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The Factory of World Champions

Enzo Ferrari has given his very name and character to racing cars: before constructing them, he raced them. He has amassed victories worldwide and on all types of roads

 

He is one of the best-known Italians worldwide. Indeed, he is Ferrari. “Ferrari told me; listen to Ferrari; I think Ferrari will reply…” Due to his enormous popularity, this confidential mode of address is widespread, but is never used with him directly. When addressing him, he is referred to as “Commendatore” [an Italian civilian award granted in recognition of merit]. Few people would say to him: “Listen here, Ferrari”. With the feminine singular definite article “la”, Ferrari is the victorious racing car or even the factory which is one of a kind in the world. Using the feminine plural definite article “le” Ferrari is synonymous with the revolution of motor car racing; it denotes a progression of successes that few can list, both for the sheer number of these victories and for their ubiquity. This success may stem from his impatient and unceasing anxiety for renewal and perfection, which shows no sign of flagging: the Ferraris are as they are, because Enzo Ferrari is also like that.

He has a complicated personality, quite difficult to understand. […] He has been attributed a subtle shrewdness, his mental reservation verging on the diabolic, a sort of modern-day Machiavelli. He whole-heartedly refutes these assertions: “I don’t go to the cinema, nor to the theatre, I don’t go to cafés nor take summer vacations or holidays. But one thing I will not renounce is my costly and dangerous luxury: to say what I think, whenever, even if may appear hostile or blunt”. […]

Although still relatively young – just 56 years old –  he has greying hair. He was born in Modena in 1898, his parents from Carpi and Forlì. Is it any wonder – he retorts – that I am a little rebellious? His studies ended at the unsurpassable hurdle of the third year of technical college. One failure, and then another: the rules of those years gave him no alternative: a jackass at school will never be lucky in life, one teacher told him. And so… in 1918 he started working in a garage in Via Ormea in Turin; he then moved to Milan in 1918 where he was able to sit behind the steering wheel for the first time and compete in the Parma-Poggio di Berceto and Targa Florio competitions. The following year he entered Alfa as a driver and continued in this role for 20 years. In the Portello workshop he grew physically robust and his personality started to take on the semblances of a formidable and unshakable fighter. The last phase of this fundamental period was harsh, difficult and decisive. “You pay me well, but I haven’t sold my soul. I still want to think for myself and so, I quit”. And off he went after twenty years. Only much later would he earn his definitive place in the world, struggling against all adversities and using his genius, force of character, and experience, that questionable privilege of age for whomever has a good memory.

This man undoubtedly has some type of inner engine that is always pushing forward and never stops. And what is it? Egoism and creative anxiety. “I’m an egoist”, says Ferrari, “and I have no qualms whatsoever about this”. A lot has been written and said about me, but everything that I have done can be attributed to the fulfilment of my egoism. I have repeatedly questioned myself, to be certain that this characteristic of mine would not be harmful for the people close to me. When I realised that my activities brought well-being to those who share my same worries, fatigue and risks, I considered my egoism well justified. And then if I think of the sheer joy that the victories of my cars have brought to many Italians throughout the world, people who by necessity have been obliged to find a second homeland, then not only do I feel justified, but I also feel compensated for the wear and tear caused by the difficulties, the bitter moments, and the adversities that I have had to overcome”.

[…] At first he acted for his own pleasure, perhaps to satisfy his creative anxiety. Then he wanted to confer some well-being and tranquillity on his collaborators. And then finally he warmed the hearts of Italians dispersed throughout the world. […]

Before anything, Ferrari was a race car driver. In the early days racing for him was sheer joy and fun. When it transformed into a cause for worry, he abandoned it and sought to vent his passions in building racing cars. “I am a craftsman searching for an ideal: to be able to work the whole year serenely and without worries to build 15 or so racing cars that go on to win almost all competition trials”. Since he cannot do this, he accepts clients out of sheer necessity; there is an entire town that lives from Ferrari and for Ferrari. Two hundred and seventy-seven workers means two hundred and seventy-seven families, which implies a certain social responsibility which can make anyone lose sleep, much moreso than a defeat or an engine that is not up to scratch.

When Ferrari talks about racing cars, his voice takes on a certain soft inflection. “In large families”, he says, “are there not some good and hard-working children and others that may be degenerate and abandon the straight and narrow? It’s just the same for engines. Four or five engines are built at the same time using identical materials and meticulously following the same blueprints; we apply the same techniques, repeated precisely without the least variation. One engine might generate a great quantity of horsepower, and sound with a clear, certain, tenor-like timbre. Another engine might sound mute; it can be re-tuned and revised in a thousand ways, but it will never perform as well as the other. And why is this? Do they have a soul? Well I suppose so, given that they have a voice…”.

Ferrari also justifies his well-known aversion to being present at competitions. When his highly sensitive hearing perceives the first symptom of engine fatigue, when he senses that there is something wrong with the car, something that can undermine or jeopardise the organism, he is afflicted with such suffering that he prefers to avoid it. So, he stays far away in his little house in Modena, sitting silently in his study beside a phone which rings every so often to keep him updated on the race.

Moving on from Ferrari cars, let’s now talk about the man that drives them. It costs more to construct a Grand Prix driver than to build a racing car. “A driver”, affirms Ferrari, “is created through sheer practice and discrete skills; sometimes an aspiring driver may have some special intuition or a particular predisposition and reasoned courage.

At a certain point everyone will have to take some type of risk, although these can be kept within strictly necessary limits. To establish what these risks are, one has to go off the road many times and burn out many cars. Let’s translate this into money; this operation takes millions, many millions [millions of lira].

In Italy today we have perhaps ten young drivers that can aspire to the title of world champion, but to achieve this, they need material resources. Those that have material resources, have no time to race; those that have time don’t have resources.
On this point, the Automobile Club Argentino has taught us much: first, they bought their cars in Italy, and then these were given to their drivers.

Today we Europeans are competing with the Argentine drivers, and we are giving them our resources. There is a project in Modena to build a race track similar to Indianapolis, so that we can start to exchange drivers and cars between Italy and the United States. But in Italy who is going to take on the job of building the cars and the drivers?”

We could say that Enzo Ferrari is one of the few men who has managed to pursue his life dream. Since he was a young boy, racing cars was his passion. First of all he drove them, and later he started to build them. His cars have won in every country, on every type of road, and on every type of track. Only Indianapolis is missing from the list, but for how long?

Over the years Ferrari has been attributed the image of an irksome man, and prone to ire; somewhat irritable and impatient. This became public knowledge, perhaps because no deeper analysis has ever been made into his vivacious temperament, which is averse to any form of cover-up.

Ferrari angers easily, but when facing great problems, when fighting his great battles, we find him calm and cool-headed, ready to take on the most tiresome problems with ease. Two states of mind – he affirms – are unknown to me; envy and resentment. And after a moment and with a half smile, he also throws in quick and rather wayward comment: “Since I learned of the fate of a certain Pisciotta, I don’t drink coffee any more…” [Gaspare Pisciotta was a Sicilian bandit killed while in prison by drinking a cup of poisoned coffee].

Self-taught in technical matters, Ferrari also threw himself into humanistic study, a field that he breathes, cultivates and still studies today. Those who have attended his meetings in Modena or Brescia have enjoyed his speeches, which are measured and moving, but when necessary, also caustic.

Ferrari as a writer has a very personal style with a vast epistolary for inspiration. “I reply to everyone”, he clarifies, “I don’t mind at all. I believe that any letter, no matter from whom, should never be left unanswered. I would like, however, to be able to write certain letters with that cutting style of Malaparte. Oh, how I would like to clarify certain situations better…”.

This is what he says in hindsight after realising he has been the victim of some wrong which provoked his immediate reaction. But looking through his abundant correspondence, one letter dated 3 May 1954 and addressed to Corso Sempione 60, Milan stands out: “Dear Alberto, among the many congratulations for your admirable and intelligent victory in the coveted xxi Mille Miglia, I too wish to congratulate you.

Although life circumstances have separated us, please be certain of our lasting friendship, the roots of which transcend any incidental considerations. The fact that you won with an Italian racing car compensates for my intuitive sadness. With my best regards to you and your family, Enzo Ferrari”.

In August 1952 following his first world championship victory, he wrote this other letter: “Dear Friends of Alfa, I hope you will allow me to start this letter, which I write you after many years, in this way. Your telegram today brought me great comfort, and under a grey sky, I read with unsettling clarity the entire book of our memories. 20 years I lived with you all: how many facts, events, people have come and gone. Today I remember everything and everyone. Be sure that I still hold a certain adolescent tenderness, a sort of first love for our Alfa, an immaculate affection that one has for Mamma! Yours sincerely, Enzo Ferrari”.

This is the true person. Known throughout the world, a friend of kings and princes, of captains of industry and men of letters. Yes, he has his defects, but these are counterbalanced by a series of successes that no one can equal in the contemporary history of our sport and of motor car racing. […]

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