The legend, passion and allure of Scuderia Ferrari

F1

The oldest, most iconic team on the Formula 1 grid celebrates its 1000th F1 grand prix this weekend. Andrew Frankel looks at just what makes the team so special

Scuderia Ferrari flag, Monza 2012

Formula 1's oldest team is by far its most popular

Vladimir Rys Photography via Getty Images

In my early career before inconveniences like children, I often toyed with the idea of becoming a Formula 1 journalist. And as a recently departed editor of this title, I could probably have engineered a way of doing it. At least for while until whichever hapless mug had agreed to publish my reports realised I was the worst F1 journo in the history of the sport. Because I’d spend my entire time explaining why Ferrari was robbed of every race it didn’t win.

Back then, over 20 years ago now, I was a hopeless Ferrari fanboy and today, on the eve of what some say is its 1000th Grand Prix entry (though that somewhat depends on how, who and what you count as an entry), I am scarcely less so. I’ve been so critical of a system that until Silverstone seemed likely to help Mercedes in its ambition to win every single race in a season (which has not been done since Alfa Romeo in the inaugural 1950 season, and then even if you exclude the Indy 500 which was then technically part of the championship), but were it Ferrari instead? I fear you’d not have heard a peep out of me.

It’s strange but I feel an entirely irrational connection to the Scuderia and before you ask, it thankfully has no influence whatever over on the road car side of the business, whose products I hope and believe I’ve always been able to assess with the same objectivity as those from anyone else. In my mind’s eye, I see them as entirely distinct and separate organisations.

So why the blind loyalty? I think a lot of it is historical: Ferrari is the only team to have been in F1 for every one of its 71 seasons. The first motor race my father ever saw was the 1951 British Grand Prix and he used to regale us with stories of José Froilán González‘s brutish 375 appearing through Woodcote at ever more improbable angles, V12 howling, in his ultimately successful quest to beat not only Juan Manuel Fangio, but the hitherto indomitable might of Alfa Romeo.

But Ferrari was human too and team the embodiment of the man whose name it bore. Of course McLaren and Tyrrell and others were people too, as is Williams to this day, but they were all far less intriguing to me than Enzo. Like the man his team was driven, dedicated, complicated and ruthless. He set driver against driver, to the extent that Carroll Shelby blamed him for the death of Luigi Musso at Reims in 1958, yet although I am not an authority, I cannot think of a single driver who died in a Ferrari as a result of the failure of a Ferrari-manufactured component. Unlike others, no-one ever accused Ferrari of risking drivers’ lives by building overly flimsy racing cars, at least so far as I am aware.

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Oddly enough, I think the fact they were red helped too. When I think Grand Prix cars from various era, the first ones to pop into my head are always red, be they Ferraris, Maseratis of Gold Leaf Lotuses.

There was the sound too, especially in my formative years: the first Grand Prix I ever attended was also a British Grand Prix, the 1978 event held at Brands Hatch, which was always going to be won by Mario Andretti or Ronnie Peterson in a Lotus 79 until both parked up with dead powertrains. And then came Carlos Reutemann in his scarlet 312T3. We were in the grandstand at Clearways so saw Lole’s brilliant, instinctive and opportunist dive past Niki Lauda’s Brabham on lap 60 and then watched him hold off the World Champion to the line 16 laps later. And I’ll never forget the noise of his flat 12, shrieking past 12,000rpm in every gear, while all the DFV boys were done by not much more than 10,500. Incidentally, with John Watson coming third, every place on the podium was flat 12 powered, which I believe was the first time in history that had happened, with Monza later that year the second and most recent.

So yes, I love Ferrari at least so far as its participation in Formula 1 is concerned. But is it actually bigger than the sport itself? If Ferrari ever went through with one of its now traditional threats to withdraw from the sport, could F1 actually survive without the red cars?

Of course it could. It would be a loss for sure but an insurmountable one? Surely not. No team sport of which I know has died as a result of the withdrawal of one of its members and I am sure F1 would simply regroup and carry on regardless. Goodness knows there are many reasons I might stop watching Formula 1, but Ferrari not being on the grid would not be among them; and I am the biggest Ferrari F1 fan I know.

But I am glad Ferrari signed the Concord Agreement and will stay in for at least the next five years. Because racing has always been at the heart of Ferrari. Enzo didn’t go racing to sell road cars like Mercedes-Benz, he sold road cars to go racing and to me the distinction is critical. Ferrari is the original Formula 1 team and in ways that matter to me far more than results, it is also the best. Long may it stay that way.