Ferrari. Birth of a myth
From the debut of mille miglia in 1930 to the first Formula 1 race in 1950. The story of a success that celebrates the 1000 Grand Prix at Mugello
In 1929, Enzo Ferrari was already a successful racing driver. He had made his debut ten years previously at the wheel of a small CMN (Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali), which he had driven to 11thplace overall in the uphill race from Parma to Poggio di Berceto - a good result for a beginner. Then came success alongside great drivers such as Alberto Ascari, Ugo Sivocci and Giuseppe Campari, resolutely gripping the big steering wheel of the official Alfa Romeosthat reigned supreme over all the race tracks. They said of him “he’s one who goes fast”, who has good mechanical knowledge and has a good head for business.
1929 was also the year of the New York Stock Market crash, which signalled the beginning of the Great Depression. Enzo Ferrari alternated his role of racing driver with that of Alfa Romeo agent for Emilia Romagna and the Marches. As history has often taught us, all great things happen around a table.
12 October 1929, a celebratory dinner in Bologna for Baconin Borzacchini who had set a new land speed record in a 16-cylinder Maserati. Seated next to Ferrari were two of his clients, Alfredo Caniatofrom Ferrara and Mario Tadinifrom Bergamo, and it was at that table that Ferrari put forward his idea for creating a motor racing team. The pair were enthusiastic about the suggestion, and on 1 December they met in the law offices of Attorney Enzo Levi in Modena, and Società Anonima Scuderia Ferrariwas formed. Caniato and Tadini put up the capital, and Ferrari contributed his experience as well as his name. The three of them travelled to Alfa Romeo in Milan, where they obtained technical support and advantageous terms for buying cars and spare parts. Ferrari also called on representatives of Bosch, Shell and Pirelli, where using his not inconsiderable charisma he was able to negotiate excellent supply contracts. In Milan he also went to see Campari, a gifted racing driver, who promised to drive in races where Alfa Romeo did not officially compete. Two shares in the Company also went to Ferruccio Testiof Modena, a skilled photographer who would take the best pictures of Scuderia Ferrari’s cars to forward to sports newspapers. Ferrari also thought about the marketing aspect and managing the image of his drivers and their cars.
The debut was set for the 1930 Mille Miglia, held on the 12 and 13 of April. There was not much time to prepare for the gruelling open road marathon. Three teams of amateur drivers with little experience were entered - Scarfiotti/Carraroli, Tadini/Siena and Caniato/Sozzi. They all had to withdraw because of mechanical problems.
21 May 1950, twenty years had gone by, during which the Ferrari legend had been created, and his youthful dreams had come true. He now built the world’s fastest, most sought-after cars, racing cars that bore his name. Maranello, a small town in the Modena countryside, was the capital of his limitless kingdom.
The 11thMonaco Grand Prixwas due to be held on that 21 May. Alfa Romeo, with its trio of drivers known as “the three F’s” - Farina, Fangio and Fagioli - had an unbeatable car, the legendary 58 “Alfetta”. Ferrari made his debut in the top category. He had waited before showing his hand, studying the rival cars, their technical features and their critical points. Monte Carlo was the perfect venue for the debut. His 1500 cc’s were well suited to that circuit, and drivers “Ciccio” Ascari, Sommer and Villoresi were not types to be intimidated by Alfa Romeo’s speedsters. Off they went, and the battle between Fangio, Villoresi and Ascari began, with the Ferraris giving the Argentinian champion a run for his money. At the end of a sometimes chaotic race marked by numerous accidents, Fangio won the first of a long string of Grand Prix victories, and Villoresi’s Ferrari placed 6th. A good debut that certainly did not go unremarked. The Alfa Romeos were at the apex of a long parabola, while the Ferraris were just starting the climb. In the following days, the engineers and mechanics at Maranello worked on finding new solutions to increase power, improve road hold, and get greater effectiveness and efficiency from their supercharged engine. In September, at the Italian Grand Prix, an indomitable Ascari crossed the finish line in second place behind Fangio, but in front of the other four Alfa Romeos. However, Enzo Ferrari loved to say “Second is the first of the losers”. What Ferrari wanted for his creation was victory.
As a highly intelligent and also realistic man, he knew he would have to fight for success. In the meantime, the best automobile engineers and designers had arrived at Maranello - Gioacchino Colombo, one of the fathers of the Alfetta was a Ferrari man. Alongside him was Aurelio Lampredi, another great engine designer. Cars with the prancing horse insignia were winning in road races, but what counted now for Ferrari was beating Alfa Romeo in Formula 1. In 1950, Ferrari had 200 employees, which meant responsibility for the livelihoods of 200 families. 26 cars had been sold, 5 more than in 1949. Soon the first examples would land in the United States and would immediately become objects of desire for rich gentlemen drivers and Hollywood actors. The great day finally arrived - 14 July 1951, the British Grand Prixat Silverstone. Ferrari had its winning formula in the 375 F1, a V12 rocket of a car able to produce 380 HP and a top speed of 320 km/h. Juan Froilan Gonzalez, the Argentinian known to friends as “El Cabezon” because of his large head, was the team driver best able to interpret and tame all that power.
It was the fifth race of the 1951 Formula One World Championship season. Fastest times in the qualifying sessions had been set by Gonzalez’s Ferrari, followed by Fangio and Farina in the rival Alfa Romeos. The race started, thrilling the crowd as Gonzalez and Fangio repeatedly overtook one another –two good friends with completely opposite driving styles. El Cabezon moved his heavy torso from side to side, following the curves of the track as if he were urging his car through them. Fangio, on the other hand, drove sitting straight up, his arms making rapid, controlled movements, and moving his head very slightly. Just a few seconds separated the two cars. The Ferrari pit crew rapidly changed tyres and refuelled in a record-breaking 23 seconds. After 90 laps, Gonzalez’s Ferrari crossed the finish line with a 51 second lead over Fangio’s Alfa Romeo. Enzo Ferrari was in his office in Maranello when he took the call from Silverstone telling him of the victory. In his memoir he wrote that after crying with joy, “I mixed tears of enthusiasm with tears of pain because I thought, today I killed my mother”. Alfa Romeo’s General Manager, Francesco Quaroni, sent Ferrari a telegram congratulating him. In reply, Ferrari wrote “You can be sure that I still hold a certain adolescent tenderness, a sort of first love for our Alfa, the pure affection one has for one’s mother”.
Alberto Ascari’s two World Championships in 1952 and 1953 established Scuderia Ferrari as a name to reckoned with. After some years of difficulty in constructing a winning car, Fangioand Hawthornbrought the title home to Maranello once again in 1956 and 1958 respectively. The Sixties, dominated by what Ferrari, with a certain aloofness, called “the English garage mechanics”, saw American Phil Hill and Englishman John Surteeswin the title for Ferrari in 1961 and 1964. Then came the Seventies –his experience told Ferrari that Niki Laudawas the ideal man to win with his cars. Niki was the exact opposite of the swaggering, long haired drivers who were part of the ‘circus’. He was meticulous, almost boring, never satisfied with the fine-tuning, but he was scorchingly fast, and he won the championship twice for Ferrari, in 1975 and again in 1977, just one year after the horrific accident at Nürburgring. In 1979, the South African, Jody Schecktergave Ferrari its last success before the long title drought that only ended in 2000 with the first of Michael Schumacher’s five consecutive championship wins. It was Kimi Raikkonenwho brought the last world title to Maranello in 2008.
Enzo Ferrari passed away in 1988, in the eerie silence of August, in a deserted Modena. They had called him by many names - Commendatore, the Engineer, the Great Old Man, Drake, the Magician of Maranello, Saturn. After 1,000 Grand Prixraced and over 200 overall victories, his spirit as an innovator, a searcher for perfection, his enormous determination and immense passion are still alive in the company he built, starting from an idea shared at a dinner with friends in Bologna in far off 1929. He lives on in his creatures, those stupendous cars that are the dream of aficionados the world over. “The best victory is the one that is yet to come”- the essence of Ferrari’s philosophy is captured in these words of his.