FERRARI STILL RACING AT AGE 50
by Larry Roberts
November 21, 1997
International Formula One Grand Prix racing is arguably the most prestigious form of auto competition in the world, and if you look down the list of finishers at the recent European Grand Prix at Jerez, Spain, you'll see the names of many marques. Benneton, Arrows, Tyrrell, Williams, Prost, Stewart and a half dozen others all crossed the finish line at this, the last race of the 1997 season.
But unless you're a seasoned race fan and follow international racing, you probably won't recognize any of them except one - Ferrari. It's prominent among the manufacturers that put their "products" on the starting line and I doubt that there are many people in the civilized world who don't know the name and associate it with extremely fast, exotic and very expensive automobiles.
A Ferrari qualified for the front row of the race and the Ferrari name is almost as well-known as Ford.
Ferrari as an auto maker is 50 years old this year and it has had a rich and varied history in racing. It may come as a surprise to the movie stars, drug dealers, captains of industry and deposed monarchs who count Ferrari street machines among their expensive status symbols that their cars owe their existence to open-wheel racing as it was resurrected in post-war Italy.
In the '30s Enzo Ferrari was the owner of Scuderia Ferrari, a racing operation that was the official team of Alfa Romeo. Just before the beginning of hostilities, Ferrari struck out on his own and set up shop in Modena in Northern Italy, ostensibly to build high-speed sports cars for those who could afford them. After the war, one of his first projects was a small single-seater, the Tipo 125 F1, which was designed to challenge Ferrari's former employer, Alfa Romeo, in Grand Prix racing. Its tiny engine was to be the harbinger of Ferraris of the future. It displaced only 91 cubic inches, was all-aluminum in construction and carried a single-stage supercharger but the amazing thing about that first true Ferrari engine was that despite its small size, it contained 12 minuscule cylinders in a V-type configuration. That first Ferrari Grand Prix car made its debut at the Italian Grand Prix in Turin in September of 1948, a year after the appearance of its sports-racer counterpart, the Tipo 125 C.
There hasn't been very many of those ensuing 50 years that a Ferrari hasn't been on the grid in Grand Prix racing. The first American to win the world's driving championship was Phil Hill of Los Angeles in 1960 and he was driving for Ferrari when he won the title.
Over the years, Ferrari has developed a plethora of interesting engines to power its Grand Prix cars. It has fielded V-12, V8, V6 and Flat-12 engines. They have ranged from 1.5 to 4.5 liters and have been naturally aspirated, supercharged and turbocharged - and they've all been winners.
Aston Martin, Lotus and Mercedes-Benz as well as Ferrari have all been officially in the international arena of Grand Prix and they are all still in the business of making automobiles but only Ferrari produces street-legal automobiles as well as fielding a genuine factory Formula One team.
It would have been the stuff of a Hollywood movie script if Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher had won the driver's championship this year, and had it not been for a stupid mistake on his part at Jerez, it might have happened. As it was, he had to settle for runner-up.
And it might have been equally as stirring if Ferrari had been able to win the constructor's championship at the same event - but it had to be content with second place.
But then all things come to those who wait and maybe Ferrari will win those two crowns simultaneously again sometime in its second half-century of Grand Prix racing.