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Enzo's speaking legacy

18 febbraio 2019

Chris Rees

On 18 February 2019, Enzo Ferrari would have turned 121 years old. We celebrate his enduring legacy with an examination of his unique style of communication

Enzo Ferrari, who was born on 18 February 1898, may no longer be around to express himself today, but we can still understand him a little through the voluminous legacy of notes, letters and stories that he left behind. For 40 years, Ferrari’s race results were rigorously recorded. Bound into yearly volumes, they make fascinating memoirs of Ferrari’s racing activities. Enzo’s son Piero also kept journals of every appointment and important phone call his father had, with notes and comments written in his own hand.

The race reports in particular allow us to understand how an Italian constructor, isolated from the concentration of constructors and teams based in England, was always right at the top. Ferrari listened, absorbed the accurate race reports that were delivered to him, and then made decisions. They reveal something crucial about Enzo Ferrari: he wanted to be in charge of the technical side of things too.

For instance, Enzo had no hesitation in moving from V12 engines to four-cylinder ones – which brought him two world titles – and then up to V6 power. And when he decided that the moment had come for turbocharged engines in Formula One, he spelt out exactly what the technical requirements would be.

The real Enzo Ferrari was the commander, the rapid decision-maker; no discussion was admitted. When in 1977 Niki Lauda announced he would be leaving after winning two world titles, Ferrari reacted badly. With three races still left in the championship, Lauda slept at his usual Maranello hotel, leaving his company Fiat 131 in the car park. In the morning, seeing that the car had gone, he phoned Ferrari to say it had been stolen. He got the following reply: ‘No, it has not been stolen. Ferrari has taken back the car.’

Even for his beloved Gilles Villeneuve, things were not easy. Piero remembers his father’s anger at how the Canadian used and abused cars. And not just the race cars. ‘When Gilles arrived he never manoeuvred cars like everybody else, to park,’ he recalls. ‘He did a 180-degree skid turn leaving the car in the right place. This drove my father mad.’

Part of the very special method Ferrari used to manage races were the famous phone calls made to him from the track. They were difficult calls, even when things were going well. When Franco Gozzi announced that Ferrari had taken the first three positions in the World Championship race at the Nürburgring, he was merely asked, ‘And the fourth car?’ The fourth, as perhaps Ferrari already knew, had been wrecked.

Ferrari closely monitored his drivers. In 1979, he personally rebuked Jody Scheckter for criticising Ferrari for being ‘disorganised and muddled’ to the press. The driver said he’d ‘spoken in the heat of the moment at the finish’, whereupon Ferrari produced evidence from a magazine interview that this was very much not the case.

Races for Enzo were all about the machine. To keep his team concentrating on what they should not do, Ferrari invented ‘the house of errors’ – a play on the phrase ‘house of horrors’. This was a cabinet containing parts that had been broken, causing a retirement. When an engineer or technician proposed a solution that had already given rise to problems, Ferrari took him to his personal ‘errors’ cabinet to show him the offending item.

Enzo’s was a language that didn’t require many words. A language from a time when there were no radios or mobile phones, when everybody played their part and paid for their own mistakes if they made them. Above all, it was a language that contributed to the legend of Ferrari, a legend that continues to become greater with each passing year.