Ferrari Racing History

Ferrari. The name is the most renowned and charismatic racing marque of them all. Ferrari road and race cars have often achieved the pinnacle of performance and success, and the worldwide regard in which the Italian brand with its proud ‘prancing horse’ emblem is held is almost unmatched, except perhaps by Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

Enzo Ferrari was born in 1898 in Modena, Italy. He became entranced by motor racing as a 10-year-old, his blazing ambition to become a racing driver. After brief World War 1 service as an Italian army mule-shoer, he parlayed his way into a motor industry job. As a test driver he drove his first race with CMN in 1919, and in 1920 he joined Alfa Romeo. He began to make his name in racing through 1923-24. His talents as a dealmaker brought genius designer Vittorio Jano from Fiat to Alfa – while his driving skill won a works team drive in a Jano-designed Alfa Romeo P2 in the 1924 French Grand Prix. But after practice on the Lyons-Givors circuit the pressures overwhelmed him. He suffered a near nervous breakdown and retreated to Modena.

Recovery took time, but Enzo Ferrari was made of strong stuff. He bounced back. His old friends at Alfa Romeo backed him. He became Alfa agent for his area and would return to national racing. Ending 1929, he formed a new cooperative team to prepare and run Alfa cars for equally enthusiastic clienti. the ‘Scuderia Ferrari ‘. When Alfa Romeo faced near financial collapse in 1933, the ‘Scuderia’ became its quasi-works team.  Initially Mr Ferrari had also run a parallel motor-cycle operation. As the great German teams took a stranglehold on Grand Prix racing 1934-37, the ‘Scuderia’ still waved the Italian tricolour with some success. In 1935 Italian champion Tazio Nuvolari won the German Grand Prix in a ‘Scuderia’-entered Alfa Romeo, humbling Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union on home soil.

Stern new Alfa Romeo management took their racing back in-house in 1938-40, initially with Enzo Ferrari as manager. But losing his independence and control saw him jump ship, to launch his own new Auto-Avio Costruzioni machining company back home in his beloved Modena.  He had four-year no-compete clause in his Alfa severance agreement, but still in 1940 built a pair of 1500cc sports cars for that year’s Mille Miglia, under the anonymous title ‘815’.  One of his clients was his future double-World Champion driver Alberto Ascari.

By the end of World War 2 in 1945, Italy was a smoking ruin. Yet Ferrari’s blazing ambition was to build and race his own cars, from his new base at Maranello, just outside Modena. Against all odds he achieved that aim. And these were not simple cars. He had his old Alfa colleague, Gioacchino Colombo, design all-new V12-cylinder engines for them.

The new Ferrari cars began racing in 1947. In 1948 a Ferrari Coupe won the renowned Italian Mille Miglia race, and the first Grand Prix Ferraris emerged, to win at Lago di Garda. In 1949, a Ferrari 166 MM won the postwar-revival edition of the world’s most most prestigious endurance race, the Le Mans 24-Hours. Ferrari would win Le Mans overall or in class 19 times, including six in succession 1960–1965.

When Alfa Romeo took a sabbatical from GP racing in 1949, Ferrari – and Ascari – filled the void, winning for Italy.  Ferrari contested the new Formula 1 Drivers World Championship first in 1950 and into the 2020s, uniquely, is still there.   In 1952-53, Ferrari star Ascari won back-to-back World Champion titles. Since the Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship was created in 1958, Ferrari has won the title a record 16 times (1961, 1964, 1975-1977, 1979, 1982-1983, 1999-2004, and 2007-2008).

While Grand Prix success studs Ferrari’s history, the marque’s sports and GT cars have often also ruled the endurance racing world.  Add to its Le Mans record more Sebring 12-Hour race wins than any marque except Porsche (1956, 1958–1964, 1970, 1972, 1995, and 1997–1998), and wins in eight of the 11 fabulous postwar Mille Miglia round-Italy races race (1948-1953, 1956-1957). And then add Ferrari victories in the trans-Mexico Carrera PanAmericana, the Sicilian Targa Florio, the Daytona 24-Hours – even in modern times the Bathurst 12-Hours, the list is immense…

Mr Ferrari’s son Dino had died in 1956, and to seek succession for his company he began in 1963 to negotiate potential sale to the Ford Motor Company. His fiercely independent instincts ended that approach, but by 1969 finances were faltering. Mr Ferrari approached his old friend Gianni Agnelli at Fiat, and ‘for Italy’ Fiat took over Ferrari’s production wing, while ‘The Old Man’ kept control of his beloved racing department.

He still preserved his compelling stature and power as de facto King within his kingdom, for he had always regarded construction of road and GT cars as the means to finance his primary lifelong obsession – racing.

Faltering health eroded his personal control in his later years as the early 1980s proved bleak by Ferrari’s racing standards. Enzo Ferrari died in 1988, aged 90, but his company rebounded to supreme Formula 1 success through the Michael Schumacher years, and continues to thrive. The 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix witnessed Ferrari’s 1,000th Grand Prix start.

What will the future hold for Ferrari in Grand Prix racing? In 2020, the company signed agreements to race from 2021-2025. Motorsports fans around the world look forward to many more thrilling races courtesy of the Prancing Horse.