Despite getting a late start in auto racing, Felice Bonetto, born in 1903, proved to be a force in the driver’s seat. While he gained early experience on motorcycles, it was at age 28 that he made the switch to four wheels. In 1933 he put himself on the map with a third place finish at the Gran Premio di Monza. However, that race is not as well remembered for his bronze, but for the death of three of Europe’s greatest drivers. Giuseppe Campari, Mario-Umberto Borzacchini and Count Stanisław Czaykowski all crashed and died within hours of each other. Despite being surrounded by death early in his career, Bonetto continued to race. Unfortunately, he too would eventually die behind the wheel.
His career took off in his 30s, earning him national fame in Italy. And he continued racing into his 40s. In 1949 he raced a Ferrari 166mm to second place in that year’s Mille Miglia. The following year, driving a Maserati, he took fifth in his Formula One World Championship debut at the Swiss GP. In 1951, he placed seventh in the World Championship before moving to Lancia for 1952. A move to Lancia for 1952 included victory in the Targa Florio, second in the Giro di Sicilia and third in the Mille Miglia.
By the 1953 racing season he had earned the nickname The Pirate thanks to his fierce driving style. Unfortunately, that season would prove to be his last. At the 1953 he earned a second place class finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His final event was Mexico’s Carrera Panamericana. Bonetto, driving a Lancia D24 won the initial stage of the race. Felice Bonetto was still leading when he crashed into a house in Silao, an accident that took his life at age 50.