Enzo Ferrari Anniversary - Pt 3

By Carlo Carluccio 

Gilles Villeneuve

From the first moment he saw him, he recognised a similarity to Nuvolari and it helped influence his decision to hire him. “When they presented me with this piccolo Canadese, this minuscule bundle of nerves, I immediately recognised in him the physique of Nuvolari and said to myself, let’s give him a try”

Cornerstone Shaving

He would forgive him anything, be it the destruction of the cars or quite frank assessments of where Ferrari were against their opposition. It was no secret that Ferrari had a preference for combative drivers who were prepared to take calculated risks but was the Old Man mellowing?

Years before, he would never have allowed the destruction of his cars quite so liberally. Nuvolari used to take risks to beat better opposition, but he rarely crashed whereas Enzo christened Villeneuve – ” the high priest of destruction.”

Ferrari never displayed close affection with Nuvolari, probably because he was a contemporary and the only man who had ever looked him directly in the eye. His bond with Villeneuve was almost paternal and pictures show shared laughter.

 

But it was also a little unnerving for observers to comment on the fact that Villeneuve’s name was slightly more significant than Ferrari’s such was the idolatry around his racing exploits. Villeneuve’s death struck Ferrari hard. When Pironi had his accident in Germany 1982, the reported words from Enzo were simply “Addio Campionato

In his later years managers and advisers surrounded Ferrari. The only communication he had with the team at events was over the phone and subsequently, in spite of the respect for this Grand Old Man, he was advised in the best interests of the corporation that funded the team. At 90 years of age, he would still be at his desk at 7.30 every morning and knew his 200 employees by name.

It is perhaps significant that over the last 5 years of his life, the only true addition to the legend was the production of the F40 and not anything that Ferrari did on track. Considering the tumultuous world he was born into, the irony of the Pope visiting him on the 4th June 1988 was missed by the press that day. Enzo was too poorly to be at Fiorano, and his son Piero stood in for him.

Following his death, the team was presided over by faceless Fiat managers who understood little about the sport. It was only with the return of Montezemolo that Ferrari began to progress.

He himself had written, ” I have no other interest apart from racing cars. Whoever follows in my footsteps inherits a very simple doctrine: to keep alive the desire for progress which was pursued in the past, pursued at the expense of noble human lives.”

In researching his life, I have learnt of new stories of this man. Like any myth they become self-perpetuating, the legend grows and they become someone who transcend their origins and change the world forever. His mythological status is continuously added to with new printed media and films, each adding a layer to the mystery and often reinforcing the notion of a tortured soul.

He grew up in an era of momentous change in Italy. It had only become a Republic 37 years before his birth in 1861, and the Roman Catholic Church would attempt to use their dwindling power to keep Italians in a continuous state of uncertainty by proclaiming that the Republic was not a legitimate institution. Mussolini recognised the problem and in 1929 arranged a solution, a compromise that allowed the Church to retreat, with dignity, into the newly formed Vatican State country, the smallest nation in the world.

The influence and power of the Ferrari name was probably never better illustrated than when Villeneuve had just been signed by Ferrari in 1977, his manager Gaston Parent explains: “..the plan was for Gilles to race at Mosport Park.. we ended up with a seat formed to fit him that we were supposed to take with us back to Canada.

There had been an airstrike on and they drove us to Rome. We got to the Rome airport and it’s full of stranded people backed up from the strike. I said to Gilles, ‘The first thing we do is get rid of the seat, put it in the baggage.’ He says,’ No Goddamn way. I can’t afford to lose this seat. It stays with me’ Okay, so the next problem is all the planes are full. We go to the Alitalia manager’s office and I explain we’ve gotta take off. No way. Then the guy finds out this is Villeneuve, the new Ferrari driver, and all the doors open like a charm. The seat went with us. It’s like transporting a mummy, this goddamn thing. They put us in first class with a separate seat for Gilles’s racing seat.”

Even to the end he maintained rigid control of his empire. A lonely man, someone who suffered some of the harshest experiences a man could ever live through and yet his overwhelming passion enriched a world that we all love. His manner would suggest he chose to live without close friends, and maybe this is a condition dating back to the loss of his father and brother. In choosing to manufacture racecars, he could ill afford getting close to people, lest they were taken away.

Ferrari’s business and personal morals were, at best, selective and he seemed to carry vengeance for many years, but if people were willing to give to the Ferrari cause, why would he question them? After all, he knew exactly how to make full use of people’s fascination of his personality. Yet despite all his manipulative behavior, every year he quietly gave millions to the Istituto Mauro Negri in Milan for research into muscular dystrophy.

Il Commendatore never traveled anywhere with an aircraft and had such a fear of lifts he refused their use. From 1951, he never traveled to any function that he couldn’t return home on the same night and by the early 80’s he was eating a far sparser diet than previously but would enjoy a lavish meal and fine wine on the Saturday evening followed by his favorite tipple; whiskey.

His final manipulation of his subservients occurred after his passing on the 14th August. In his will he requested he could not be confirmed as deceased until the 16th August. His birth had been registered 2 days late and so would his death, a devil to the end.

How could anyone truly describe his legacy?

Ferrari is now a global brand. A company that is perceived throughout the world as a byword for excellence. Museums contain cars, chassis and engines on display as “art”. The prices for classic Ferrari continue to grow and the logo is more widely recognised than any other. Companies clamour to be associated with the team, Marlboro has had no signage on the car for some years and still funds the team with 100’s of millions.

Through all this, I question if Enzo would have enjoyed what his team has become.

People now believe Ferrari is a 1-driver team but this was something he truly hated, as this would place the importance of the driver higher than the car.

For instance, Fittipaldi was stunned when he went to speak to Ferrari. He expected to be talking about races, drivers and commitment to the cause but found himself answering questions about how beautiful and passionate Brazilian women were. What Fittipaldi didn’t know was that Il Commendatore always behaved like this, so as not to let the driver believe he was the team’s saviour. It’s for this reason that I don’t believe Ferrari would have signed Schumacher.

The only person I can see that holds the same sporting morals as Ferrari is Frank Williams. They both believed the cars won races whereas the drivers lost them. For all the drivers that were pushed beyond their limits by Ferrari, you can replace them with any driver that has driven a Williams. There was never time for sentiment.

Ferrari produces around 7,000 cars a year, but again, this was something Ferrari didn’t agree with;

“Today, 2,500 Ferrari are made every year. Far too many – 2,000 would be enough. A Ferrari should be longed for and dreamed for. You should have to wait for one like you have to wait for a star.”

McLaren’s Ron Dennis has displayed continued jealousy of Ferrari since the 80’s. His comments regarding the F1 vs. the F40 showed that he didn’t actually understand the business of building dreams and aspirations. Even today, his company builds efficient cars that scramble the senses but they don’t set those senses alive.

Ferrari controlled the sport for decades. He demanded and received starting money beyond what was available to the other teams simply because of the name. If he chose to withdraw from an event, the organisers would raise the money offered.

It was only with the arrival of Bernie Ecclestone, and his negotiations, that he secured better funding for all entrants at Grand Prix. He increased the television revenue and raised the awareness of the sport but he also understood the significance of Ferrari in motor-sport. I have no doubt that at some stage, Enzo and Bernie thrashed out a deal which to this day is still financially beneficial to the Italian squad.

Let’s be honest, whenever the Concorde Agreement or television rights is being re-negotiated, Bernie makes sure Ferrari is on side.

Interestingly, Ecclestone said of Enzo Ferrari in 1976, “He’s the most incredible man I have ever met and I have known a lot of people. He’s a legend, people will always talk about him.”

In a world of vivid colours, maybe you have to experience the darkest lows to truly feel alive, to have context for when you reach the peaks of emotion. Maybe this obsession defines what true love is all about.