”I like to think Ferrari can build drivers as well as cars. Some people called Villeneuve crazy. I said, 'Let's try him.'" - Enzo Ferrari
Enzo Ferrari was born on February 18, 1898, just after the history of motor sport began. No other individual contributed more to that history.
Even the word Ferrari, symbolic of fast red racing cars driven by brave men, is particularly apt. The family name Ferrari comes from the Italian word for iron: ‘ferro’, as does the word ‘ferrare’, which means to shoe a horse. Enzo Ferrari's father was the proprietor of a small iron working shop in Modena. When Enzo's life became devoted to harnessing mechanical horsepower crafted in metal ("I build engines and put wheels on them."), he chose as his personal emblem a prancing horse.
At first, the young Ferrari wanted to be an opera singer, a tenor, or a sports journalist. Though he couldn't carry a tune (unlike another Modenese, Pavarotti), he did have a way with words and for a while reported on football games for local newspapers. (Later he wrote eloquently in several books, notably 'My Terrible Joys', a volume of memoirs published in 1963.) But these youthful ambitions soon took a back seat to motor racing.
Like many of those who later drove his racing cars the road to success was paved with hardship and heartbreak for Ferrari. He had only seven years of formal schooling. During World War One his humble position in the Italian army was that of caretaker for a pack of mules in a transport section. He was devastated by the deaths of his older brother Alfredo and his father during the war years and was himself discharged in 1918 with a lung ailment. He
applied for a job with Fiat in Torino but was rejected because there were not enough jobs for all the returning war veterans. He went to a nearby park and sat on a bench where "I wept with loneliness and despair."
He eventually found work as a test driver with a small car manufacturing concern in Milano, CMN, and even did some racing for the company. In 1920 he saw a girl in the Torino rail station: "She was a fine looking girl, blonde, elegant, vivacious, minute." Her name was Laura and they were soon married. Ferrari then was hired by Alfa Romeo, for whom he acted as a car distributor, competition manager, and, as a weekend bonus, racing driver. In the latter pursuit he competed 47 times (from 1919 to 1931) and won 13 events. It was a quite respectable record but Ferrari felt his mechanical sympathy was a limitation. "I had one big fault. I drove always with consideration for the car, whereas to be successful, one must on occasion be prepared to ill-treat it."
Speaking of those many occasions when Gilles Villeneuve mistreated his cars, Ferrari was philosophical, referring to his "destructive powers" as a factor in improving the Ferrari
product. "Villeneuve contributed a lot to us with his intense competitiveness and his talent for taking anything mechanical and utterly destroying it. He continually brought us face to face with our limitations, with the most extreme tests for our cars that our engineers had ever encountered and had to solve, and he indulged in some of the most hair-raising acrobatics I have ever seen in the process. Transmissions, gearboxes, driveshafts - all were subjected to the utmost punishment. He was a high priest of destruction but his way of driving showed us how much we had to improve those parts so they could stand the assaults of any driver."
|Enzo and Gilles were kindred spirits (Photo Olimpia Imola)|
At one of Enzo Ferrari's race wins as a driver, near Ravenna in 1923, he was introduced to the parents of Italy's leading fighter pilot in the
symbol of courage and audacity. It turned out that the late Alfredo Ferrari had served on the ground crew of the same wartime squadron and after the Ravennna race the Baraccas befriended Alfredo's younger brother. They presented Enzo with their son's insignia for his personal use. When he established his own racing team in 1930, the Scuderia Ferrari, Enzo added a yellow background (the official colour of Modena) to the black horse on the shield and his cars have carried it ever since.
Following the birth of his son Dino in 1932 Enzo stepped out of the driver's seat to mastermind his team, and the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeos became the powerhouse of racing in Europe in the early thirties. Financed by wealthy partners, Ferrari was
able to engage the services of brilliant designers and remarkable drivers like Tazio Nuvolari. In 1935 the tiny, fiery Nuvolari drove Ferrari's Alfa P3 to an amazing victory over the nine cars entered by the mighty Auto Union and Mercedes Benz teams. This
effort, around the 177 dangerous curves per lap of the daunting 14.17-mile Nurburgring course in Germany, remains one of the most extraordinary drives of all time.
For Ferrari, Nuvolari's performance in that event epitomized all that a racing driver should be. "He was a driver who, in any type of car, in any circumstance and on any track, always gave
everything and ended up being, on the whole, the best. Nuvolari, in contrast with many drivers of yesterday and today, never started out beaten because he had an inferior car."
When Ferrari hired Gilles Villeneuve he noted a physical similarity to Nuvolari (both were small men) and it helped influence his decision to hire him. "When they presented me with this 'piccolo
Canadese,' this minuscule bundle of nerves, I immediately recognized in him the physique of Nuvolari and said to myself, let's give him a try."
Ferrari's arrangement with Alfa Romeo ended in 1938 and during the ensuing war years he built machinery to make ball bearings. His workshop in Modena survived two bombings and in 1946 he moved his premises down the road to Maranello to take up racing on his own. That it soon became a thriving enterprise was only a secondary benefit for Ferrari, who said: "I race because I am an
enthusiast. Others do it as a business."
The first all-Ferrari car, the 125 V12, became successful in the hands of drivers like Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi in the late 1940s.
Ferrari sports cars first won the epic Mille Miglia and Targa Florio long distance races held on public roads in Italy in 1948 and the historic Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in France the next year.
For Enzo Ferrari his "civilian" cars were simply a by-product of his competition department and racing, especially single-seater cars, remained his first love. When the Formula 1 world championship was formally organized in 1950 it became his main
team. Here too, Ferrari is the most successful F1 constructor (221 wins versus 182 for McLaren and 114 for Williams – as of 2014) but in later years the man behind the name hardly ever saw them race in person. He restricted himself to watching the events on television because, he wrote, "It offends me to see the machines I have created being driven to death."
However, many people thought his absence from the circuits was prompted by Ferrari's profound sorrow over the cruel death of his son Dino from muscular dystrophy in 1956. The grieving father even contemplated suicide: "Work was my only salvation, the anchor I had to grasp in order not to find myself adrift." Ferrari once told a friend that "Every morning I wake up with Death in my pocket." Following Dino's funeral Ferrari began every day with a visit alone to his grave, then said prayers for him in a chapel dedicated to his son's memory. When his wife Laura died Ferrari became closer to his illegitimate son, Piero Lardi Ferrari, who is now head of the company.
A complicated man of apparently conflicting emotions, Ferrari was to say of Gilles Villeneuve, "I loved him like a son." But he was also accused of being a hard man who cared more for his cars than his drivers. There had been a great public outcry when the Marquis Alphonso de Portago's Ferrari went off the road in the 1957 Mille Miglia, killing himself, his co-driver and many spectators. Ferrari was charged with using unsuitable tires, then exonerated. But all too often, it seemed, race drivers were killed in Ferraris, and after Luigi Musso died in the wreckage of his Ferrari in 1958, no native Italian appeared in his famous red racing cars for many years. "The reason why I don't have any Italian drivers in my team," said Ferrari, "goes back to 1958 when the Italian newspapers said I was the devil eating my own sons."
In 1963 Ford tried to buy Ferrari, but he refused to sell to the Americans. Then, in 1969, Fiat, the Italian state-owned conglomerate, bought a controlling interest in Ferrari, leaving Enzo in charge of motor racing and he was able to devote himself exclusively to the Scuderia. He was in his office each morning by 7:30 and (even at the age of 90) knew each of his employees in the racing division (200 of them before his death) by name. A
win in an F1 race was "like a blood transfusion" for Enzo Ferrari, said one of his drivers, Michele Alboreto (who had the number 27 made famous by Gilles Villeneuve), and his passion for the sport undoubtedly prolonged his life. He died on 14 August, 1988.
"I have known men who have undoubtedly loved cars as much as I have," Ferrari wrote. "But I don't think I've known any who have been as obstinate as I have, motivated by the same wholehearted passion that has left me without either the time or the
inclination to do anything else. I have no other interests 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 his later years Ferrari spent much of his time in a converted farmhouse located within the Fiorano test circuit, where he surrounded himself with racing memorabilia. It is a veritable Ferrari museum crammed with photographs and trophies, even a life-size bronze sculpture of a prancing horse. Pride of place in one corner is given to a wall hanging created by Georgette Villeneuve to commemorate her son's first win in a Ferrari, the
1978 Grand Prix of Canada. And outside the entrance to Fiorano, on the corner of the Via Gilles Villeneuve, is a bronze bust of the French Canadian driver from Berthierville, Quebec.
According to Ferrari, his hiring of Gilles was based on a hunch, a gamble that he would develop into a winner. "I admired Villeneuve," he said. "He's the product of a bet I made with myself. When I engaged him I thought no one would ever have put
any money on him. It is a well known fact that many times in life one acts under emotional impulses rather than cold reason. There was a chorus of criticism when I engaged him because he was an
unknown entity. Taking into account that I had taken Lauda on as a virtual unknown, well, if Lauda was out there then must be others out there, too, others who can climb to the top. I like to think that Ferrari can build drivers as well as cars. Some people called Villeneuve crazy. I said, 'Let's try him.'"
- excerpt from Gilles Villeneuve, The Life Of The Legendary Racing Driver. Here's more information about the acclaimed biography...