Ferrari’s 20 greatest F1 drivers
Ferrari will have two crowned champions at the helm when it wheels its cars to the grid for the 2014 Australian Grand Prix – a first in world championship terms since Italy 1953, when Alberto Ascari and Nino Farina formed part of a six-strong line-up at Monza. The team has hired many illustrious names before and since, but which 20 most capture the essence of Ferrari?
Writer Simon Arron
A curious term, greatness. Some like to measure it in statistical terms, but naked numbers tell only a partial story – and sometimes not even that. Common examples? Stirling Moss never claimed a world title, yet remains indisputably one of his craft’s finest ever exponents.
And Chris Amon should have a double-figure tally of championship Grand Prix victories to his name, but won none at all. Circumstance can be a fickle barometer.
Our purpose here was not to produce a list of Ferrari Grand Prix drivers with impeccably shiny CVs, but to dissect the team’s past and present racers and analyse what made them ‘greats’ in terms of influence, personality and, yes, achievements. It’s subjective rather than definitive, but we’d like to think it reflects the spirit of F1’s most celebrated institution.
You are, of course, welcome to disagree at www.motorsportmagazine.com
It’s etched in legend as one of F1’s most noble gestures – Peter Collins standing down during the 1956 Italian GP, to hand his car to Ferrari team-mate and title rival Juan Manuel Fangio – but the facts are a little more prosaic. Collins was trailing Fangio by eight points ahead of the race and required assorted miracles to occur to give him any chance of the title, but it was a fine slice of sportsmanship nonetheless.
It was also voluntary: Ferrari had tried to impose team orders on Luigi Musso, but he wasn’t in the mood to relinquish a seat in his home Grand Prix and Collins filled the breach.
It was behaviour that sat well with Enzo Ferrari – certainly more so than another slice of Collins spontaneity, just a few months later. Ferrari had no objection to his drivers’ sexual conquests, but preferred things to be casual. He regarded permanence as a potential distraction – one more reason to avert risk. When Collins married American actress Louise King early in 1957, it followed a whirlwind, seven-day courtship.
He remained part of the fold, although it would be an indifferent campaign for Ferrari as Stirling Moss and Vanwall provided the main threat to the departed Fangio’s Maserati. The new 246 Dino promised more for ’58, although a string of early-season retirements dinted Collins’s title chances. At Silverstone, though, he proved untouchable. Perceived as the hare Ferrari required to break the fast but frequently fragile Vanwalls, Collins set off in front – and stayed there long after the engine of Moss’s Vanwall had turned its last. Team-mate and chum Mike Hawthorn had a more realistic title shot, but he was a long way adrift in second and no attempt was made to slow the leader – a decision rendered more poignant with hindsight.
Two weeks later, at the Nürburgring, Collins was again a key cog as the Ferraris disputed the lead with Tony Brooks’s fleet Vanwall. On the 11th of 15 laps, however, he ran slightly wide at Pflanzgarten and clipped a bank. The car flipped up, rolled over a hedge and Collins was thrown out.
He never regained consciousness, and the sport was stripped of a charismatic cavalier.
1956-58: Years at Ferrari
20: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
3: Ferrari WC GP wins
It remains a quirky statistic that three men named Hill have started a world championship Grand Prix – and all have lifted the world title. And Phil, the first, is possibly the least celebrated.
Many regard him as a sports car specialist – and it’s hard to brook argument with a CV that includes three victories apiece at both Le Mans and Sebring. Others certainly enjoyed sharing with him in endurance events, because he was both fast and tender, usually finishing stints with his car pretty much as it had been when he started. In a previous life he’d spannered cars for friends, so mechanical sympathy was perhaps second nature.
History records that he clinched his world title in the 1961 Italian GP, the race that claimed his team-mate Wolfgang von Trips, but their tussle had hitherto been close: the German had two wins, two seconds and a fourth to his name, Hill one victory, two seconds and two thirds. He trailed von Trips by four points prior to Monza – and the title’s destiny was anything but certain with two races remaining. Fate then intervened, however, and Hill went on to become America’s first F1 champion.
His GP career rather petered out in the slipstream of that success, but he continued to compete successfully in sports cars and had the distinction of winning his final race, sharing the victorious Chaparral 2F with Mike Spence in the 1967 BOAC 500Kms at Brands Hatch.
Hill had made his world championship GP debut at Reims in 1958, when his taut approach contrasted starkly with the casual joviality of such as Hawthorn and Collins. Images of Phil Hill seldom portray relaxation in a racing car, but rather someone who was tense, edgy and acutely aware of his profession’s potential consequences. Someone, indeed, who looks as though he’d rather be almost anywhere else.
That, though, was never a barrier to speed.
1958-62: Years at Ferrari
31: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
3: Ferrari WC GP wins
If you scripted a name for a fictional Ferrari driver, it would be difficult to conjure anything better…
Bandini started all but seven of his F1 world championship Grands Prix for Ferrari and the journey was rarely dull. Overlooked in 1961 when the team took a punt on Giancarlo Baghetti, he was finally hired the following season, then dropped to make way for Willy Mairesse… and finally re-signed in the summer of ’63, after Mairesse was injured.
Through it all he remained calm – a conspicuous attribute in an age when Latin drivers were reputed to be anything but. He notched up his one and only points-scoring victory in the 1964 Austrian GP, his car holding together after the brutally rough Zeltweg airfield surface triggered suspension failures for erstwhile leaders Gurney and Surtees. His most significant contribution that season, however, was saved until last, Bandini easing up during the final moments of the Mexican GP to hand team-mate Surtees second place and the title.
He looked set to score another world championship victory at Reims in 1966, but a broken throttle cable put paid to that. Instead, his best results would be a brace of second places, both in Monaco, in 1965 and ’66.
One year later he led briefly on the principality’s streets and was running second, in simultaneous pursuit of his dreams and Denny Hulme’s Brabham, when he clipped the chicane. His 312 overturned before igniting, it took rescue crews an age to extract him and Bandini suffered appalling injuries: three days later, Italy lost a figure that had been almost as much a part of mid-60s Ferrari as the Prancing Horse.
1962-67: Years at Ferrari
35: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
1: Ferrari WC GP wins
Mosport Park, Canada, September 27, 1980: Jody Scheckter is 26th of 28 at the end of qualifying, 0.8sec behind team-mate Gilles Villeneuve, 4.3sec shy of Nelson Piquet’s pole-winning Brabham and two places shy of making the cut – an ignominious detail prior to what should have been his penultimate Grand Prix start. Things weren’t a great deal better one week later at Watkins Glen, where he started 23rd and crossed the line 11th, three laps in arrears and last of the classified runners.
Few careers have commenced with quite such a bang as Jody Scheckter’s… nor ended with quite such a whimper.
He spent only two his eight full F1 seasons with Ferrari – and in the first of those guided his 312 T4 (an example of which he still owns) to the world title, helped in part by Villeneuve’s respect for the South African’s official number one status. By that stage of his career 29-year-old Scheckter was a mature contrast to the firebrand of yore, a driver prepared to play the percentages and relying as much on intellect as reflex.
The following season’s T5 proved to be woefully uncompetitive and Scheckter mustered just a couple of points, from fifth at Long Beach. His title, though, remained an unwanted landmark – at least for his team: the last won by a Ferrari driver until Michael Schumacher ended the drought… 21 years later.
1979-80: Years at Ferrari
28: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
3: Ferrari WC GP wins
Groomed by Ken Tyrrell, quick on two wheels and in almost anything on four, blessed by a wonderful touch in the wet… Hardly a surprise that he should have featured on several shopping lists late in the 1960s.
The clues were there almost from the start, when he was promoted from tin-tops to F2 on the back of winning the Belgian saloon car title in 1965. Two years later he set third-fastest qualifying time for the German GP… at the wheel of an F2 Matra. He wasn’t permitted to start at the front, however, but had to line up with the other F2 cars, those that had been circulating at conventional speeds. Less than 12 months later he was en route to his maiden F1 world championship success, in a Ferrari 312 at Rouen.
That initial Maranello alliance was brief – Gulf was so keen to keep Ickx in its sports cars, racing for them rather than against them in anything red, that it organised him a Brabham drive for 1969 – but he was back at Maranello the following season, when he emerged as Jochen Rindt’s closest title challenger. The highlight was an epic Hockenheim slipstreamer, which Rindt won by seven tenths, and the German eventually took the title – posthumously – by five points.
Ickx went on to score two more GP victories, the last of them at the ’Ring in 1972, but would never again come so close to the main prize. He was still winning at Le Mans a decade later, mind.
1968, 1970-73: Years at Ferrari
54: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
6: Ferrari WC GP wins
Understated, underrated… such is the Tony Brooks way. His was only a fleeting partnership with Ferrari, racing the arrow-quick 246 against the new-fangled efficacy of Cooper’s rear-engined T51, but seven world championship starts yielded five finishes, four of them on the podium. He began his title challenge with a worthy second place in Monaco, despite being physically sick at the wheel during the event’s course, then won at both Reims and AVUS. Between those victories, there should have been another splendid opportunity in the British GP at Aintree, where earlier in the campaign Jean Behra (using a newer engine, worth about 15bhp) and Brooks had finished first and second for Ferrari in the non-championship BARC 200. In July, though, with Brooks trailing Jack Brabham by five points in the standings, Ferrari withdrew its entry, citing a metal workers’ strike in Italy (an excuse proffered, allegedly, in the slipstream of disputes about starting money). In any event, Scuderia Centro Sud – also distinctly Italian – managed to get there. Brooks was offered the use of a Vanwall, which dropped out with a misfire, and Brabham extended his points advantage.
Ferrari let Brooks down more conventionally in Italy, where the 246 suffered clutch failure at the start, and he went to the Sebring finale requiring victory and a slice of good fortune to wrest the title from Brabham. As things transpired he might have succeeded… but for a biff from team-mate von Trips and a precautionary stop. Brooks had previously suffered the injurious consequences of several car failures and wasn’t prepared to contemplate unnecessary risk. He lost half a lap, finished third and was classified a career-best second in the championship.
If he’d started only one Grand Prix for Ferrari, he’d probably still be on this list.
1959: Years at Ferrari
7: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
2: Ferrari WC GP wins
Britain has produced more motor racing world champions than any other nation – and the blond, charismatic, bow-tied Hawthorn has the indelible distinction of being the first.
The popular perception of 1958? Hawthorn won the championship through stealth, stocking up on podium finishes to support a solitary championship victory in France, while rivals Moss and Brooks scored seven victories between them but suffered as a result of their Vanwalls’ frailties. True to a point, but hardly a reflection of Hawthorn’s career trajectory.
He made his track debut in 1951… yet became a works Ferrari driver within two years, factory stalwart Luigi Villoresi having been alerted to the youngster’s potential after Hawthorn’s F2 Cooper-Bristol gave F1 opposition a hard time at a rain-affected Boreham meeting in August 1952. And that first Ferrari season yielded what was perhaps Hawthorn’s day of days, the Englishman beating Fangio’s Maserati by a second in the nip-and-tuck French GP at Reims (and, in the process, becoming the first Brit to score a championship victory). He finished every points-scoring race – and failed to add to his tally only at Spa, sixth not being considered worthy of reward in those days. It was a hint of what lay ahead.
He left Ferrari at the end of 1954, signing off with victory in the Spanish GP at Pedralbes, in order to be closer to home to run the family garage business in Farnham (following the death in a road accident of his father Leslie). The next two F1 seasons were patchy, but he rejoined the Scuderia in 1957, racing alongside great mate Peter Collins. The ’58 season, though, would blend triumph with tragedy. Team-mate Luigi Musso died in France, Collins perished during the German GP (Hawthorn, running just behind, was a forlorn witness) and Stuart Lewis-Evans succumbed to burns sustained during the Moroccan finale. By then Hawthorn had decided to retire at the campaign’s end, but didn’t have long to savour his success. On January 22, 1959, almost four months before the new championship season commenced without him in Monaco, Hawthorn died in a road accident on the Guildford by-pass.
He had contributed far more to Ferrari than simple, jingoistic landmarks.
1953-55, 1957-58: Years at Ferrari
35: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
3: Ferrari WC GP wins
There exists, within the archive of photographer Nick Loudon (who now tends, incidentally, to the big cats resident at Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire), an exquisite image of Chris Amon, his Ferrari 312 perfectly balanced through Old Hall Corner, the opening right-hander at Oulton Park. Funny to think Ferrari once sent three works cars to a non-championship race on Little Budworth’s fringe…
If ever there was an illustration of how Grand Prix cars should look, this, surely, is it.
Amon was captured thus during a dazzling campaign that promised much, but delivered relatively little. While team-mate Ickx won in France and notched up a string of respectable results, Amon flew but his Ferrari frequently failed: he finished second to Jo Siffert in the British GP at Brands Hatch, but there would be only two other points finishes.
Amon had been a rock for Maranello since the previous summer, when he’d led the team in the wake of Lorenzo Bandini’s death, Mike Parkes’s injury-enforced lay-off and Lodovico Scarfiotti’s decision to ply his trade elsewhere. He would remain so until the summer of 1969, when he became disenchanted with equipment that consistently performed less capably than he did.
And so he signed to drive a March 701, just as Ferrari introduced the significantly better 312B…
1967-69: Years at Ferrari
27: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
0: Ferrari WC GP wins
Felipe Massa? The howls of protest are almost audible from here. But tarry a moment…
Often portrayed as a humble, erratic punch bag, Massa spent eight full seasons as a Ferrari racer – and time before that as a development driver. Throughout that period he proved to be an almost perfect team player, spectacularly fast on his day and a paragon of subservience when required. Everybody mentions McLaren’s failure to impose team orders as a key reason for its failure to win the 2007 world title, but the British team would still have prevailed had Massa not backed off around the time of his second pitstop in Brazil, to allow team-mate Kimi Räikkönen free passage.
Räikkönen joined Ferrari with a reputation for peerless speed, but Massa had the upper hand during much of their three seasons together. Again, everybody recalls Lewis Hamilton’s last-corner pass as the reason for Massa failing to take the crown in 2008, but there were silly mistakes on the Brazilian’s part in the first two races, plus an engine failure in Hungary and a slapstick refuelling error in Singapore. For much of that season Massa drove splendidly – and in defeat he responded with wonderful grace and dignity that have been his trademarks.
Ferrari insiders insist he hasn’t been quite the same in the wake of a head injury, suffered during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian GP (when a stray Brawn damper spring struck him on the helmet). He outqualified new team-mate Fernando Alonso on his comeback in Bahrain at the start of the following season, but has rarely been able to defeat the Spaniard in races. And now Ferrari has dispensed with his services in order to re-sign Räikkönen, the very driver Massa used to beat with such frequency.
2006-13: Years at Ferrari
139: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
11: Ferrari WC GP wins
Two seasons, three wins (one of them on his 1989 Ferrari debut in Rio, another from 12th on the grid at the impossible-to-overtake Hungaroring), a one-race suspension and a premature retirement announcement… Mansell created more headlines during a relatively short Maranello sojourn than most drivers manage in a career.
Ferrari’s initial offer was timely, after Mansell had spent 1988 wrestling a Williams-Judd following the team’s split from Honda, but not too much was expected of John Barnard’s 640 chassis, with its revolutionary semi-automatic transmission. The issue wasn’t so much speed as reliability, but the car held together first time out in Brazil… and Mansell would not finish again until France, in July. Whenever he lasted, though, as he did six times in 15 starts, he was on the podium.
His 641 was only a little more solid the following season, but incoming team-mate Prost swiftly got the upper hand, politically and competitively, with a run of four wins by mid-season. The last of those came at Silverstone, where Mansell retired with transmission failure before chucking his gloves into the crowd and announcing that he would quit at the season’s end.
Utter nonsense, of course, but symbolic of the heart-on-sleeve mentality that endeared Mansell – Il Leone – to the tifosi, forging a bond that endures to this day.
1989-90: Years at Ferrari
31: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
3: Ferrari WC GP wins
José Froilán González
Nowadays a skeleton of Nico Hülkenberg’s height is said to be a marginal fit in terms of a contemporary Grand Prix cockpit, so it seems safe to assume Formula 1 will never again accommodate a man of González’s stature...
Despite his bulky physique, the Argentine was something of a sporting all-rounder and his hand-to-eye gift translated to the wheel. Dispatched to Europe in 1950, as part of a scholarship programme, he earned an opportunity with Ferrari following success aboard a 166 while racing at home during the European winter.
He was lying second in the 1951 French GP when team-mate Ascari’s 375 suffered gearbox failure – and González was duly asked to hand over to his team leader. Having complied, he suspected an identical fate lay in store when exactly the same thing happened at Silverstone, but having been in contention from the start he was waved on his way after a final stop. Ascari was thus among the onlookers as González recorded Ferrari’s maiden F1 world championship victory.
He won again for the Scuderia at Silverstone in 1954, but returned home at the year’s end – and, facing family pressure to cut back on his racing following the death of compatriot Onofre Marimón during practice for the German GP – that’s largely where he stayed. It didn’t prevent him making guest appearances in his home Grand Prix – and he did so on several occasions up until 1960, most usually with Scuderia Ferrari.
He will forever be associated with that ground-breaking Silverstone success, but one glossy stat sells him woefully short.
1951, 1954 plus one-offs in 1955, 1957 & 1960: Years at Ferrari
15: Ferrari World Championship
2: Ferrari WC GP wins
Juan Manuel Fangio
Only ninth? He’d be several places higher on any list of the all-time greats, but in Ferrari terms? No, frankly.
During the 1950s he captured five world titles with four manufacturers, and some perceive that as a sign of versatility while others regard it as a symbol of political aptitude – an ability to make sure he was in the right seat at the right time. For 1956, though, he had few options in the wake of Mercedes-Benz’s withdrawal, and his marriage to Ferrari was largely one of convenience.
Fangio didn’t much care for the team, nor its patriarch (the feeling was mutual), so the path to a fourth world championship was rarely comfortable. In theory Ferrari had no official number one driver, despite the strength of Fangio’s CV, yet he took over Luigi Musso’s car to win in Argentina and annexed Peter Collins’s D50 to finish second in both Monaco and, more famously, Italy (where the Englishman volunteered his car after Musso refused to stand down). In the midst of this complexity, there were more normal afternoons in Britain and Germany, where victories helped underpin his title challenge. Even at Silverstone, though, Fangio’s driving was conspicuously less silky than usual. He recovered from an early spin at Becketts, but made the front only after the BRMs and Moss’s Maserati 250F hit trouble.
Fangio found a more natural home when he rejoined Maserati the following season. He would return to Modena as defending world champion, but it had been a less satisfying conquest than any that had gone before – or, indeed, the one that would follow.
1956: Years at Ferrari
7: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
3: Ferrari WC GP wins
Driven from his once comfortable McLaren berth in the fractious slipstream of assorted spats with Ayrton Senna, he arrived in Nigel Mansell’s lair – and promptly made it his own. It took the politically astute polyglot about five minutes…
Despite an encouraging start – victory second time out, in Brazil, and another four subsequently – the campaign would be remembered as much for its tetchiness as its triumphs. Towards the season’s end, in Portugal, Mansell almost put the Frenchman in the pit wall after making a complete Horlicks of his start from pole. And two races later, with Prost on the back foot in the title fight at Suzuka, Senna took the law into his own hands. The Brazilian qualified on pole, which back then was on the dirtier part of the track, and urged the stewards to switch him to the other side for the sake of meritocracy. He had a point, as Prost illustrated by leading away from second, although he made it only as far as the first corner before his nemesis harpooned him and reduced both cars to rubble. Game, set and championship.
Prost’s victory in Spain, one race earlier, proved to be his last for the Scuderia. The 1991 campaign – alongside Jean Alesi, who signed for about half the paddock before finally settling on Ferrari – was comparatively mediocre, with a string of podium finishes (but none on the top step). When the Frenchman mentioned that the 642 was more Foden than Ferrari, red car morphed into red card and Gianni Morbidelli was hired for the seasonal finale in Adelaide.
In its bright new future without Prost, the team recorded just two GP victories during the next four seasons. The Frenchman took a sabbatical, came back for a single year with Williams and won seven…
1990-91: Years at Ferrari
30: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
5: Ferrari WC GP wins
Widely tipped to win the world title in 2010, when Ferrari recruited him to replace the somnolent Kimi Räikkönen, but the main prize awaits still.
That year began brightly, with victory in Bahrain, although he received a helping hand when a duff spark plug slowed Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. Alonso was in the driving seat ahead of the seasonal finale in Abu Dhabi, however, when Ferrari took a catastrophic strategic punt and condemned its talisman to spend the evening chasing Vitaly Petrov’s Renault. Vettel took advantage and has been champion ever since.
Alonso has been a strong title contender in two of his four seasons with the Scuderia, but also lost out at the last in Brazil 2012. It’s not so much what he has done when Ferrari is on form, however, as what he’s done when it isn’t. By general consensus the team had only the fourth-best chassis in 2013 – and countless development tweaks made precious little difference – but Alonso ended the campaign as Vettel’s closest rival. The team was absolutely nowhere at the start of 2012, but its car worked better in cool conditions and Alonso vaulted from ninth on the grid to win in Malaysia – opportunism of the kind that kept him in contention. And then there have been cameos such as Spain 2011, where team principal Stefano Domenicali felt the car might be good enough for row four… but Alonso put it fourth and led the race for longer than should have been possible (before slipping to fifth).
He might not be Hamilton- or Vettel-quick over a single lap, but he’s only a smidgen adrift and performs at his peak through almost every turn. At a time of technical turmoil, he has continually flattered the equipment at his disposal – and that’s ever a hallmark of class.
2010-present: Years at Ferrari
77: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
11: Ferrari WC GP wins
Possibly the fastest name this side of Lorenzo Bandini – and it would be hard to sound any more Italian, even though he was Swiss.
Regazzoni was almost a polar opposite to Alonso in terms of consistency, but it’s his symbolism that matters. After a topsy-turvy junior career, he joined the Ferrari F1 team in 1970 – while simultaneously en route to the European F2 title – and scored a useful fourth place on his debut in Holland. Better was to follow at Monza, his fifth race, when he scored a home win for the team at the end of an emotional weekend, scarred by the death during practice of championship leader Jochen Rindt. Such was Regazzoni’s form during the campaign’s second half that he finished third in the world championship, behind Rindt and Ferrari team-mate Jacky Ickx.
Race of Champions apart, he recorded no more F1 wins over the next two seasons and was quietly dropped, prior to being recalled again in 1974… when he took but a single victory, at the Nürburgring, but proved sufficiently consistent to remain in the title fight until the Watkins Glen finale, where he lost out to Emerson Fittipaldi.
He remained for two more years – and added as many victories, most notably at Monza in 1975 – before being shown the door, not least because Ferrari had signed Carlos Reutemann for the following season, fearing Niki Lauda might not recover from injuries sustained at the Nürburgring. But Lauda was already back, and racing…
The Austrian originally came to Maranello on Regazzoni’s recommendation, following a season together at BRM in 1973. This worked out quite well...
1970-72, 1974-76: Years at Ferrari
73: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
4: Ferrari WC GP wins
March 2015. Sebastian Vettel wins the Australian GP as he commences another title defence, but championship number six might be tougher to conquer than others. It takes a Ferrari pit fumble to prevent Marc Márquez – signed to replace the McLaren-bound Fernando Alonso – becoming the first driver since Giancarlo Baghetti to win on his F1 world championship debut. Couldn’t happen? There is evidence to suggest otherwise…
John Surtees is forever tagged as the only man to have taken titles on two wheels and four, but it’s easy to overlook the seamless sparkle of his transition. Driving Ken Tyrrell’s Cooper in a Formula Junior race at Goodwood in March 1960, he finished second to Jim Clark at the first car meeting he’d ever attended.
Surtees made his F1 world championship debut later that year and took pole third time out in Portugal, where he led before oil leaked onto his brake pedal and caused him to go off. Natural speed was one asset, but so was the strength of character that led him to reject Colin Chapman’s offer of a full-time job as Jim Clark’s team-mate, following contractual complications.
With hindsight that was an error, but he accepted a Ferrari offer for 1963 (having previously rejected such a deal) and took his first F1 championship win in the best possible way, defeating Clark at the Nordschleife.
Surtees spent only three full seasons with Ferrari and, yes, that 1964 world title owed a little to last-lap complicity from team-mate Lorenzo Bandini, but Germany ’63 was always there to underline his true mettle.
He won at the ’Ring and Monza in 1965 and bounced back from serious injuries (sustained in a Can-Am accident that September) to be fit for the following season. He retired in Monaco, but then triumphed in Belgium… which proved to be a final Ferrari flourish. When team manager Eugenio Dragoni informed Surtees that he wouldn’t form part of the Le Mans line-up – information imparted at the track! – the Englishman tendered his resignation. That strength of character thing, once more…
Surtees isn’t merely one of Ferrari’s most distinguished drivers: he’s one of the world’s most significant sportsmen.
1963-66: Years at Ferrari
30: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
4: Ferrari WC GP wins
The numbers are impressive – five world titles to add to the two acquired with Benetton, 72 Grand Prix wins to complement the previous 19 and a string of distinguished cameos – but it took time for the steamroller to hit its stride.
His first Ferrari, the F310, was mediocre on a good day, but he conjured three wins nonetheless. And then he played a pivotal role in securing the services of former Benetton allies Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn. He would be a title contender the following season – when he soured the Jerez decider by driving at rather than against Jacques Villeneuve, leading to a meaningless exclusion from the final points table (although all results stood). He was defeated by Mika Häkkinen in 1998 and a broken leg during the summer of ’99 – but persistence paid in 2000 and the world championship remained his for the next five seasons. It helped that he had Brawn and Byrne on-side, that Jean Todt was there to issue “slow down” messages in the event of an impudent number two (usually Rubens Barrichello) driving more quickly than he should, and that from 2001-04 Bridgestone tailored its tyres to suit the Ferrari, its best hope of repelling teams running the philosophically different Michelins. The stars might have been correctly aligned, but for the most part he exploited such advantages brilliantly.
There was, though, too much questionable stuff – brutal defence that equated to a two-footed lunge with studs showing, or else the incident during qualifying for Monaco 2006, where he stopped on the racing line at Rascasse to scupper rivals’ attempts to beat his lap time. There were howls of protest from Maranello when stewards moved him from the front of the grid to the back, but it was a slow right-hander he’d taken more than a thousand times: odd, then, that this time he should twice steer left in mid-corner.
His self-belief was never less than impressive, but in a sport that thrives on romance he was simply too cynical.
1996-2006: Years at Ferrari
179: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
72: Ferrari WC GP wins
Alberto Ascari – son of the similarly alliterative Antonio – raced the first Ferrari ever built, the 815, in the 1940 Mille Miglia, but World War II (and a dalliance with Maserati) delayed the bond’s full forging.
Ascari resumed racing in 1947 and, in tandem with team-mate Luigi Villoresi, switched from Maserati to Ferrari during 1949. Ferrari skipped the opening race of the following year’s freshly instigated world championship, but Ascari took second on the team’s maiden appearance in Monaco. The Indy 500 apart, Alfa Romeo won every world championship race prior to Silverstone 1951, where González triumphed for Ferrari, and Ascari followed up by winning in both Germany and Italy.
Alfa Romeo pulled out for 1952, when the world championship switched to F2 regulations, and Ascari might have had the distinction of winning every Grand Prix had he not skipped Switzerland to prepare for the Indy 500, as you do. Back in Europe, he won the remaining six races (plus a clutch of non-scoring GPs) to begin a streak of nine straight championship wins, a record that endured until the season just past.
Victory in the 1953 Swiss GP would be his 13th and last, in championship terms. The following season’s transfer to Lancia was hampered by the absence of a race-ready car (he subbed once in a Ferrari) and he retired from the opening two Grands Prix of 1955, famously plunging into the Monaco harbour during the second of them. He was ostensibly uninjured, but then crashed fatally just a few days later while testing one of first love Ferrari’s sports cars at Monza.
It remains a curious statistic that Italian drivers won three of the first four FIA world championships… yet none has done so since Ascari.
1950-53 plus one-off in 1954: Years at Ferrari
26: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
13: Ferrari WC GP wins
It was March 31 1972 when first I saw him race, Lauda dominating a sodden second round of the John Player British F2 Championship at Oulton Park. He finished almost 50sec clear of Gerry Birrell’s similar March and 11-year-old me was hugely impressed. Little did I realise that future colleagues were rather less enthused by the Austrian’s simultaneous F1 performances in the dreadful March 721s, G and X.
The following season with BRM proved a little more encouraging – and in Canada, beneath a deluge, there he was again, running at the front. I experienced that only via the twin miracles of Motor Sport and Motoring News, but it was nice to know Oulton hadn’t necessarily been a mirage.
Clay Regazzoni was impressed with his young team-mate, sufficiently so to put in a word as he prepared to return to a Ferrari team plotting its escape from the doldrums.
At the wheel of Mauro Forghieri’s 312 B3, Lauda finished second first time out in Argentina and won three races later at Jarama – such were the fruits of a relentless test and development programme that he undertook with rare zeal. He led the standings after Brands Hatch (where he was classified fifth, despite being blocked in the pits by hangers-on after a late-race stop to changed a punctured tyre), but failed to add to his points tally thereafter.
He conjured a more complete season in ’75, particularly once the new 312T came on stream, and took the title on the back of nine pole positions and five victories. He became the first Ferrari driver to win the championship since John Surtees in 1964. The 1976 campaign has been much revisited in the wake of Rush’s release, but the real script was much better than anything that appeared in the movie. But for that fiery accident at the Nürburgring, the title would almost certainly have been his. As it was, he might still have been crowned had he not considered conditions in Japan too dangerous, recent events having given him a fresh perspective on life’s value.
He wasn’t happy that Ferrari signed Carlos Reutemann – a deal completed during the Austrian’s convalescence – because it opened the exit door for friend Regazzoni… and also implied that Ferrari hadn’t fully believed in Lauda’s powers of recovery.
If anybody thought Lauda had lost his edge, 1977 provided the answer: three wins and dazzling consistency brought him title number two, after which he offered the team a time-honoured salute and walked away with two races to go. Job done.
Unwittingly he’d done the team another favour, because Gilles Villeneuve was kicking his heels…
1974-77: Years at Ferrari
57: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
15: Ferrari WC GP wins
The pros and cons have been debated ad infinitum, so let’s deal with the negatives first.
And now, on with the good stuff.
Actually, period rival John Watson makes the valid point that, having demolished 1981 team-mate Didier Pironi in the difficult 126CK, Villeneuve should have continued in the same vein at the dawn of 1982, in the superior 126C2, although the gap between them came down. We’ll never know, of course, how things might have unravelled without fate’s interception, for Villeneuve – seething at what he perceived as Pironi’s duplicity during the San Marino GP – perished two weeks later in Belgium, while trying to beat the Frenchman’s qualifying time.
But that’s the essence of Villeneuve. He wasn’t configured to win championships, but rather just to drag the maximum possible lap time from any car, on any day, and rely on preternatural reflexes to counter the consequences. And that commitment was every bit as absolute during non-championship races – doubters should check footage of his battle with Mario Andretti in the 1979 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.
He has often been described as wild, but that’s a gross simplification. He was incredibly raw when McLaren handed him his F1 debut at Silverstone in 1977 – and, despite a hugely impressive performance, which would have yielded a solid points finish but for a stop triggered by a faulty gauge, he was still awaiting a second opportunity when Ferrari came calling.
Mistakes were inevitable during the early part of his F1 career, given the gulf that separated a full-time Grand Prix ride from his former comfort zone in North American Formula Atlantic, but unforced errors were pretty much exorcised by the summer of 1978. He was rarely more than a couple of corners from some unexpected drama, but the triggers were usually beyond his control.
Was it simply exuberance that pushed his equipment to the point of failure?
It was wonderful to behold, but the facts suggest a driver of rare delicacy and feel – one who invariably made tyres last longer than his team-mates were able to manage.
There were times when Michelin considered his compound preferences optimistic, but its engineers came to trust his judgment – and with good cause.
And then there was his perfect defensive technique in Spain 1981… or that qualifying lap in Monaco soon afterwards, when he qualified what was effectively a Routemaster bus on the front row – almost 2.5sec quicker than team-mate Pironi – before taking an unlikely victory after Alan Jones’s Williams developed fuel starvation. But he’d thought about that race, too, driving to a pace rather than trying to stick with a faster car.
Had he been a gibbon, neither of those results would have been possible.
And as well as the speed there was honour – adhering to his role as Jody Scheckter’s number two in 1979, even on days when he was potentially brisker.
Fast and principled, he was a racer’s racer and a poet on wheels.
1977-82: Years at Ferrari
66: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
6: Ferrari WC GP wins