Ferrari: 50 years of boom and slump

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It is the most charismatic name in Formula One, but not simply because of its successes. Ferrari’s flaws and failures over the team’s first half century played a big part in creating the legend

1950s

Unsteady as she grows

Enzo Ferrari faced personal loss and huge pressure as his new company grew: by Paul Fearnley

His office overlooked the factory gates that way he could keep an eye on his burgeoning, bustling company’s coming and goings. He preferred not to venture out much, and so, if you wanted to speak to Enzo Ferrari, be you prince, pauper or Pope, you came to him. This protectionism would eventually be labelled mystique. In the 1950s, before unblinking Ferrari worship had begun, even the people of Maranello considered him arrogant.

In 1952, Ferrari employed 250 and was growing rapidly. The marque was on the edge of greatness, but it could easily have gone either way. Yes, Enzo had been involved in motor racing since 1919, but being an (important) employee of Alfa Romeo, or running Scuderia Ferrari on behalf of wealthy shareholders, was different from carrying the flak for a young company that was building lace and road cars.

Even Enzo found it tough. Few took seriously the several threats of disbandment he made during the decade, but these outbursts were indicative of the pressure he was under. He was a slave-driver, but he didn’t shirk; he had a heart of stone, but it was easily melted. And his beloved son was dying.

That makes you stop.

Dino had Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy. He died on June 30, 1956. He was 24.

The team reflected its creator, so it’s little wonder that it boomed and slumped in the 1950s, that drivers (sadly, often culled in this gladiatorial age), designers and team managers came and went with a destabilising frequency. Enzo’s team was often ahead of the game, but still finished this decade of radical change with its engine out front, and only just convinced of the benefit of disc brakes. How Enzo derided the British ‘assemblers’ and their buzzy little kit-cars. He was much happier when it had been Ferrari versus Alfa Romeo, Ferrari versus Maserati — they were cut from his cloth. Enzo wrote with genuine sadness to his old Alfa bosses, the men who had sacked him, after Froilan Gonzalez ended the Affetta’s amazing run of success in 1951.

Sentimentality aside, now it was Ferrari’s turn to rule. Had not Onofre Marimón, who was three laps down at the time, suffered a young Latin hothead moment at the final corner of the final race of the 2-litre formula, Ferrari would have won every world championship GP of 1952 and ’53. There was little competition, true, but Ferrari cannot be blamed for that — even though it was the cause. Its decision to go the unsupercharged route had put paid to its Fl opposition, forcing an ad hoc upgrading of F2.

The 2.5-litre formula was introduced in 1954. Enzo had sided with designer Aurelio Lampredi over his old friend Giaocchino Colombo. And Lampredi had not let him down. Enzo loved the romanticism of the V12, but was persuaded that a torquey four-pot was the way to go. And so it was… until an extra 500cc was required. Maserati’s six-cylinder was happier in the new environment, and its drivers were in thrall to its sweet 250F. In contrast, Ferrari’s 625 was steady but out of date, and its twitchy Squalo and Supersqualo were roundly condemned. Alberto Ascari might have done something with them, but he had left for Lancia. His split from Ferrari had been a wrench, but Ascari had been unhappy with Enzo’s treatment of him. He had won back-to-back world titles and felt that he deserved better. He was right. He could see, too, the technical troubles ahead and left on the promise of another Vittorio Jano masterpiece. Ironically, it would be Enzo who got the benefit of it. The Lancia D50 was late and Ascari was killed in 1955 before its promise was fulfilled. Two months later — thanks to a £30,000 sweetener from Fiat (remember that!) — Lancia’s hardware was handed to Ferrari.

His team was saved — and helped by the withdrawal of Mercedes-Benz at the end of 1955 — but Enzo’s dealings with his drivers continued to be a problem. Even Juan Fangio felt it. He had sent his agent through those factory gates, a move which didn’t get the relationship off to the best start. Enzo in turn refused to grant the world’s greatest driver number one status. Fangio won the title in 1956, but moved down the road to Maserati for ’57.

Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, two of Enzo’s favourites, lacked the will to mould a team. Tony Brooks, their replacement, was faster still, but his considered, scholarly approach was never likely to get Enzo’s blood coursing. There was, of course, someone who could have focused his team, enthused him as Tazio Nuvolari had done. But Enzo had a sworn enemy in Stirling Moss, the result of an empty promise of a drive in the 1951 Bari GP.

Despite these flaws, Enzo, the self-professed “agitator of men and ideas”, was the dictator his vulnerable, nascent marque needed. His approach was never conducive to thriving consistency, but at a time when Ferrari was finding its feet, that was always an unrealistic expectation.

1960s

Italian: For better for worse

Ford were rebuffed, Fiat embraced and Mauro Forghieri made his first mark. by Paul Fearnley

Mauro Forghieri’s father, Reclus, had over-seen the construction of Ferrari’s first foundry, a vital addition to its portfolio: it ensured self-sufficiency and a fast, flexible supply of engines and gearboxes. Young Mauro really wanted to design aeroplanes; he was instead persuaded to join Ferrari.

He was learning the ropes when the company was thrown into turmoil at the end of 1961. Enzo’s wife Laura had been playing an increasingly active role since the death of Dino. The senior management’s views on her ‘meddling’ came to a head when she slapped the commercial director during an argument: eight key staff resigned – and Enzo said to hell with them. Two soon returned, but the other rebels set up ATS (its abject failure indicative of the certain something that Enzo had to offer).

This was a new dawn. Eugenio Castellotti, Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn and Jean Behra were dead, and Tony Brooks had left – even though he was adamant that a Ferrari driver would win the 1961 Formula One world title. He was right The new 1.5-litre formula played into Ferrari’s hands. Its engine was well-sorted, having run in Formula Two since 1957; the British teams in contrast were down on power and sidetracked by the large-capacity, breakaway Intercontinental series that Enzo had told them he would support… He didn’t; it folded.

Enzo had finally relented in the mid-engined debate and the resultant ‘Shark:nose’ Ferrari dominated 1961 – despite its lack of a dominating driver. Determined to put that right, Enzo made his peace with Stirling Moss. Ferrari was in a mess and the English star could name his price. He asked for the world: yes, he would drive a Ferrari in ’62, as long as it was run by Rob Walker… in Rob Walker’s colours. Enzo agreed. Not even Tazio Nuvolari had been granted such an honour. And then Moss hit a Goodwood bank and lapsed into a coma. Without him, the Sharknose’ sank without trace in 1962. Forghieri, the thrusting new tech chief at 26, and the new number one driver had a lot on their plate.

John Surtees was a forthright talent. He wasn’t the next Moss, but he was damned close. He and Forghieri gelled and, incredibly, Ferrari won both world tides in their second year together, 1964. Politics and petty-mindedness would, however, prevent them from building upon this success.

Mike Parkes was an excellent engineer/driver who joined Ferrari just before Surtees. Ah, two Englishman united, instilling some sort of order at last. Except they weren’t. Surtees was an excellent driver/engineer – one coveted the other’s Fl drive, the other felt his engineering ideas were better. A moderator was needed. Instead, machiavellian team manager Eugenio Dragoni, intent on finding the next Italian world champion, gleefully stirred away.

Despite a weak economy and militant unions, Ferrari’s road-car division was booming. And Ford wanted in. In 1963, FoMoCo offered $18m (£6.4m) for 90 per cent of it, and Enzo almost caved in. But after 20 days of dealing with a 14-man, smallprint-minded Detroit delegation, he let rip. No, no, no! Never, never, never! The Latin reaction cemented Enzo’s place in the hearts of Italians: Ferrari was a precious jewel that need protecting. Fiat took note.

Ford chased revenge at Le Mans. This was the only race outside of America that carried any clout with its buying public, but Enzo’s cars won there every year from 1960-65. To the dismay of Surtees, Fl played second fiddle; Ferrari GP wins rarely occurred in the first half of the season.

But in 1966 the introduction of a new formula allowed its foundry another chance to give Ferrari an edge. Surtees was disappointed by the new 3-litre, though, and wanted to drive the old car at Monaco. Dragoni refused and the pair had a stand-up row. Surtees drove brilliantly to win a wet Belgian GP at Spa in the 3-litre, but another row with Dragoni, this time at Le Mans, signalled the end. •

Ferrari was rebuilding again. But then Lorenzo Bandini was killed at Monaco, Cosworth introduced the DFV at Zandvoort, and Parkes was critically injured at Spa. New recruit Chris Amon wowed Forghieri, but it was Jacky Ickx who would score the team’s last GP win of the 1960s – Rouen, ’68.

At this stage big-buck business was creeping into motorsport and Enzo needed help… Fiat boss Giovanni Agnelli was a fan. He understood what Ferrari now meant to Italians. In 1969, he brokered a subtle deal with Enzo that Ford was constitutionally incapable of. And with his company more secure, Enzo made another excellent decision.

Forghieri had been shunted onto the road-car side in 1969. But his replacement, Stefano Iacoponi failed to deliver and Forghieri was swiftly returned to his rightful place. His 1970 Fl car would begin Ferrari’s flat-12 era. Oh, and during his sabbatical he had sketched out a neat little racing gearbox… Fiat and Forghieri: consistency was coming.

1970s

Triumvirate over adversity

Forghieri, Lauda and Montezemolo took Ferrari back to the top, as Mark Hughes remembers

Taken as a whole it was a good decade for the Scuderia, one set to the smooth rhythm of Mauro Forghieri’s flat-12. The engine was the dominant factor in Ferrari’s return to world championship glory for the first time since 1964. And it was no flash in the pan: Niki Lauda took two titles and Jody Scheckter another. What’s more, the Austrian’s effort helped the team to an unprecedented three consecutive constructors’ championships and Scheckter’s closest challenger in ’79 was his teammate Gilles Villeneuve, making it the first Ferrari driver 1-2 in the title race for almost two decades.

Sure, there were occasional slump years. But that was par for the course in the 1970s. No team in the era could stay permanently ahead of the game. Ferrari claimed a total of seven drivers’ and constructors’ world titles from a possible 20 during the decade, a tally matched only by Lotus. The rest — Tyrrell and McLaren — were left to fight over the crumbs, winning three titles apiece.

Chris Amon, who had fought such a magnificent but star-crossed campaign for the reds at the end of the 1960s, could so easily have changed the complexion of Formula One history had he not exercised his legendary poor judgement in having Enzo tear up his 1970 contract after a series of testing breakdowns. Chris didn’t believe Forghieri’s new engine was going to be good enough. This was the real price of Amon’s 1960s’ frustrations: not only did the flat-12 turn out to be superb, but its layout eventually allowed Ferrari to have the best chassis too for a halcyon three-year period. It became clear that several Amon world titles lay in tatters in the Comrnendatore’s litter bin. All for the mirage that was a March 701 and a pocketful of promises…

Had Amon — a man Forghieri swears was by far the best development driver he ever worked with and a massive talent to go with it — stayed on board, it’s conceivable that the 1970 title would have been Ferrari’s and not Lotus’. Even Jacky Ickx, the Ferrari driver who finished a close runner-up to posthumous title winner Jochen Rindt, today modestly admits that he was not as quick as the Kiwi when they’d been Ferrari team-mates in ’68. Furthermore, a Forghieri/Amon axis would surely have developed the 312B/B2 more effectively.

Firestone problems and an altered weight distribution brought unforeseen troubles through ’71-72, but by mid-point during the latter year the B2 was the fastest thing around, if unreliable. More resources and support were needed for a concept that was inherently superior to the DFV-engined machines doing the winning. Its centre of gravity was lower, it had better airflow to the rear wing and, though it was 20kg heavier and needed 15kg more fuel at starts, it compensated with an extra 35bhp.

Instead of support, Forghieri got the shaft and was sent to special projects. No one even remotely in his league was left to take over and the disaster of 1973 unfolded. Enzo had been ill during ’72-73 and, not for the first time, was too ready to listen to whispers and tittle-tattle. To his credit, he realised his error and brought Forghieri back to the fold a year later. Result: unquestionably the fastest car of 1974, as Niki Lauda’s nine pole positions testified.

A critical part of the renaissance was the installation of Luca di Montezemolo who was very close to Fiat’s Giovanni Agnelli. The brilliant young lawyer was Agnelli’s man by proxy, skillfully placed without appearing to usurp Old Man Ferrari’s dominance. He brought hard-headed order and hands-on, in-the-field understanding to the team for the first time. In his way he was as much a genius as was Forghieri. The opposition barely even got to see the transverse gearbox on Lauda’s 312T in ’75.

Momentum would have brought a second title in 76, but then came the Nürburgring and Lauda’s crash. It was doubly unfortunate that Montezemelo had moved on by this time. The unsympathetic heavy-handed treatment of their ace driver post accident bore the hallmarks of Enzo’s out-of-touch failings. He was still a great man but barely travelled outside Maranello and was far too reliant on a sycophantic retinue. Not only did a heroic Lauda narrowly lose the ’76 title — something Montezemolo felt sure he could have prevented — but he left in revenge the moment he’d secured the title in ’77, three races remaining or not.

The systems that Montezemolo installed carried the team for the remainder of the decade — that and the combination of Forghieri’s brilliant engine and a tyre advantage from Michelin in 1979, which held off the ground-effect hordes. A more prescient boss would have thanked his lucky stars he’d gotten away with the gaps in the team’s make-up and planned for the future. The unceasing efforts of a bespectacled genius engineer and the brief but dazzling energy of a corporate high-flyer had rescued the team from an old man’s hubris. But for how much longer?

1980s

From heroes to zeros

A precipitous plunge, and the loss of a star. Damien Smith charts a slow recovery from disaster.

It took less than a year for Ferrari to be shown up as an out-of-step dinosaur as the new decade began. From a dominant 1-2 in 1979, neither Jody Schecicter nor Gilles Villeneuve was able to win a race the following season. The pair scraped a miserly total of eight points as the famous flat-12 made a sorry exit from Formula One. And so did Scheckter. He had achieved his goal and wanted to move on.

It seemed inconceivable that in less than a year Ferrari was lost, suffering for never truly embracing ground-effect, as the British teams led by Williams and Brabham stole a march on the reds. By ’82 Ferrari had clawed its way far enough to claim the first of back-to-back constructors’ tides, but those two successes would be the only pinpricks of light in a dark decade of wasted potential and frustration.

By 1989 Enzo was dead, the politics that always dogged Ferrari threatened to consume it completely, and the next drivers’ title was still 11 years away.

Of course, Villeneuve should have been the next Ferrari world champion. Having wrung two remarkable victories out of Maranello’s difficult first turbo challenger at Monaco and Jarama in 1981, he finally had a car worthy of his talent in ’82. But after Didier Pironi poached victory at Imola, breaking Villeneuve’s trust, Gilles’ anger spilled into qualifying at Zolder, where he made a fatal misjudgement.

Villeneuve might well have run out of patience and quit Ferrari after ’82, even if he had claimed the title. But the team’s lack of public support for him after Imola and the timing of his death made his demise the defining moment of the Scuderia’s decade.

The twist is that with Villeneuve gone, Pironi was then in prime position to take the title. But the Frenchman, wound up by a hostile Italian press, took off over the back of Alain Frost’s Renault in a pointless crash during practice at Hockenheim and broke his legs. That, as Enzo coldy acknowledged at the time, was the end of Ferrari’s championship hopes. The dependable Patrick Tambay and the wildly inconsistent Rene Arnoux delivered another constructors’ crown in ’83, but Ferrari and the rest of Fl was about to be left floundering in the wake of a day-glo orange and white revolution.

The combination of John Barnard’s MP4 McLarens, TAG-Porsche power and Alain Prost indicated the future of Fl: a well-oiled `superteam. Ferrari finally cottoned on when Jean Todt signed Schumacher, Brawn and Byrne a dozen years later.

Not only did McLaren reset the bar in ’84, Ferrari also self-destructed with the hugely disappointing 126C4. Changes had to come, and for the third time in his career, Mauro Forghieri the architect of Ferrari’s 1970s glory found himself shifted aside.

Ferrari bounced back, but only so far. Michele Alboreto led a challenge against Prost in ’85 with the 156/85, but Ferrari was still dogged by inconsistency and a basic lack of speed. As the team slipped into its second winless season of the decade in ’86, the target was set to lure Barnard to Italy.

But he wouldn’t leave Surrey. So Ferrari allowed Barnard to sculpt its future from a new design house in Britain the Guildford Technical Office.

Barnard joined too late to influence the ’87 car, which at least ended a two-year barren streak for Ferrari when Gerhard Berger won at Suzuka and Adelaide. Then Barnard put off the introduction of his normally-aspirated 639 to stick with the faithful turbo for one more year in ’88.

It was just as well. Yes, McLaren won 15 of the 16 races with the incredible MP4/4, but think how Ferrari would have been trounced if it had hurried the new car into action. Barnard might not have survived the year, especially in the wake of Enzo’s death in ’88. With Fiat now holding the reins, Barnard ploughed on with his vision. When the 640 won on its debut in the hands of Ferrari’s new hero Nigel Mansell, Italy hailed a bright new age.

Mansell’s Rio win endeared him to Italy through its sheer drama, but the reality was that McLaren still held all the cards. The Ferrari was quick, but fragile. Barnard’s annoyance grew as his groundbreaking semi-automatic gearbox was blamed for the mounting retirements, even though it was the team’s electronic systems that were actually failing. Mansell delivered another great win in Hungary, and Berger took victory in Portugal, but the real tilt at McLaren had to wait until 1990.

Prost was on board too. Now all the team needed was strong management to keep the new-look Ferrari ship on an even keel.

1990s

Montezemolo’s second coming

Ferrari suffered without a structure before Luca di Montezemolo returned. By Mark Hughes

Big manufacturer budgets and aggressively ambitious teams, such as McLaren International and Williams Grand Prix Engineering, formed a potent combination that had exposed Ferrari’s limitations during the 1980s. For these young teams, big budgets meant expansion, investment in technology and constant probing, forever asking more searching questions with ever-more complex answers. Ferrari didn’t buy into technology at all. They gave it lip-service, merely in reaction to the success of the top teams, never in anticipation.

The Old Man had died in 1988 and so the way should have been paved for a gracious acknowledgement of his achievements along with an unspoken conviction of re-aligning the team’s focus for the modem world. Instead, going into the 1990s it was the same chaotic brine of conflicting self interest it had ever been. In fact, it was even worse. Fiat used Ferrari as part of the corporate management ladder and there was no one strong personality to lead the team. Short-termism and butt-covering became the pervading internal theme.

Big names with track records at McLaren and Williams were sought as some sort of alchemical answer to ills which were just not understood. Sometimes these people were able to do enough to force respectability onto the team, particularly when they were as strong-willed as designer John Barnard. But genius though the Englishman was, he was no team builder. He gave them his innovative semi-auto cars, but in bringing much of the technical core of the team to his British base, he squeezed it dry and left it too reliant on him. The long-term answer lay in management structure. Formula One teams were now too big for it to be any other way. Team structure wasn’t Bamard’s problem. Thing was, it wasn’t anyone else’s either.

The 1990 Ferrari, credited to Barnard and Enrique Scalabroni, was arguably the best car in Fl. At the end of the following year, during which not a single victory was scored, the team imploded spectacularly, revealing how little strength in depth there was. A president, two team managers and lead driver Alain Prost were all lost to the battle.

With debris strewn all around, a fanfare signalled the arrival of the saviour. In back-lit drama, he brushed back his hair and dazzled everyone with his smile and charisma. But Luca di Montezemolo, the man who’d been team manager and so much more in the mid-70s, was about far more than image. If his appointment as president seemed a desperate one from Fiat, with hindsight it was the obvious one. Everything he had touched had always turned to gold, whether it be a 1970s Fl team or the 1990 Football World Cup. And always it was in the Agnelli orbit.

The point about Montezemolo was he didn’t know all the answers, but he knew the method that would eventually find them. And, once the ingredients were in place, he could bond a team and instil a unified vision like no other. He knew how to direct the passion whose outlet had always been in-fighting. He made a few false turns — trying to re-live the past by getting Lauda as an advisor was one — but he quickly corrected them, learned where the problems lay and grasped the nettles. Also, his every move was implicitly backed by Agnelli — and that stopped the in-fighting dead in its tracks.

It wasn’t Montezemolo who rebuilt Maranello from a bare shell of a team to one with world beating technical facilities. But he appointed the men who did — from the top down. He got sporting director Jean Todt in 1993 and, in turn, he got the world’s best driver Michael Schumacher for ’96, with his technical lieutenants from Benetton — Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne — following on a year later. Brawn instilled the much needed detail structure, strength in depth, organisation; Byrne was left to design, and Schuey did the rest.

The remainder of the 1990s was an ever-steepening curve of success, the constructors’ crown of ’99 just a hint of the scale of riches that were around the corner. Along the way, people mourned the old Ferrari, the one that didn’t win as often but which failed in a particularly glorious way. That cannot be blamed on the architects of its success. That old-style, shambolic Ferrari could not have survived long-term in the modem era; its paymasters would have tired of it. Blame the passing of that Ferrari on the world within which it now exists, not those who have made its survival possible.

The future

Life after Schumacher

The modern era has been Ferrari’s most successful, but, asks Damien Smith, what happens next?

What would Enzo Ferrari have thought of Michael Schumacher? If the Old Man had defied mortality, would the German have even joined Ferrari, let alone rack up four consecutive drivers’ titles since 2000? With Enzo still around, maybe Ferrari would have remained the flawed giant of Formula One, deterring Schuey from his mission to build a dream team around him in Italy.

Thanks to the guidance of Luca di Montezemolo, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne and, of course, the six-time world champion himself, Ferrari has gone against character and become the most well adjusted team on the grid, scoring a record run of five constructors’ titles since 1999. Ferrari is unrecognisable from the team of the 20th Century.

But how long will this era last? Everything is cyclical and the wheel will have turned full circle when Schumacher retires. When Schumacher retires. That’s the big question, isn’t it?

His contract runs out at the end of 2006, although he has suggested that he could race on beyond that But 2007 would be his 16th full season in Fl and he would be 38. Surely he will stop before then.

Some suggest that F1’s new generation — led by Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Railckonen and Fernando Alonso — might convince Schuey to walk early. If he takes a heavy beating, would Michael quit?

Giving up does not come easy to him He probably has no idea himself when he will stop. Eventually, the signs will be there and hopefully, for his own sake, he will recognise them.

But whenever he goes, could the rest of the dream team go on? The motivation to build a new legacy with a fresh driver would be hard, but maybe someone like Alonso could maintain the spark.

The Spaniard is said to be Ferrari’s prime target as Schuey’s replacement, and it’s hardly surprising. The Spanish GP last year, when Alonso matched Michael lap for lap for almost the entire race, proved hands down that the 22-year-old is the real deal.

Montezemolo will, of course, be planning ahead for the various eventualities. Strength in depth is the key to show that the modern Scuderia is not just a house of cards. Along with a star driver, Montezemolo may be tempted to poach big technical names too. The money would clearly be attractive, but would you want to succeed the current line-up? It will be a hard act to follow.

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