x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Enzo an enigma 21 years later

Such was the mystique surrounding his name that when Enzo Ferrari died at the age of 90 on August 14, 1988, his family went to extreme lengths to ensure his funeral would be as dignified as possible.

Such was the mystique surrounding his name that when Enzo Ferrari died at the age of 90 on August 14, 1988, his family went to extreme lengths to ensure his funeral would be as dignified as possible. Knowing the news would spark an outpouring of grief across Italy, the old man was buried within an hour of his passing after a private ceremony. Even the public announcement of his death was delayed for 48 hours.

Within every Italian man, woman and child, burns a fierce sense of pride in the cars that bear the Ferrari name, even if they knew little about the private founder of Formula One's most glamorous team. Everything about Ferrari - from the iconic black, prancing horse to the lavish lunches laid on in their luxurious motor-homes in the paddock - suggests style! For Ferrari was the king of style. Born in Modena, Ferrari's boyhood dream was to be a racing driver, an ambition that had to be put on hold during World War I when he served as a mule-shoer in the Italian army. Discharged on medical grounds, he applied for a job with Fiat but was turned down and joined CMN, converting old army trucks into small family cars before joining Alfa Romeo in 1920.

But Ferrari could never compete with the likes of Antonio Ascari (father of Alberto) and Tazio Nuvalari for the simple reason, so it is said, that he refused to push his cars to the limit because of the affection he felt for them. It was not until 1947 that Ferrari launched his own team, winning the F1 world drivers' championship five years later with Alberto Ascari, Nino Farino and Piero Taruffi completing a 1-2-3 in the final standings.

Having moved his car factory to Maranello, Ferrari also produced luxury sports cars to finance his motor racing endeavours and won six Le Mans' 24 hours races in succession from 1960-65. But it was in F1 that Ferrari captured the public's imagination, winning further world titles through Ascari (1953), Juan-Manuel Fangio (1956), Mike Hawthorn (1958), Phil Hill (1961) and John Surtees (1964). More interested in collecting constructors' championships than drivers' titles, Ferrari's relationship with his aces was frequently a troubled one; although he could look upon his favourites as adopted sons, he viewed Fangio as a mercenary who showed no loyalty by switching from one team to another. For his part, the Argentine, who spent only one season at Ferrari, claimed the team had done everything in their power to try to sabotage his championship efforts.

Curiously for a man who was enthralled by motor racing, Ferrari never attended any Grands Prix. He would show up for Friday practice at the Italian GP but that brief, annual appearance apart, he was conspicuous by his absence in the pits. The reasons behind this eccentricity have never been fully explained; some believe that he so loved his red flying machines he could not bear to see them return in pieces after a smash.

Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that in distancing himself from the action on the track, Ferrari could deflect the blame on to others when something went wrong. Knowing he preferred tales of driver error to any suggestion that the car might have developed a fault, the team engineers became past masters at heaping any criticism on the man behind the wheel. But Ferrari had a softer side. When his son Dino (in whose memory he named several models of racing and road cars) died of muscular dystrophy at the age of 24 in 1956, he adopted the dark sunglasses he would wear in public for the rest of his life. "The only true love can be a father's love for his son," he would lament.

@Email:rphilip@thenational.ae