Today is the Italian Grand Prix, one of the great classics of the Formula One calendar; held in the former royal park of Monza since 1922. As a fully paid up member of the Tifosi; loyal supporters of the Ferrari team, the Italian Grand Prix is one of the races I always look forward to in the hope of seeing a home win. This seems a somewhat faint hope today with Fernando Alonso stuck back in tenth place. Never mind. It is a glorious occasion none the less. So why Ferrari? As you might expect, it’s because of the history.
Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena in 1898. He served in the artillery during the First World War before coming close to losing his life to Spanish flu. After the war Ferrari worked as a mechanic and tried his hand as a racing driver, joining Alfa Romeo in 1920. By the late 1920’s Ferrari had switched from driving to managing and had founded the Ferrari racing team which fielded cars on Alfa Romeo’s behalf.
The 1930’s were dominated by German manufacturers who gained the high profile backing of the Nazi regime with the less quick and less reliable Italian machines struggling to get on terms. Enzo Ferrari broke with Alfa Romeo in 1937, ironically enough just as the marque was about to return to winning form with the legendary 158 ‘Alfetta’.
This superb little car would emerge after the Second World War as an unbeatable machine, with three cars having spent the war hidden in a cheese factory. In 1950 Alfa Romeo finished 1st , 2nd and 3rd in the first Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone and went on to take the world championship by storm. Enzo Ferrari also entered the championship with his own cars although they were no match for his old employer in that first year. In the following year however, Froilian Gonzalez won the British Grand Prix at the wheel of a Ferrari. Ferrari would go on to win the world championship with Alberto Ascari in ’52 and ’53.
The prancing horse emblem of the Ferrari racing team, proudly displayed on that first winning car and on all subsequent models, had been acquired by Enzo back in his racing days. It had originally adorned the aeroplane of cavalry officer turned First World War fighter ace Francesco Baracca, who claimed no less than 34 kills in operations against the Austro-Hungarians. Baracca lost his life in 1918; killed by a lucky shot from the ground. His mother presented the emblem to Enzo Ferrari in 1923.
Although there will be other prestigious racing teams lining up on the grid at Monza today, none of them come close to possessing this depth of history. That’s why I’m a Ferrari fan. Forza Alonso!