A true son of Modena and a man blessed with a particularly focused temperament, Forghieri was the son of Reclus – one of Scuderia Ferrari’s most capable mechanics – and of Afra Gori. He first walked through the gates of Ferrari in 1957 at the age of 22, to carry out “work experience training” (which would today be called an apprenticeship) as part of his ongoing engineering studies at the University of Bologna.
He returned to the company in a permanent role in 1959, when there was another fiery character at the helm of the racing department: Carlo Chiti. There was no shortage of friction between the pair, but it was friction between Chiti and Enzo Ferrari that led to Forghieri being offered the opportunity of a lifetime. At the end of the triumphant 1961 season the head of the Scuderia and other key figures found themselves at loggerheads with Enzo Ferrari and they left Maranello. The great man, with one of his moments of leftfield intuition, decided there and then to entrust the whole of the racing department to the very same Mauro, then a 27-year-old from Modena who wore glasses as thick as beer bottles.
Enzo Ferrari was therefore the genius inspiration behind the rise of Forghieri, having seen in him the man who had the capability to bring his aspirations to life better than anyone else. And Forghieri rose to the challenge the role demanded: he was a dynamic and charismatic figure who, despite his relative youth, showed independent thinking with original and groundbreaking flashes of inspiration that proved he deserved the huge role Ferrari had given him.
Forghieri is seen here deep in conversation with Enzo Ferrari at a race in the late 1960s
On the job he could be provocative but he was also a reference point for the team, one who knew how to play a team role with both the engineers and the mechanics, with whom he would speak in the local dialect. Thanks to this he came to be seen by everyone as a pillar of the team, a key part of the structure and a permanent link in the framework. Thanks to his charismatic personality everyone felt like an essential part of the group, even in the difficult atmosphere that goes with the highest levels of motor racing. Everyone in the team succeeded in giving the very best of themselves: this could even be seen from outside, not just at the track but also in every area of the factory.
Helped by the climate within the company, which was unique in terms of stimulation and creativity, Forghieri, strengthened by his own genius, competence and curiosity, knew how to push himself even further – towards innovative solutions, which had often never been seen before, which again pushed everyone in the team. This is probably the most noble result of his work, which allowed Ferrari to continue to preside over the highest levels of automotive technology.
This is what the engineer said about the moment he was made the head of the Scuderia: “When I was entrusted with the racing department I confessed to Ferrari that I was afraid. He reassured me and told me that I had his full support, that I should never feel defeated and never be afraid to do something daring.” Indeed this fear of being daring was truly not something Forghieri suffered from: he put his hand to the 250 GTO, redesigning the rear and improving the power output, thus transforming the car from a “killer car” to a “winning weapon” in so many races in the Sixties. He was responsible for putting big wings on Formula 1 cars – in 1968, on the 312 F1 cars driven by Chris Amon and Jacky Ickx, even before another visionary by the name of Colin Chapman reaped the fruits of this innovation for Lotus.
Mauro Forghieri, speaking to Jody Scheckter at the Italian GP, imparting wisdom at the 1000km of Monza, sitting at the hand of Enzo Ferrari at a press conference and looking on at the first testing of the Ferrari 126 C2 at the Fiorano track in 1982
It would take too long to list all the amazing cars he designed, but these numbers rank Forghieri among the all-time great racing car engineers: 54 Formula 1 race wins, eleven world championships and nine endurance titles. He always knew how to be versatile: the engineers who were most in vogue during that period shone for their outstanding talents but, with few exceptions, they were specialists in a single field. Some were experts in single-seaters, some focused on sports cars, others specialised in the set-up, the engine or the aerodynamics. Mauro worked in each of these areas with impressive results, albeit helped by the personnel who surrounded him. But then it was he who knew how to get the best out of them even despite his manner, which could sometimes be brusque. He was a man capable of revising a winning system to make sure it kept winning, which neatly sums up the history of Ferrari.
The relationship with the Old Man were something special to behold: as with all brilliant people, Enzo had a particular fascination with Mauro’s talents. He saw in him the fulfilment of his drive: probably there was a sort of process of osmosis. Forghieri, no less intelligent, allowed himself to be guided by Ferrari while proposing, in a way that was appropriate to each occasion, his own solution. This could be original, extreme or innovative, but he was already safe in the knowledge that with his chosen methods and unique approach Ferrari – albeit not before he had expressed his own doubts and certainly not without having done his own due diligence – would have said yes.
Few designers have managed to create single-seaters and racing cars as iconic as Forghieri, who knew how to bring together beauty, charm, technical expertise and value and impart them into his machines, which was another of the distinctive features of the company’s tradition. You only have to think of the cars driven by Niki Lauda, which dominated the sport from 1975 to 1977, or the first turbo cars which made the tifosi dream in the hands of Gilles Villeneuve – and with French drivers René Arnoux, Patrick Tambay and Didier Pironi secured the first titles with this type of engine.
Forghieri was the man behind the fulfilment of one of the most intense and important chapters in the history of motoring on a global scale. He dedicated to the Maranello company the most productive period of his life, during which he contributed with passion and dedication to consolidating the image and credibility of the Ferrari brand all over the world. He augmented the legend of the Prancing Horse with many of its most memorable victories.
When his time at Ferrari came to an end in 1987, Forghieri remembers announcing his resignation like this: “I’m going away,” he said to Ferrari, who replied: “OK fine, go away then, because it won’t be long before I go away too…”
Now the two men finally have the chance to continue the conversation.
Forghieri discusses racing tactics with legendary Ferrari F1 driver Niki Lauda
Piero Ferrari, Vice-president: “When I joined the company in 1965, I shared an office with Cavalier Giberti, Ferrari’s first employee, while Mauro Forghieri, taken on a few years earlier, was next door. We were therefore separated by ten years of age and a window. In fact we saw each other all day every day. Forghieri was energetic and passionate about everything he did. He was sanguine and I recall that in many of those interminable meetings at the Gestione Sportiva, that started in the evening and went on into the night, I mediated between him and my father. I know my father appreciated his tireless work ethic and he knew that any mistakes only came about through an attempt to do something better and to look ahead. We have lost a part of our history, a man who gave a great deal to Ferrari and to the world of racing in general.”
Mattia Binotto, Scuderia Ferrari Team Principal and Managing Director: “Today is a very sad day for everyone at Scuderia Ferrari. We mourn the passing of Mauro Forghieri, one of the most amazing people to have worked here. He was appointed as team manager at the age of 27 and, with his brilliant insights, he was one of the last all-round engineers in the car world. I met him on various occasions and each time was something special. He was, to the end, a truly charismatic individual. His revolutionary ideas, together with his vibrant nature, his abilities as a great motivator, meant he played a very important role in some of the most significant moments of Ferrari’s history and he did more than most to fuel the Prancing Horse legend. We will all miss him.”
Antonello Coletta, Head of Ferrari Attività Sportive GT: “Mauro Forghieri played a key role in fuelling the history of Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari claimed to be an agitator of men, and I think we can say that Forghieri was an agitator of ideas. He was a brilliant innovator, capable of coming up with technical solutions that eluded most of the engineers of his day. He was a designer who went beyond his defined role, who became a benchmark and a source of inspiration for everyone who worked with him. He was an eclectic designer and his curiosity and desire to push the boundaries sealed his place in the history of Ferrari and motorsport in general.”