I was watching the German Grand Prix, and the TV commentator said that the sea of Ferrari flags indicated the level of support that Michael Schumacher commanded. That sounded reasonable until I recalled that there was a sea of Ferrari flags at Hockenheim before Michael signed for Maranello. When Schumacher was winning World Championships for Benetton, there weren’t Benetton flags.
You might expect strong support in Italy, but the tifosi are everywhere. The guy in my local video store wears a Ferrari cap. I’ve never seen him without it. I’ve known him ten years, but I still don’t know whether or not he has hair on his head. He always has a Ferrari cap on his head.
I don’t see people wearing McLaren caps, yet McLaren is based only 50 miles from where I live. What is this strange power that the Scuderia has over people?
There was a time when Ferrari was an Italian team, so if Italian fans went crazy for it, that was understandable. But Ferrari’s Technical Director is English, the Chief Designer is South African, the Team Director is French, the tires are Japanese, and the drivers are German and Brazilian. Even Ferrari’s owner, Fiat, is 25% owned by The General.
Maserati is Italian, so is Alfa Romeo, but when they have been in motor racing, they have never had fans like Ferrari has fans. Yet how many more gorgeous single-seaters have there been than the Alfetta or the 250F?
One can understand why an Italian with a sense of history would revere Ferrari. In the 1930s, the Scuderia was frequently Italy’s main answer to Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz, as when Nuvolari won the 1935 German GP in a Ferrari-entered Alfa Romeo. But Ferrari was only the entrant, it was Alfa Romeo which built the car.
Ferrari has a history of regular, and long, troughs and, after 1952 & 1953, it has usually needed a strong driver (Surtees, Lauda and Schumacher) to drag it to the front of the grid. In 1956 & 1957, things were so bad that the Scuderia was running Lancias. For some reason, the five Grands Prix that the Lancias won are credited to Ferrari, yet the races that Tyrrell won with Matra and March chassis are credited to Matra and March, not Tyrrell.
In fact, in the 1950s, Ferrari’s reputation was built mainly by its sports cars, and that was largely by force of numbers. Sure, Ferrari dominated the Mille Miglia, but it was not often that the race attracted non-Italian contenders for outright victory. The Scuderia really only got on top of things when the 3-liter limit was imposed in 1958, by which time Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Maserati had retired and Gordini had folded. The only serious opposition came from Aston Martin and Porsche.
Porsche? Now you are talking. Look at the way sports-racing Porsches with maybe 1.6-liter engines could humiliate the opposition. They were quick, strong, reliable and aerodynamically efficient. “Aerodynamic” was a word Ferrari engineers had to look up in the dictionary.
When the Jaguar D-type had a monocoque center section, disc brakes and aerodynamics, Ferrari had a ladder frame, drums and styling. While Enzo was alive, Ferrari made not a single technical innovation.
More than 20 years ago, Formula One engineers were telling me that they could not believe why Ferrari, given all its resources, did not win every Grand Prix. In the mid-1980s engineers were telling me that they could not believe why Ferrari road cars sold, because they were so poorly engineered.
When John Barnard took over as Ferrari’s Technical Director in 1986, he was presented with a Mondial as his executive car. Nice job, we all thought; then John made it known what he thought of his Mondial’s engineering. He got his knuckles rapped.
In the 1970 movie, A New Leaf, Walter Matthau’s character was an aging playboy who drove a Ferrari. The car spluttered and banged, and the joke was only possible because everyone knew that’s what Ferraris did in traffic. Substitute a Porsche and there would be no joke.
Look at the very low mileage on so many classic Ferraris, which reach the market. Their owners clearly don’t like driving them.
It would have been about 1980 when a collector local to me showed me his cars. He had about ten but, believe me, he had important cars. Is a 24-carat Le Mans winner good enough for you? The one I liked best, however, was his 1960 short-wheelbase Ferrari 250 GT. He produced his records. In 20 years, he had covered 13,734 miles. In the previous 12 months, he had made one trip of 150 miles. (You don’t want to know about the Daytona, which in the previous 12 months he’d driven to his factory and back. Two miles each way, in town traffic.)
I said, “If I had a car like that, I’d drive to my local supermarket via Scotland.” He said, “Oh, no. It’s much too valuable to drive.” The term that springs to mind here is “anal-retentive.”
The story does have a happy ending, though. He had a fling with a chorus girl and his wife got the lot.
When John Surtees drove for Ferrari and the 250 GTO was pensioned off, he was offered two at $2,000 each. He turned down the offer because he didn’t think much of the car. That is $4000 for two 250 GTOs – this is not a misprint. It is also Surtees who took engineering, as well as his skill as a driver, to Maranello.
You think I’m knocking Ferrari? I’m not. The 250 GT SWB is one of my favorite cars. If gold was showered on me, I’d buy one, but not a single Porsche is on my wish list.
I admire and respect Porsche, but here we speak of affairs of the heart. If Rita Hayworth in her prime (substitute whoever does it for you) tried to seduce you, would you decline because, maybe, she might not cook a decent breakfast?