Enzo Ferrari was the least sentimental man in racing. Even so, says Shaun Campbell, he had a curious affection for british drivers
Enzo Ferrari’s relationships with the men who drove his cars were often difficult to follow, let alone fathom. Like much about the man, it is surrounded in a haze of self-induced mystery and enigma. But while it remains far from clear precisely what the Old Man did in terms of the day-to-day running of the racing team, one thing is known for certain: he chose the drivers.
Ferrari expected certain things of the men who drove his cars. Winning races was high on the list, never criticising the machinery came close. Ferrari liked brave drivers… but uncomplaining ones. Publically, as far as nationality was concerned, he seemed not to give a fig. The marque’s first World Championship Grand Prix winner was Froilan Gonzalez of Argentina. Its last World Champion was a South African Jody Scheckter. Between and since, the tifosi have cheered on drivers from all over the world: Gilles Villeneuve from Canada, Phil Hill and Mario Andretti from the USA, Chris Amon from New Zealand, Niki Lauda from Austria.
But even given Ferrari’s predilection for the pragmatic over the patriotic, it’s curious to see how many Britons were among the chosen. For much of the post-war period, grand prix racing was taken seriously only by Britain and Italy they were direct, sometimes bitter rivals yet this most Italian of teams often looked to Britain for drivers. Could it be that the Old Man actually harboured a sneaking affection for Britons? So many of his appointments seem to have been made by a man with no room for anything but business in his head. But just a few, such as those which follow, seem to have come from the heart.
Ferrari’s first British winner was the great Peter Whitehead. Although generally remembered more for his 1951 victory at Le Mans -Jaguar’s first he drove a privately entered Ferrari 125 to victory in the 1949 Czech Grand Prix at Brno. It was hardly the most important or prestigious race of the season, but Whitehead had come within a whisker of upholding Ferrari’s honour in the rather more celebrated Grand Prix de France just two months earlier. He was leading when he started the last lap but the gearbox jammed in fourth and he lost two places, handing victory to the 50-year-old Louis Chiron and his rumbling Lago-Talbot.
But it was Mike Hawthorn who really set the trend. It’s hard to imagine how such a man would have fared in today’s scene until you realise that he almost certainly wouldn’t have got very far. The PR men wouldn’t have allowed it.
The bow-tie-wearing 23-year-old came to Ferrari’s attention in 1952 when his antics in a nitro-methane-boosted Cooper-Bristol were indeed hard to ignore. After watching Hawthorn provide practically the only thing that could call itself opposition that year, Ferrari offered him a works drive for 1953. Hawthorn took it and responded with an epic victory in the French Grand Prix at Reims, beating Fangio’s Maserati after a race-long slipstreaming and out-braldng battle.
Ferrari liked and even indulged Hawthorn, accepting him back in the team after a two-year sabbatical with BRM and Vanwall, and, quite incredibly, replying meekly to some distinctly crabby letters about the state of the machinery.
And yet Hawthorn was a marketing man’s nightmare. He was a practical joker and not one unduly worried about what others thought of him. Also, he was dragged into a 1950s’ equivalent of a trial by tabloid when it was revealed that a kidney complaint made him unfit for National Service, a decision many found hard to reconcile with his ability to race. And for a foreign team.
What mattered to Ferrari, though, was that Hawthorn could deliver the goods on the track. He was notoriously hard on his equipment and had the occasional off-day but, most of the time, he could be depended upon to turn up, get in the car and give it everything. Hawthorn, certainly at the start, had an uncomplicated attitude towards driving for Ferrari and this demeanour made him much favoured as a result.
Peter Collins was next in line, joining Ferrari in 1956 partly through the recommendation of his friend. A less forceful, though perhaps more forgiving, driver than Hawthorn, Collins had the good fortune to strike up a friendly relationship with Mrs Laura Ferrari. That, plus the fact that he had quickly proved a race winner, must have helped when he handed over his car to Juan Manuel Fangio in the Italian Grand Prix that year. Ferrari’s own relationship with Fangio was brittle and Collin’s decision to support the team’s top driver at the expense of his own chances of winning the championship was not necessarily the right one as far as Enzo Ferrari was concerned. What really mattered to Ferrari was that one of his cars won, not who was driving it. The only true number one at Ferrari was Ferrari himself.
The Hawthorn-Collins affair with Ferrari ended catastrophically. In 1958, when the Scuderia was fighting tooth and nail with Vanwall, Ferrari began to put a little pressure on Collins. There was the suggestion that he was more interested in his new wife, Louise, than in racing.
Before the French Grand Prix the team manager, Romulo Tavoni, told Collins that he would only be driving in the Formula Two support race that weekend. Collins made it clear that he wasn’t having any of it, Hawthorn backed him to the hilt and Tavoni changed his decision. Hawthorn won that race and two weeks later Collins should have dispelled any doubts about his commitment with a convincing win in the British Grand Prix. But, in the next race, the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Collins made a mistake trying to hold back Tony Brooks’s Vanwall, lost control and was killed. Hawthorn became World Champion but quit the sport at the end of the season, much to Ferrari’s disappointment. Within a few months, he too, was dead.
It ended in tragedy but, again, it was to Britain that Enzo Ferrari turned for driving talent in 1959. Tony Brooks won races for the team and put up a tough battle for the championship in a car that was being made rapidly obsolete by the midengined Coopers. But Brooks never really fitted in. In the year that he drove for the team he met Enzo Ferrari personally just two or three times and formed the impression only of a figure who was too remote to be truly effective.
John Surtees was another driver who found the politics of Ferrari more than he could tolerate, although he enjoyed the most successful years of his racing career with the team. He was first approached in 1961, his first full year of racing cars after switching from motorbikes. The original call came from an intermediary an accessory manufacturer with whom Surtees did business. Sufficiently intrigued, Surtees flew to Milan where he was met by an acquaintance from his motorcycling days, Dr Fabietti of the Shell Italian company. The following day, Surtees met Enzo Ferrari at his Modena office, which he remembers in his autobiography as a mellow, almost musty, room full of historical trophies and photographs. It was the only time he saw Ferrari in that office; generally they met at Maranello.
On this occasion there were no formalities, just a cursory greeting and a statement delivered through an interpreter. “I would like you to drive for us next year: Formula One, sports cars and anything else we might decide to race. Here’s the contract.”
Surtees wanted time to think and, when he had thought about it said no. He reckoned he did not have sufficient experience to cope with Ferrari at that stage in his career, that they were complacent about the opposition they would face from British teams in 1962 and that they had far too many drivers on their books already.
It was a spot-on judgement. Ferrari, World Champions in 1961, were also-rans in the following year and the team was split when chief engineer Carlo Chiti and several of the technical staff walked out to form a (disastrous) breakaway team. Ferrari, in a rather more humble mood, approached Surtees again at the end of 1962 and this time he agreed. Few men indeed had turned down a Ferrari contract and then been asked again.
Surtees was finally driven to distraction by team manager Eugenio Dragoni, who he felt favoured the Italian driver, Lorenzo Bandini. A bust-up became inevitable early in 1966 when Surtees found that Ferrari’s new 3.0-litre V12 bore little resemblance to the one he was reading about in the Italian press. The papers were saying his car had 360bhp and that he would walk the championship, Surtees reckoned that it was more like 270 and that they had real problem. He was, of course, right, but it seems that no one wanted to hear it. Frustrated, Surtees quit the team.
“Certain things were discussed during that meeting [with Enzo Ferrari] which to my mind showed that he felt very hemmed in by the whole situation.” And that is the only clue from Surtees as to what was discussed that day. However, he also says that, shortly before his death, Ferrari conceded that it was an opportunity lost.
Enzo Ferrari didn’t live to see his last British driver, Nigel Mansell, race his cars, but his time followed a familiar pattern: honeymoon followed by disenchantment. Mansell had the qualities Ferrari looked for (courage, passion, a fighting spirit behind the wheel) and those Ferrari liked least (a propensity to criticise the equipment and the desire for number one status). Much more in the true Enzo Ferrari style is Ulsterman Eddie Irvine. Here’s a driver as close to the Hawthorn mould as the ’90s will permit. It’s good to know that some things don’t change.