Maranello at Mugello

Mix historic Ferraris, racing Ferraris, Grand Prix Ferraris, world champions and a beautiful track for a perfect celebration
By Rob Widdows

Once a year a swooping, sweeping circuit in a Tuscan valley suddenly goes red. The cars are red, the flags are red, the jackets and hats are red. This is Ferrari world, Mugello on the weekend of its 60th birthday party and the Finali Mondiali – the finals of the Challenge races that have been going on throughout Europe all year long.

But this year is special; the Grand Prix team has come home from Brazil with world championships for both constructors and drivers. The less said about the former the better, but the tifosi didn’t care – they’d come to see Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa do their stuff one last time before the cars are put away.

A banner in the crowd said it all, KIMIRACOLO held high in the air. The man himself, resolutely unmoved and facing one last press conference, did not use the word miracle. He looked no more, or less, bored than usual on these occasions.

“Has it sunk in? That I am champion? Yes, and no, really,” mumbled the man who likes to conduct his life strictly on his own terms. “For sure I have a really good feeling and I enjoyed it a lot. But I think so it takes more than a week to really start feeling it. We had little bit of difficulties to get the car right, as I wanted it, but next year should be easier. Not just for me, but for the team as well.” There’s a long pause, then questions are invited with a curt ‘Domande?’ from Jean Todt.

“It’s been a difficult year for Ferrari,” said Todt, “but every year is difficult. I did not expect a betrayal from one of ours who wanted to help another team and even less would I have expected that the team would accept his help. We cried and they cried worse. What is important for us is the results on the track and nobody can take those away from us. We know that the best drivers cannot do anything without a good car, and a good team cannot do anything without talented drivers. So it is the group, the teamwork: and the mentality at Ferrari is never to give up, to believe for as long as you can believe. Before the start of the last race I would not have placed a bet that we would be here today celebrating these championships for us and for Kimi.”

Nobody is smiling. Kimi is looking out of the window. He must have a double, this Finn. In our hotel the previous night he was all smiles, larking about with his mates. Perhaps this fabulously well-paid racing driver has simply decided the media is something he must suffer, the downside of his fame and fortune. Kimi does prove, however, that it is possible to be simultaneously monosyllabic and charismatic.

Out on the circuit the sky is blue, the sun is shining and everybody else is smiling, especially the Challenge Dealer Team from Britain. In their specially race-prepared F430s Mike Cantillon, Jamie Constable and Nathan Kinch have all visited the podium. Cantillon was the most successful, winning one race in the Coppa Shell series and runner-up in the other, while Constable snatched third on the last corner of the last lap of the last race. Kinch came home third in the Trofeo Pirelli category, giving the team four podium places during the weekend.

Sudden activity in the pit lane revealed a jet- black Ferrari FXX, a white Michael Schumacher autograph sign-written into the door sill heralding the arrival of the great man. The tifosi favourite was in Tuscany to demonstrate the car that is effectively a test bed for all future high- performance cars from Maranello. The V12-engined machine looked like a stealth fighter as it gobbled up Mugello in the hands of the maestro.

Visibly quicker than anyone else in the place, though not bothering with a helmet, Schumacher slid the FXX out of the corners and punched it down the straights in a glorious wail of sound. Braking for the hairpin the man had time to wave to the fans before flicking the black rocket into the apex and blasting up the hill for another howl round the valley. They loved it.

The Finali Mondiali is not all about new cars or new technology; Scuderia Ferrari is celebrating its history as well as its current success. In a large white tent was a collection of cars that made you gasp, an example of almost every sports or GT car that Enzo built, and all here to race. Only the race for Grand Prix cars was poorly supported; in it Tony Smith won with ease in his beautiful ex-Phil Hill Ferrari 246 even though he was a little rusty after spending time away looking after the Genesis tour of North America.

“Yes, it’s a real shame there aren’t more single-seaters here,” he said, clutching his trophies. “It was too easy, really, without the Maserati 250Fs. We need to get more support for this event, the cars are out there, and the grids are full for the other historic races. I even slowed down to try and make a race of it but I was losing concentration and got back up to speed for fear of stuffing it. It’s a great race track, quite technical in places, but flowing in others, and it’s quick. Driving a Ferrari, especially one with this history, and in the sunshine at Mugello, is always a joy. I just love doing it.” And it shows.

Another man to make the trip from England was the ever-energetic Tony Dron, out in the Ferrari 330LMB prepared by Tim Samways. “Well, what can you say that’s not been said a million times before? It’s a huge privilege,” smiles Dron, a little breathless after battling from 12th to sixth place in his race. “And it’s an emotional thing to race this car; it’s very fast in a straight line, hard work in the corners, and there’s this fantastic noise from the 4-litre V12 in front of me. It was the last of the great front-engined Le Mans cars but it was instantly out of date when the mid-engined cars started to win in 1963. Still, it’s a wonderful beast to drive.”

It’s hard to know where to look next, there’s so much going on at this extravaganza of a party to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the red cars with the cavallino rampante badges.

On then to the grand finale, the climax of this extraordinary happening. Out come the Grand Prix cars, all four of them, to be shown off by Räikkönen, Massa and the test drivers Marc Gené and Luca Badoer. This is the scuderia’s last game of the year and they’re about to play every card in the pack. At one point they are three abreast with a rear-gunner. It’s a wall of noise, a red blur. Then they are line astern, Felipe out-braking Kimi into the hairpin, the young Brazilian looking like he wants to lead a race that resembles that absurd Grand Prix at Indy in 2005. As team press officer Luca Cogliani joked before the cars came out: “We will finish 1-2-3-4 today, whatever happens.”

After some ‘showtime’ pit stops, the cars fall in line for a final blast round in the evening sunshine before indulging in some synchronised doughnuts on the pit straight. The tifosi went wild as four red Grand Prix cars disappeared in a huge cloud of burning Bridgestones. Remarkably, they all came out facing the right way, stopping on the grid in formation.

As the four red men emerged from their cockpits the crowd surged to the side of the track, chanting, waving their flags, firing red flares and hollering “Kimi! Kimi!” or “Felipe! Felipe!” Kimi appeared underwhelmed while Felipe grinned from ear to ear. Then Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo joined the party to chants of “Luca! Luca!” whereupon the entire ensemble began a slow walk down the track, a mutual admiration society on the move. Time for the team to acknowledge the fans, and even Kimi was smiling now. An end-of-term photograph closed the proceedings, mechanics grouped around the cars like a vast red football team. Like them or not, you have to admire the passion and – whisper it – you can’t help joining in the party.

As the sun set over the Tuscan hills somebody with a sense of humour played one last rendition of the national anthem and a V12 fired up, both pieces of music echoing round the valley in the dusk. They know how to celebrate a world championship. And there’s plenty more Kimi versus Lewis to come. Roll on March 2008.

To mugello by F430
An exciting three-day run to Italy kindles a deep-rooted desire

The F430 is a wild and wonderful car, the end-of-season event at Mugello a sensational and exhilarating happening. Especially at the close of such a thrilling and controversial year for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro.

I collected my car, in Tour de France blue, from Ferrari GB in Slough and drove it cautiously towards the car park that is the M25 in evening rush hour. The F430 coupé felt like a tiger in a cage as far as the Channel crossing but, once unleashed onto the open roads of France, it really came alive.

From Calais down to Troyes we stayed with the autoroute, loving the interchanges which offer another chance to launch the F430 down the slip road, snapping up through those instant gearchanges, revelling in the seemingly limitless power. If only we could have used all the revs. If only, just for a day, there had been an amnesty with those cameras.

Troyes is a lovely town but we saw little of its medieval architecture, the urge to get to know this gorgeous car just too strong. Beyond Lyon, we’d had enough of motorways and headed for the rollercoaster mountain roads down to Monaco, the switch on the steering wheel firmly in sport mode.

The Ferrari is now stiffer, absolutely alive, the corners simply rushing towards us and still there wasn’t room to use all the power. Heavy rain, mist and the proximity of rock faces combined to slow us down as we descended towards the Principality.

Next morning, refreshed by a night in the absurd luxury of the Hotel Hermitage, we crossed the border into Italy, the F430 barking and howling through the tunnels, glued to the tarmac through the long, sweeping curves between the dashes through the darkness.

All too soon it was done, just the last few kilometres to Mugello. Not for a very long time has a motor car made such an impression upon me. Consult your financial adviser, move to a smaller house, think of a way, preferably legal, to raise the money. This car is a simply stunning piece of kit, the result of Maranello moving some of its Formula 1 technology onto the road. Grazie mille, Ferrari.