EXCUSES are unacceptable for anyone – even a four-time world champion – who lets down the ghost of old Enzo the agitator, writes PETER COSTER:
A GUARD of honour had formed when Sebastian Vettel drove a Ferrari out of the pits for the last time on Sunday.
After the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, also the last race of the shortened season, the four-time world champion said neither the result nor the race was worthy of mention.
But he had “enjoyed the little gestures” that marked his final race for the Prancing Horse.
It was the mechanics who made up the guard of honour. Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto was back at the factory in Maranello.
He said he had to strike a balance between being at the factory and the racetrack. But who will believe that?
Like everything at Ferrari, it was an echo from the long years when the Scuderia was under the autocratic rule of Enzo Ferrari.
The imperious creator of the world’s most desired works of automobile art would wait at home for the phone to tell him of victory or defeat in races.
A phone call to Binotto on Sunday would have offered only excuses as Vettel finished 14th behind team-mate Charles Leclerc.
The excuses would not have been something Binotto would have wanted to hear and it is something he may not have to hear next season as he, too, faces the sack.
The Ferrari team principal told Vettel he was no longer wanted at the most famous team of all. It was an insult and a humiliation as well as a dismissal. There were no contract negotiations and not a word of warning.
Vettel, who may need the psychologists’s couch as much as an F1 seat, has been signed to drive alongside billionaire team owner Lawrence Stroll’s son, Lance, next year.
Stroll, the father, dropped Sergio Perez to make way for Vettel rather than sacking his son, which proves blood is thicker than water, particularly after the Mexican driver’s victory in the previous week’s Grand Prix in Bahrain.
Incidentally, the billionaire is a collector of classic Ferraris and Racing Point becomes Aston Martin next year.
But back to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, which was a largely uneventful race as described so dismissively by the departing Vettel.
Max Verstappen led from start to finish for Red Bull, starting on pole and only being pipped for fastest lap by Daniel Ricciardo in his last drive for Renault.
Ricciardo is taking the place of Carlos Sainz at McLaren after the Spanish driver signed for Ferrari in the shakeout from Vettel’s departure.
Not only has there been the charge of a younger generation in F1 this year, the departure of Honda as an engine manufacturer also hangs over the sport.
The once-dominant Japanese manufacturer was dumped by McLaren as its engine supplier in favour of Renault, but has put Red Bull back on the front of the grid.
This brought tears of joy from Honda boss Masashi Yamamoto when Verstappen stepped onto the podium in Melbourne behind Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.Embed from Getty Images
Vettel and Leclerc could mage only fourth and fifth. Vettel’s victory in Singapore last year was his first since the previous year’s Belgian Grand Prix, a run of outs lasting 392 days.
Leclerc won in Belgium and Italy but it has all been downhill from there for Ferrari. Vettel managed a podium in the Turkish Grand Prix this year but has been easily outscored by Leclerc.
But what is it about Ferrari that sees the Italian team treat its drivers with disdain when the going gets tough?
For the answer, it is necessary to roll back the years to the days of glory and tragedy under Enzo Ferrari.
The Old Man, as Ferrari was known to the privileged journalists who were invited into his presence and the drivers who brought victory to his cars, often reveled in the blood they spilled.
Ferrari was a race driver himself but his success was as an “agitator of men,” as he described himself.
He knew how to get the best out of people and how to excite those who followed the cars with the Prancing Horse emblem, bestowed upon him by the family of an Italian World War 1 flying ace whose planes carried it into battle.
The world’s greatest drivers and the daring young men who wanted to join their ranks came to his door.
John Surtees, the five-times 500cc world motorbike champion was one of the few to refuse his offer of seat in a Ferrari because he felt he was not ready. But he eventually succumbed for a 50 per cent share of the prize money.
Surtees, who was to become world champion, replaced the American Phil Hill, who had also won a world championship at Ferrari.
But Hill knew his time was up after a third place at Spa where he finished more than two minutes behind Jim Clark’s Lotus.
That night he overheard team chief Dragoni making his usual call to Ferrari at home.
“Commendatore,” the team chief was reported as saying. “Si, si, si, si. Ma il tuo grande campions non ha fatto niente. Ninete.” Your great champion didn’t do a thing.”
“You son of a bitch,” Hill thought but he had no regrets about leaving Ferrari at the end of the 1962 season.Embed from Getty Images
“Enzo Ferrari never understood me, “ he said later. “I wasn’t his type, not gung-ho enough. I wasn’t willing to die for Enzo Ferrari. I wasn’t willing to become one of his sacrifices, he was quoted as saying in the Ferrari biography by Richard Williams.
So came Surtees. He was already idolised in Italy as Il Grande John because of his victories on two wheels for Count Domenico Agusta’s MV Agusta team.
It reminded Ferrari of other two-wheel champions, such as Nuvolari, Varzi and Ascari who had been favourites driving for the Scuderia.
Nuvolari was perhaps the most favoured of all of his drivers.
Another motorcycle champion, Nuvolari was to fall out with Ferrari before the Commendatore raced his own cars under the Prancing Horse symbol.
Ferrari entered cars made by Lancia and Alfa Romeo before building cars manufactured entirely in Maranello.
Only Mercedes of the current cars on the Grand Prix grid can make such a claim.
Why Nuvolari, a driver from the long past?
Perhaps because of his total commitment to winning regardless of his personal safety.
The Flying Mantuan, as he was known from his hometown in Italy, was stricken with lung disease from engine fumes, his mouth agape as he screamed encouragement to the cars he drove with such ferocity, slapping his hand on the side of the cockpit as if he were whipping a horse.
Luigi Chinetti, who sold Ferrari road cars in New York, was quoted by American writer Brock Yates in another Ferrari biography as saying of the Old Man: “I don’t think he liked anyone.”
Enzo Ferrari was as well-known in Italy as the Pope and died in Maranello in 1988 at the age of 90.
He remains a controversial and almost mythical figure in motor racing, revered by the adulating tifosi.
More than 30 years after his death, Formula One needs the blood-red cars back on the front of the grid.