Friday, September 07, 2012

Forza Ferrari

"Ferrari is a disease," according to Scuderia Ferrari President
Luca di Montezemolo, "a nasty, contagious illness. This is the
most prestigious, the best known racing team in the world. For
our fans Ferrari amounts to a sort of inebriation. Ferrari is so
special because it provides such great emotion."

A main reason why Ferrari is the most famous name in racing is
because fans can so readily sense their own emotion and passion
for the sport reflected in the screaming crimson cars from Maranello.
It's as if Ferraris were created to make the whole concept of racing
come alive. And they were, by the team founder Enzo Ferrari, who
was born on February 18, 1898, just after the history of motor sport
began. No other individual contributed more to that history. His
grand passion began one day in 1908 when his father brought him
to see the great Felice Nazarro win in a Fiat at nearby Bologna.
Enzo Ferrari: "That day I felt a profound emotion."

His origins were humble and he had only seven years of formal
schooling. During World War One his lowly 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 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 them. 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 forty-
seven times (from 1919 to 1931) and won thirteen 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."

At one of Enzo Ferrari's race wins, near Ravenna in 1923, he was
introduced to the parents of Italy's leading fighter pilot in the
war, Francesco Baracca. His plane had been decorated with a
special insignia, Il Cavallino Rampante, The Prancing Horse, on a
shield and Baracca's daring exploits in the air had made it a
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.
Il Cavallino Rampante, The Prancing Horse

Following the birth of their son Dino in 1932 Enzo fulfilled a
promise to his wife Laura and 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. 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 single seater 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 races held on public roads in Italy in 1948 and the
historic Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in France the next year.
Ferrari began producing road cars based on his racing machines and
they soon became the most desirable vehicles for wealthy automotive
enthusiasts and exotic status symbols for the rich and famous.

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
interest. Although Ferraris won races in nearly every category of
road racing, it was putting his cars to the F1 test that mattered
most to the founder of the team. Here too, Ferraris were the most
successful cars, 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."
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.

Enzo Ferrari was accused of being a hard man who care more for
his machines than his drivers, several of whom died in Ferraris.                                                              
Yet when his favourite driver Gilles Villeneuve was killed,
Ferrari said "I loved him like a son."                                                                                

Ferrari and his favourite driver Villeneuve (La Gazzetta dello Sport)

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 ninety) 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 Mr.
Ferrari," said one of his drivers Gerhard Berger, and his passion
for the sport undoubtedly prolonged his life. Enzo Ferrari 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."

-excerpt from Gilles Villeneuve, The Life Of The Legendary Racing
Driver (by Gerald Donaldson)

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