The first of many setbacks came just weeks later. Out for a blast around Alessandria on his new 125cc motorcycle Andrea collided with a car, broken bones and a head injury keeping him out of racing for many months.
“I spent three months in bed with broken bones in my legs, my arms and my hands, plus a big bang on the head. While I was in hospital Michael Schumacher was racing his kart at Parma, he’d heard about my accident, and a post card, one of his first publicity pictures, arrived with this kind message.
“Dear Andrea,” he wrote, “All best wishes for a good recovery and convalescence. It’s a shame you’re not here. Come back soon, and in good health. Good luck, yours Michael Schumacher.”
All was not lost, however. Graduating to F3, and a podium in Monaco, put him back in the headlines. Marlboro had been watching seven young Italians under the banner of the ‘Marlboro-Alfa Romeo Challenge”, the winner of which would be given a seat in F3000 with Crypton Engineering who had won championship with Luca Badoer. And, guess what, Gilardi won the challenge outright, putting him on the path to Formula 1.
“So Marlboro and Alfa, they come to me, and they give me 20,000 dollars towards an F3000 drive… but it was not enough to secure a seat, and I spent a lot of money looking for another team. There was always politics, and like all politics in Italy, it was a mess. There was really no support for young drivers, no media interest. OK, there was Marlboro, but otherwise it was tough to get money for a young Italian driver beyond Formula 3. Ferrari still don’t take any Italian drivers. I think this is because Ferrari is more important than its drivers, the problem is never the car. The Scuderia is like a religion in Italy but team has not been good for Italian drivers.”