The Scuderia Chronicles


Tony Dodgins on Ferrari’s unique motorsport heritage

Ferrari is the most evocative name in Formula 1 and the most passionately supported team the world over.

Ever present since the beginning of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in 1950, Ferrari has won 15 world drivers’ championships and 16 constructors’ titles, making it the most successful team in the sport’s history. But it’s more than that. It’s about that prancing horse insignia, Italian style, the blood red cars and exclusivity.

The “Cavallino Rampante” was the personal motif of Italian WW1 flying ace Francesco Baracca, who carried a red horse on his planes. After his death, his mother, Countess Paolina suggested to Enzo Ferrari that heroic racing exploits reflected the spirit of her son – today it would be called ‘synergy’ – and so Enzo adopted a black prancing horse with the yellow colours of Modena as background.

After Alfa Romeo dominated the inaugural 1950 championship, Froilan Gonzalez, ‘the Pampas Bull’ broke their winning streak in a V12 Ferrari 375 at the 1951 British Grand Prix. With changed rules at the end of the year Alfa withdrew and in ’52-3 Alberto Ascari won consecutive titles in the 4-cylinder 2.0 litre Tipo 500 Ferrari.

With new 2.5-litre rules in 1954, Ferrari struggled against Maserati, Mercedes Benz and Juan Manuel Fangio but, by 1956, the great Argentine driver was in a Ferrari and claimed Ferrari’s third drivers’ title before returning to Maserati.

The constructors championship was introduced in 1958 and although Mike Hawthorn was drivers champion with just a single victory in his Ferrari to Vanwall driver Stirling Moss’s four, the inaugural makers’ title fell to Vanwall.

Enzo Ferrari first got his hands on it in 1961 when American Phil Hill took the title, now for 1.5-litre cars, in the distinctive shark-nose Ferrari 156.

Motorcycle ace John Surtees became the only man to win world titles on two wheels and four when he took the 1964 championship in the V8-powered Ferrari 158, winning at Nurburgring and Monza. ‘Big John’, who loved his time at Ferrari, eventually fell out with team manager Eugenio Dragoni.

Ferrari then endured more than 10 years in the doldrums before claiming both titles in 1975 with Niki Lauda behind the wheel of the 312T. Lauda was badly burned in a crash at Nurburgring the following season but came back heroically six weeks later at Monza to try to defend his championship lead. He finished fourth, his fireproof balaclava coated in blood from unhealed wounds. Lauda, who’d had operations on his eyelids, could not blink properly and clear his eyes of tears, spelling an early retirement from the wet season finale in Japan, where he lost his crown to James Hunt by a single point. Lauda won a second Ferrari championship in ’77 before he, too, tired of Maranello politics and left to join Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team. There’s nice old footage of Lauda in action below, as well as a shocking memory of the horrific crash.

That opened the door for Gilles Villeneuve, possibly the most revered Ferrari driver of all time. Gilles drove the wheels off his cars (quite literally at Zandvoort in 1979) and was adored by the tifosi, although it was team mate Jody Scheckter who used consistency to win the 1979 world title in Ferrari’s flat-12 engined T4. The little French-Canadian, father of ’97 world champion Jacques, won six races for the team before crashing fatally at Zolder in qualifying for the 1982 Belgian GP.

Just two weeks earlier he had been livid at team mate Didier Pironi, who he claimed had ‘stolen’ his win at Imola. They had not spoken since and, at Zolder, there were seven minutes of qualifying remaining when Villeneuve left the pits for the last time, with Pironi faster… With just one chance to prove his point on ‘sticky’ qualifying rubber, he went over the back of Jochen Mass’s March and was thrown from his Ferrari 126C2. The car was the class of the field that year but Pironi’s own title challenge and career was ended by a crash a rainy Hockenheim practice session two months later.

After Scheckter’s success in ’79, Ferrari could boast only constructors’ titles in 1982-3 and ’99 before Michael Schumacher ended a 21-year wait for its next drivers title in 2000. It was the beginning of unprecedented levels of reliability and success in F1, with Schumacher winning five consecutive titles and Ferrari winning the constructors crown in every year of the ‘noughties’, save for a 2005-6 interruption from Fernando Alonso and Renault. Kimi Raikkonen became the ninth driver to win the world title in a Ferrari when he pipped McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the last race of the controversial 2007 ‘Spygate’ season.