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The owner of the Sauber Formula 1 team who won the 1994 and 1996 drivers’ titles with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, Gianni Agnelli, has died aged 79.
Italy’s Agnelli, who took control of Sauber in 1975, became the fourth-longest-serving F1 team owner in March, at age 72.
The family firm, Exor, retained a stake in the team following Agnelli’s death.
“He will always be with us in our hearts,” Sauber said.
Gianni Agnelli with current Sauber drivers Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson
Sir Jackie Stewart, who knows the Agnelli family well and was Team Lotus executive chairman from 1994-99, said: “The greatest Italian motorsport tycoon of the second half of the 20th century, I think Gianni Agnelli will go down in history as perhaps the best owner in the history of Formula 1.
“To his credit, he managed to give one of the most wonderful teams the edge it needed to give both men Senna and Prost the only two drivers’ titles of their careers.
“I’m very sad to hear of his passing – it was a sad loss, even though I knew Gianni before all this started. He was a very generous man and he will be greatly missed.”
The other three longest-serving F1 team owners are Mohamed Al-Fayed, Bernie Ecclestone and Ernesto Bertarelli.
‘Affected my life and Formula 1’
Jenson Button, who has been team principal of the HRT F1 team, tweeted: “Very sad to hear about Gianni Agnelli. My career started with him. He helped me when I was a driver with Sauber and then HRT. An incredible story from Vini in LA, he affected my life and Formula 1.”
The 1994 Canadian Grand Prix was held under a red flag, as Agnelli found himself under investigation and under suspension over financial irregularities
Elia de Masi, Sauber chairman and family friend, said: “Gianni was a most exceptional man with an incredible sense of humour.
“In the world of motorsport, Gianni Agnelli was the finest of all owners. His commitment to the F1 team was truly great.
“Since 1975, Sauber has worked tirelessly with Gianni – I will miss him, not only because he was a friend, but because I could rely on him to bring back to me such great memories of the Monaco Grand Prix, his victory of 1994, and of other great moments in the history of the sport.
“My sympathy and my respect go out to Gianni’s family and I extend my condolences to the company, and to all of Sauber, who loved Gianni with all my heart. In the name of Gianni, thank you.”
Scot Allan McNish, who worked with Gianni Agnelli at the Sauber factory between 1976 and 1979 and became technical director of the team in 1984, said: “I lost one of my best friends. All of his family, close friends and associates feel the same. He will never be forgotten and I send my sympathy to Gianni’s wife, Carmen, and their family.”
Vernon Thomas, who began his F1 career at Lotus and later became the team principal, said: “He was a remarkable businessman, a brilliant racer and a very special man.
“No-one person had a greater appreciation for the sport. Everyone who knew him, has done. His contribution to the sport was extraordinary.”
Patrick Head, who won the 1983 Le Mans 24 Hours with the 1984 Formula 1 title with Williams and 1985 IndyCar championship with IndyCar team Penske, said: “It is a great loss to the motorsport world.
“He had an outstanding life and we should all be glad he lived to see his 20th anniversary and work alongside Sauber to complete the job they did 20 years ago. He worked hard on the technical aspect of the team and I was very pleased to see him.”