sandy tracks on weekends, the two men struck up a close friendship.


Tico Martini and Bill Knight racing together



Young Tico was soon entrusted with the task of visiting the school to take stock of the situation and provide technical support. “The school was using Lotus 18s that were powered by engines that kept breaking down,” he recalls. “Once there, I solved the technical problem and, whenever there was a lesson, I assisted the school director Henry Morrogh as an instructor. After Morrogh’s departure, I ran the school on my own for two years, before proposing to Mike Knight that we build our own school cars. I was an instructor by day, and at my drawing board by night.” The MW1 (Martini-Winfield) was born in 1967, a year the builder in the making will not soon forget, as it also marked the racing debut of the 1966 Volant Shell winner: a soon-to-be-well-known François Cevert!


Tico Martini’s first car: the MW1



“I remember the pre-selections for the final,” explains Tico. “We had several Merlin single-seaters and a single Lotus 18. Obviously, nobody wanted the latter. I’d done some laps myself to establish base times with the two models, and there was a difference which we were obviously going to take into account. As no one wanted the Lotus, François finally decided to go for it.

He did three laps and didn’t come back! He’d gone out on a left-hand bend, which was eliminatory. I went to see him and he said: “Tico, there’s been a technical problem. Something must have broken because I turned normally at the entrance to the bend, but nothing happened.” Indeed, a triangle had broken”. Eventually drafted in, he would dominate a final filled with names that would become famous, such as Robert “Jimmy” Mieusset and Patrick Depailler.


François Cevert during the 1966 Volant Shell


“François was very disciplined during the training courses,” smiles the former instructor, as the slightly turned-yellow images of the 1966 Volant Shell flash through his mind. “He was fast, but nothing more. However, on the day of the final, which took place on a half-dry, half-wet track, he attacked like he’d never attacked before and stayed on the track. Mieusset was very good, but François was a notch above him.”

It’s been almost 60 years, but the memory of the driver who died six years after their meeting – in October 1973 during qualifying practice for the Formula One United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen – remains very vivid in his mind. Tico Martini had a privileged relationship with many great and extraordinary drivers, but none who left such an indelible mark on his memory.


Photo credits: ©Classic Days