“I don’t sell cars; I sell engines. The cars I throw in for free since something has to hold the engines in.” – Enzo Ferrari
Gerhard Berger squeezed the throttle out of the Parabolica corner at Monza and saw flags waving from the Tifosi. Teammate Michele Alboreto was close behind, but the day was won for the Scuderia. Ferrari had won the Italian Grand Prix of 1988, a victory in a season that was dominated by the all powerful McLaren-Hondas, but made even more poignant by the fact it was the first race held since the death of Enzo Ferrari a few weeks before.
The man that started it all passed away 27 years ago, but his lasting legacy is unmatched in the history of Formula One.
For example, there has been seasons of the sport that McLaren, Williams and Lotus didn’t compete in. Not the case with Ferrari. Every officially recognised season of Formula One has had a Ferrari car compete. The team’s history runs through the sports like a noticeable thread on a large tapestry.
But what of the man they called “Il Commendator“?
Enzo Anselmo Ferrari was born in Modena in 1898, and by the age of 10 that motorsport would be his life. Losing both his brother and father to the Italian flu pandemic whilst serving in the First World War, he was lucky not to succumb to the disease himself.
By his mid-twenties he had worked his way into a position of managing the Alfa Romeo racing team whilst also competing himself. By this point the Scuderia Ferrari name had been born, but only in name, as it was the official title of the Alfa racing squad.
The acerbic persona of Ferrari first became apparent at this time. When Alfa decided to start their own team and absorb Scuderia Ferrari at the same time, Enzo took it to heart, rebelled, and was eventually dismissed from the organisation.
After the end of the Second World War – where Ferrari’s factories had contributed to the war effort through manufacturing – the seeds were planted for the return of Ferrari to racing. A relocation from Modena to Maranello was instigated after Allied bombing destroyed the factory at the former location.
When the inaugural Formula One season began in 1950, the team had already established itself as a racing powerhouse. In the three years it took to get to that point, Enzo Ferrari’s management of his sporting business led to race victories within a year of its conception. It would be the same in F1 too, when his first Grand Prix win came with Argentinian José Froilán González at Silverstone in 1951. The first championship came in 1952, with Alberto Ascari, an Italian World Champion in an Italian made car. He repeated the feat again in 1953. Success was coming thick and fast.
Not that the triumphs weren’t tinted with tragedy, however. This was the era of low safety and even lower driver life expectancy. Ascari was killed testing one of Enzo’s cars in 1955, in preparation for that year’s Mille Miglia. Enzo took this to heart as they had grown close in their time working together.
The next year Ferrari lost his son and heir Dino to ill-health at just 24. It would haunt Enzo that his first born would never inherit what he built, naming several of his future production cars after his beloved son.
As the years passed the empire, and legend, grew on the track. World titles in F1 followed in 1956 (Juan Manuel Fangio), 1958 (Britain’s own Mike Hawthorn), 1961 (Phil Hill) and 1964 (John Surtees), whilst over at Le Mans, Ferrari’s cars won 9 times in 15 years between 1949 and 1964, including six in a row. Add in 8 victories in the last 10 Mille Miglias held, and Ferrari was fast becoming a motorsport superpower.
As the sport moved into the 1970s there was still success, in the shape of Niki Lauda’s world titles in 1975 and 1977, as well as Jody Scheckter in 1979, but there was also the spectre of financial ruin which was only solved thanks to selling to Fiat. The success in F1 dried up after Scheckter’s title win, and Le Mans became a memory when Enzo decided to withdraw from sportscars in the early ’70s.
All through both the success and the “failures” – there were still Grand Prix wins aplenty – Ferrari led with an autocratic manner he became synonymous with. Driver deaths were still common, but Ferrari lost seven in the space of a decade – Alberto Ascari, Eugenio Castellotti, Alfonso de Portago, Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, Wolfgang Von Trips, and Lorenzo Bandini – which drew heavy criticism his way. Nurturing an atmosphere of extreme competition bred an uncertainty of what drivers would do for the man, despite the fact that any success, no matter what happened, was always attributed to the cars by Enzo himself. Nothing more. nothing less.
Enzo Ferrari passed away on August 14th 1988, and his grand office in Maranello has been untouched ever since. His purple-inked pen sits at his desk, which Nigel Mansell was the last driver to receive the a one-on-one at before signing for the Italian marque. Plenty of success has come since his passing, thanks to Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt, but the fact remains that they merely stood on the foundations Il Commentador spent his life building.