A love affair with the bloody red cars

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AS THE ALBERT PARK Grand Prix draws near PETER COSTER explains the passion behind the prancing red horse:

FERRARI’S mystique will draw Formula One’s most passionate fans to the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park next month and while other fans might follow the driver, whether it be Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes, or Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, for Ferraristas, it is the red cars that bring them to the track.

Enzo Ferrari was the puppet master who created Scuderia Ferrari for which the most talented drivers were prepared to race for nothing more than a share of the prize money.

Also a cheap dinner at the restaurants in Maranello frequented by Ferrari and his wife. The Old Man’s mistress was seldom to be seen.

Even those who bought his seductive sports cars bowed and scraped to Ferrari, whose Grand Prix machines held jealous competitors as well as fans in thrall.

Tony Vandervell, the millionaire owner of the British Vanwall team, said his lifetime ambition was “to beat those bloody red cars”.

He eventually did, at the British Grand Prix at Aintree in 1957 with a car driven by Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss.

But, mostly, the bloody red cars won and often it was the blood of drivers who died in the Commendatore’s cars that was the price of victory.

At Albert Park on March 25, Sebastian Vettel, who is still to win a world championship with Ferrari, will line up with teammate Kimi Raikkonen for the Prancing Horse.

The cavallino rampante is the symbol of Ferrari dominance and I am indebted to a rigorous reader of the British Spectator for correcting a suggestion from one of its writers that Ferrari “slyly lifted” it from the family of World War fighter ace Francesco Barraca, who had it painted on the side of his SPAD aircraft.

According to the sharp-eyed reader, the Contessa Paolina Baracca, the mother of the pilot, who was shot down and killed, asked Ferrari if he would put the cavallino rampante on the side of his cars.

The Spectator writer had just visited the British Design Museum where the 70th birthday of the Prancing Horse is being celebrated with an exhibition from the Ferrari Museum in Maranello.

Crowds marvelled at the beauty and the form of cars from an era that will never be seen again as cars are plugged into electricity sockets, whereas the V-12 internal combustion engine designed by Gioacchino Colombo was the beating heart of generations of Ferraris.

Sebastian Vettel steers his car in the pits Pic: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel steers his car in the pits Pic: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

There will be old and new examples of this automotive art at Albert Park over the four days of the Australian Grand Prix from March 22 to 25, their owners sitting alongside their cars under what could be a wedding marquee; the less fortunate petrol heads looking on.

The end of the affair has come not from the drying up of the world’s fossil fuels, but from the evolution of the hybrid and electric engines that are already driving cars silently along our roads and race circuits in the form of Formula E.

These silent assassins have no attraction for anyone who has been seduced by the cars produced by an earlier generation of craftsmen such as Sergio Scaglietti, the son of a bricklayer, whose artists in aluminium stretched the skin of the Ferraris over wooden forms.

It was as if each Ferrari that left the workshops was a unique thing, its seductive curves coming from the hands of artists coaxing art from metal. To be enveloped by the car and the sound of its engine was to be transported to a place that had no destination.

I could think only of the joy of actually driving a 250 GT Short-Wheel Base Berlinetta at speed as I once fired up its engine.

This rare car was going on the auction block at Christies and could not be taken out of the garage behind a mansion in Hawthorn, where I could only thrill at the feel of its engine as it pulsed through my body.

There is the answer to why a Ferrari captivates those fortunate enough to become part of what is more than a machine. A Ferrari is alive and must be driven like the Prancing Horse rearing on its metal withers.

It was years later that I drove a 365 GTB4 Ferrari Daytona at speed, 125mph in third gear, two to go and the car pulling like a horse.

Enzo Ferrari was obsessed by his creations and lived for them and the racetrack on which they excelled.

He raced Lancias and Alfa Romeos under his Scuderia Ferrari banner and built his own cars when he became frustrated by Alfa Romeo’s disinclination to do exactly what he told them.

Ferrari was a taskmaster. Carrozzeria Scaglietti made whole the ideas of Pininfarina of Turin, but it was Enzo Ferrari who bent them all to his will.

“I am not a designer,” Ferrari once said, “but an agitator of men.”

He was the great agitator, manipulating his drivers as well as those who built the cars they would race.

So many were to die in his cars that it caused the Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano, to damn him as a devil who destroyed its children.

Ferrari wanted only to race but understood the economics of doing so and built road cars to fund his Formula One machines.

The road cars were even more seductive. As Ingrid Bergman said when her lover, the film director Roberto Rossellini, gave her a Ferrari as an anniversary present: “Forbidden things are always so desirable.”

Eugenio Castellotti said he was only invited to meet Ferrari after buying no fewer than seven of his cars. The Italian hero then died testing a Ferrari at Modena before the 1957 F1 season.

The Ferraris on the grid at Albert Park have the hand of the Commendatore resting on them in spite of the 30 years that have passed since the Old Man’s death.

Its drivers are paid tens of millions of dollars, unlike coming world champions such as John Surtees and Phil Hill who were offered merely a share of the prize money they won.

Whether Daniel Ricciardo ever drives for Ferrari will depend on Red Bull’s performance this season.

It is a distinct possibility if the Australian ace is not signed by Mercedes when his contract runs out at the end of the year. Mercedes will drop Valtteri Bottas if he doesn’t win races, while Ferrari is just as likely to let fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen go if his performances don’t improve.

The Ferraristas love the bloody red cars, but they also like an Italian driving them and Ricciardo’s father was born in Sicily and his mother has Italian parents.

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Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

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