When you’re stocking up on supplies to make a pasta dish, there’s a good chance you’re faced with a full aisle of dried noodles and a whole lot of choices. Spaghetti or linguine? Penne or rigatoni? Wheels or bow ties? Whatever the shape, my choice in brand is simple. I’m opting for Barilla, and that’s because one of the guys who runs the pasta conglomerate used to race for Minardi in Formula 1.
For some reason, I’ve generally assumed that this fact was common knowledge, but after I whipped up some Barilla pasta last night, I realized that my husband had no idea that he was consuming a motorsport legacy (beyond the Paul Newman sauce that had been slathered on his rigatoni). Paolo Barilla, the Deputy Chairman of the Barilla Group — which is the world’s largest pasta producer — had a racing career, and in 1989 to 1990, he entered 15 races with the Minardi Formula 1 team.
But how did he get there? Barilla started karting when he was 15 years old, and he did seem to have some talent, too: In 1976, he won the Italian 100cc karting title. He progressed through Formula Fiat Abarth, Formula 3, and Formula 2 before he made a successful transition to sports car racing: The guy whose family company makes your fettuccine won the 1985 24 Hours of Le Mans by a three-lap margin. (Yes, sure, his Joest Racing Porsche 956 was also piloted by Klaus Ludwig, Paul Belmondo, Marc Duez, and Louis Krages, but that doesn’t matter; those five dudes piloted that car to victory.)
Perhaps that victory gave Barilla the confidence he would have needed to return to single-seater racing. He took on the Japanese Formula 3000 championship in 1987 before Minardi signed him up for a Formula 1 test in 1989. That “test” ended up meaning that Barilla replaced Pierluigi Martini at the Japanese Grand Prix — a race from which he retired.
But I have to wonder if Barilla’s pasta money talked, because he was welcomed back into the Minardi fold for the 1990 season alongside Martini.
It wasn’t exactly the most successful pairing. Minardi failed to score a single point that season, though Martini did manage to secure a few top-10 finishes. Barilla, meanwhile, entered in 14 races that year. He retired from four of them, failed to qualify for six of them, and recorded a best finish of 11th at San Marino. By the time the Minardi crew got to the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, Barilla had been replaced by Gianni Morbidelli.
His racing career all but over, Barilla then joined the family business, where he served as CEO from 1999 to 2000 before settling into his current position of Deputy Chairman. He has since joined multiple professional pasta-making associations that focus on quality, sustainability, and — believe it or not — pasta awareness.
Like any good company head, though, Barilla has still dabbled in motorsport. Back in 2014, he actually won the Monaco Historic Grand Prix in the Formula 3 class, which I can only imagine was a nice feather in his cap.
The next time you’re thinking about whipping up carbonara for dinner, just remember: You can buy Barilla, and you can support a former Minardi Formula 1 racer.