Enzo Ferrari Anniversary - Pt 1

By Carlo Carluccio

Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article.

How do you measure a person’s life, when the very fabric of their existence reaches back to almost a century ago?

Is it possible to compare that era with the modern counterpart? For instance, who would you regard as the stand out comedic actor of this generation?

Would it be a reasonable assumption, that whoever your choice, their work in the late 20th and early 21st century, is based on how crude and profane their comedy has become and how film has progressed with all the technical advancements?

Yet whilst not on anybody’s list of all-time-greats, shouldn’t Chaplin be at the top? To watch a Chaplin film, nearly 100 years after it was cast onto celluloid, is to watch a world full of innocence that no longer exists.

A then emerging technology that has long been forgotten, except by historians. An industrialised world that would be condemned if it still existed. Films that contain fleeting snapshots of simple car chase sequences, a drunken man behaving mischievously or tapping authority with a carefully placed back heel and standing under a light shade as the Keystones Cops routine shuffles past. Who could forget the dance routine with bread rolls?

Chaplin transformed cinema and his performances had people laughing throughout the world. He was the highest paid entertainer in the world and was regarded by his contemporaries as “The Genius”. Yet because the humour looks so gentle, we dismiss its significance.

What has this got to do with Formula One?

It’s scarcely believable that this year marks the 28th anniversary of the death of the biggest name to ever emerge from motorsport – Enzo Ferrari. On Sunday 14th August 1988, he passed away at the age of 90.

How is Ferrari defined in 2016? What exactly was Enzo’s legacy? He left behind a team and manufacturing concern that is the most powerful sports brand in the world. Ferraris are still considered aspirational to people throughout the world and they continue pushing the envelops of desire, performance and high technology.

But they have a darker image in F1 circles of Machiavellian standards, unethical team choices and a complete disregard for sporting endeavours as long as the selected driver wins.

This was certainly true during the Todt-Schumacher era, but as TV coverage expanded around this time, many people have accepted this as evidence to the Ferrari way. Just look at the mania that arose from Smedley telling Massa, “Fernando is faster than you”. An obvious support for the title challenger and a practice used by all the others since team orders had been banned in 2002, yet Ferrari were vilified.

This is all compounded by an international media that reports every word projected by the other teams as the truth, without actually looking at the facts.

So who was Enzo Ferrari?

Was this a man that shouted, cursed and threatened? Was he tyrannical, vindictive, unfeeling, imperious and so arrogant that he remained in his domain at Maranello and awaited the homage of the world? Was he a user of men?

Or was he charming, witty, benevolent, argumentative, self confident and friendly depending on the moment? The truth is he was probably all of these.

He was born in Modena on the 18th February 1898. His birth was registered on the 20th due to heavy snowfalls restricting his father getting to the registry office. When he was 10 years old his father, who owned a metalwork shop, took him and his older brother Alfredo, to watch the local Grand Prix in Bologna. It was here that Enzo decided he wanted to become a racing driver. In fact, his ambitions during his adolescence were to be an opera tenor, a sports journalist or a racing driver.

The name Ferrari is appropriate for the name of fast racing cars. Its origins are derived from the Italian word for iron: ferro, as also is the word ferrare, which means to shoe a horse. His life was a devotion to harnessing horsepower in metal and his personal emblem was a prancing horse.

He lost both his father and brother in 1916 due to a flu outbreak in Italy. He himself became severely ill and was discharged from the Italian war service. The family business had collapsed and so with a letter of recommendation from his Army Colonel, he approached FIAT about work. They turned him down, he wrote:

“It was the winter of 1918-19 – a very hard winter and a painful memory for me. I found myself on the streets, the clothes on my back were freezing. I crossed the Valentino Park, brushed the snow from a bench and flopped on to it. I was alone, my father and my brother Alfredo were no more, I was overcome by depression and I wept.”

He found work initially with a light truck works; he had to test the trucks, and then take them to Milan to a coachbuilder. He met a man called Ugo Sivocci in 1919 who arranged for him to come to the CMN car factory in Milan, first as tester then a driver. It was with this concern that he took up racing in 1919 but had little success.

In 1920, he finished 2nd in the Targa Florio using an Alfa and subsequently joined the Alfa factory which produced a succession of victories and this encouraged Alfa to offer him a chance of more prestigious competition.

In 1923, at the Circuito del Savio at Ravenna, Ferrari wrote, “After the race, I met Count Enrico Baracca, father of the war hero. As a result of this, I later met the mother, Countess Paolina and one day she said to me:” Ferrari, put my son’s prancing horse on your cars. It will bring you luck.” The little horse was black and has remained so, I added the canary yellow background because it is the colour of Modena.”

Ferrari had taken on the responsibilities of recruiting engineers for the Alfa Romeo factory and decided to relieve FIAT of some of their engineers, including the great Vittorio Jano causing FIAT to eventually give up racing. The tears of Valentino Park had begun to be avenged.

Ferrari continued to run the Alfa Romeo racing team, and provided assistance to the wealthy customers who wanted to compete. He instigated contracts with Alfa, Bosch, Pirelli and Shell for their support whilst Alfa took an enforced sabbatical in 1925. Ferrari would continue the development of the factory Alfas and in 1929 he created Scuderia Ferrari ( Scuderia is Italian for stable) His last race would be a 1931 hill climb in an Alfa 2300 as the following year his son Dino was born.

1932 would also witness the debut of the iconic badge.

Alfa withdrew all support in 1933, and it was only the intervention of Pirelli that allowed Ferrari to have any cars at all. The problem was that the Nazi backed Auto Union and Mercedes were simply too good and well funded for the outdated Alfa P3’s. Even so, the legendary Tazio Nuvolari would humble the Germans on home soil in 1935.

The legend of how he had to provide them with his own recording of the Italian national anthem is sadly not true.

Nello Ugolini: “On the morning of the race, just before the start, Nuvolari told me to get a new Italian flag, because the one he had seen on the flag pole was old and faded. Since he was going to win, he told me, he wanted a colourful flag to be fluttering after the race. Tazio’s incredible effort and intelligence won him the race. When he got back to the pit, he held us back and said to me :”What about the flag?” I pointed it out to him and he smiled and said:” Now you can embrace me.” That was Nuvolari”

Alfa Romeo took back control of it’s race team in 1937, and Ferrari having been demoted to Sporting Director soon resigned but a contract clause restricted him from racing or building race cars for 4 years. Once again alone, he remembered his father’s advice, “A company is perfect when the number of partners is uneven and less than three!”

Auto Avio Costruzioni was created, which made parts for other racing teams but would soon be producing small aircraft motors for the war effort.

In 1943, Ferrari moved to Maranello due to industrial decentralisation laws imposed on factories. He owned land in Maranello that was used to produce cherries. He would buy and build his factory on the land adjacent to this and eventually the cherry trees gave way to Fiorano.

“I build engines and attach wheels to them”

In April 1947, Ferrari unveiled the 125. It won it’s second ever race. The legend had begun.

On the 12th October 1947, Raymond Sommer in a Ferrari 166 won the Turin Grand Prix in Valentino Park.

It was there that Ferrari went back to that same bench and cried very different tears that day.

Ferrari competed and won at Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio. All classic events that established his team as the one to beat.

1951 would be an important milestone for Ferrari. He had set himself the goal, when he resigned from Alfa Romeo, of beating his former team.

On the 14th July, at Silverstone, Gonzales won the Grand Prix and Enzo would melodramatically state:

“I wept with joy. But my tears of happiness were also mixed with tears of sorrow because, on that day, I thought, “I have killed my mother”

1952 and 1953 brought F1 championship success, and around the world, statistics for Ferrari winners made sobering reading.

In 1952 alone, with entry to 109 races, they won 95 times. This was being reflected in increasing sales in the road cars he manufactured. In 1947, he had built 7 road going GT cars, but by the mid 50’s this had reached the heady numbers of 70 to 80 per annum of highly expensive sports cars.

People from all over the world waited for months to get their Ferrari. Famous actors, royalty and heirs and heiresses all converged on Maranello, in the hope of seeing their car built and meeting the elusive Commendatore.

In America, Hollywood stars are considered American royalty, but in Italy there has only ever been one King, and that was Enzo who presided over his Kingdom in Maranello. He chose whom to receive and when, he was a public relations expert and an enchanting host and was only available when it was worth his while. Manipulative? Absolutely, but his self-confidence defined Ferrari.

Castellotti remarked, “Even after I had bought seven Ferrari I couldn’t see him. I had to become one of his drivers to shake his hand!”

He had the final say over who could buy his cars and this part of his legacy still holds court. The 288 GTO, F40, F50, Enzo and the new LaFerrari are only sold to selected buyers, practically by invitation only.

1956 brought further Championship success with Fangio but the two men did not get on. Ferrari accused the Argentinean of always choosing the best car, and Fangio in return called him ‘Richelieu’, recognising in Ferrari, a man who always turned any situation to his advantage and to get out of awkward situations. Ferrari was indeed a master of dealing with men.

Fangio: “Ferrari wanted above all to show that his cars would win even without the World Champion at the wheel.”

Ferrari always felt his drivers were indebted to him, he was the maker of these gems and it would be unacceptable that a driver was considered greater than the car he was driving. For this reason, Il Commendatore actually used to set drivers against each other.

When Ferrari evaluated drivers, he inevitably compared them to the Flying Mantuan, Nuvolari. Possibly in the same way that in the 21st century we compare drivers and look for the new Senna. It proves to be a futile experience, rare ability comes along once in a lifetime.

… end of Part I