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2017-05-26 14:44

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel started 2017 season with a bang for his team, winning the Australian GP. Image: AP

Braam Peens

Monaco - Ferrari is Formula 1. Having been part of the circus before the circus even existed makes the squadra of the Cavallino Rampante not only the eldest statesman of the world’s fastest sport, but nothing short of blue-blooded racing royalty. 

Since debuting at Monaco in 1950, the team has participated in 937 races, won 16 constructor’s championships, 15 driver’s titles, 226 races, claiming 209 pole positions and 239 fastest laps. Over-the-top merchandising misadventures aside (Ferrari-branded Segway or Kaspersky anti-virus software, anyone?), it’s the one entry that no F1 driver CV is complete without. 

Because the romance. The mystique. The legacy.

Did you know that Ayrton Senna spent time with the then-Ferrari boss Luca di Montizemelo at the end of April 1994 – expressing a desire to drive for the Scuderia – only to die a few days later? Imagine the spectacle; the Senna in a Ferrari, winning the Italian grand prix. The subsequent rapture would be so mythologically epic it would break the internet. 

In Italy, therefore, Ferrari isn’t just a motor racing team. It’s a religion. Its drivers (barring a few) are always revered; never forgotten. Mondays of mourning have been called when the red team has suffered its blackest Sundays. And thanks to Ferrari’s 60 years-plus existence, black Sundays there have been aplenty, but also rapturous, euphoric, intoxication on days when they have planets aligned.

So sit back, unleash your inner Sasha Martinengo and enjoy some of their best – and best forgotten – moments of recent years.

The excellent

Australia, 2017
If you’re at the top, the only way to go is down – as Ferrari found out in 2005 and 2006. Kimi Räikkönen won the 2007 title by a fluke and Felipe Massa was champion for about 15 seconds in 2008, a lack of innovation, key personnel and simply being outdone by their competitors conspired to keep ultimate success at bay.

Fernando Alonso came frustratingly close to championship wins in 2010 and 2012, but the latter years have been spent in the wilderness. Sebastian Vettel’s Melbourne victory this year temporarily halted F1’s fast-fading appeal initiated by Mercedes’s dominance of the turbo era. The win surprised Ferrari, delighted fans and gave Lewis Hamilton a fright. Long may it continue.


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Spain, 1981
Without the benefit of foresight, the 1981 race would turn out to be significant as it was Gilles Villeneuve’s last victory, as well as seeing the second-ever closest race finish in the history of F1: a mere 1.24 seconds separated the first five cars.

The turbocharged 126CK had the most powerful engine on the grid, but any advantage gained on straights was lost during corners. Only Villeneuve’s skill, bravery and ability to drive a car beyond its limits – is why he could tame the boar-like Ferrari while keeping the baying pack behind. Arguably the most famous and enigmatic bearer of the iconic white-on-scarlet number 27 – and the only one of his drivers that Enzo Ferrari ever claimed to have loved like his own son – would die in a crash at the Belgian grand prix just one year later, aged 32.

Spain, 1996
This wasn’t just Michael Schumacher’s first win for his new employer, but also vindication of his unfathomable decision to move from a championship-winning outfit to a team that hadn’t won a driver’s title since 1979. That wasn’t about to change overnight: Michael’s ill-conceived F310 could hardly challenge for a slot-car race win, let alone that year’s unstoppable Williams-Renault. In a race that was more suited for powerboating, the German starting third before falling to ninth on the first lap.

By the start of the second lap, he was sixth. Others had mistakenly gambled that the track would dry, but Schumacher didn’t, having optimised his car’s wet-weather setup and tracing unusual racing lines in search of grip, the German was several seconds faster per lap than his crestfallen competitors, eventually finishing with a 45-second lead. Some say it was his finest drive, some say it was one of the best wet-weather performances ever, all we know is it was the start of great things to come.

 


Hungary, 1998
Narrowly missing out on the 1997 driver’s title, in 1998 the five-man Ferrari dream-time of Schumacher, aided by master tactician Ross Brawn, (SA-born) car designer Rory Byrne, engine wizard Paolo Martinelli and team principal Jean Todt had tasted blood.

At a race where the Ferrari only qualified third behind that that season’s invincible McLaren-Mercedes, switching from a two-stop to a three-stop strategy at circuit where overtaking is as impossible would surely be madness. But they did just that: Forever etched in motor racing’s memory are Michael’s post-race press conference words. 'Ross told me, "You have 19 laps to build up a 25-second lead.” I said, "Thank you very much!"'

Then he did it. Lap after lap the Ferrari tore around at qualifying speeds, pushing so hard to build the required gap to allow another pit stop that he even went off the track once. The brain could not comprehend what had just happened. Neither could McLaren. 

France, 2002
Love or hate Ferrari, 2002 was a whitewash. With the team on an all-time high (Schumacher had won the driver’s title the two previous years and on a roll) and a lack of serious competition, race wins came to Ferrari like champagne sprays from an uncorked bottle. The 2002 driver’s championship was clinched after just 11 races in the season, with six more rounds to go. Like Red Bull would subsequently do, and more recently Mercedes, Ferrari was turning F1 in into a, ahem, one-horse race. 

The abhorrent

The entire 1980 season
Statistically it was Ferrari’s worst season ever, as the team scored a barely believable eight points, to finished tenth in the championship. Entering the season as defending champions, courtesy of Saffer Jody Scheckter’s 1979 championship win, the 312T5 – now five years old – was unreliable as it was slow and aerodymically inefficient. For the first time since 1973, Ferrari would not win a single race in a season. Scheckter could not even qualify for the Canadian grand prix and scored two points for the entire championship, calling it quits on his F1 career at the end of that year. Can’t really blame the guy.


Japan, 1990
Bringing hope to a team that endured a decade of hurt, the freshly-crowned champion, Alain Prost, had moved from the dominant McLaren-Honda to Ferrari for the 1990 season. Prost had won 5 races and trailed his arch-rival, McLaren’s determined Ayrton Senna, by nine points as the teams set up camp in Suzuka – the second-last round of the season.

Rather than fight Prost, who qualified in second and alongside on the grid, pole-sitter Senna – needing just one point to seal his second driver’s title – decided it was easier just to drive Prost off at the first corner, ending both their races but winning the championship under tainted circumstances. Brazil erupted; Italy mourned. 

Entire 1992 season
Ferrari’s second-worst year ever. Such were the team’s woes that Prost was fired before the end of 1991 over excessive criticism of a clearly undriveable car, only to replaced by the useless Ivan Capelli. Scoring twelve points throughout the sixteen-race season, the team suffered eight double-DNFs (did not finish), four single DNFs, and only twice did both cars finish a race, or, to put it differently – 20 out of 32 race results were retirements. This was not the stuff of legend. 

European grand prix, 1997
Incredibly, Michael Schumacher turned Ferrari’s fortunes around in one year. He was still finding his feet in 1996, but come 1997, the Scuderia was ready to challenge for their first championship since 1990. His five race wins and eight podiums had earned him a one-point lead over Williams-Renault’s Jacques Villeneuve before the season finale at Jerez in Spain. Schumacher led from the lights, only to be caught and overtaken by Villeneuve on the 48th lap. Aware that the title would be the Canadian’s if he was able to get by, a desperate Michael blocked and rammed into the side of the Williams, only to slide into the gravel travel trap himself and see Villeneuve seal his sole F1 driver’s title. The sport’s governing body deemed the move as unsporting and disqualified Schumacher from the 1997 championship.

Austria, 2002
A textbook public relations disaster. With Ferrari wanting to maximise Michael Schumacher’s points-scoring opportunities, on the last lap the team ordered the second Ferrari, driven by the lap dog-like Rubens Barrichello, to surrender his lead to Michael.

Obliging, the pair did the shuffle, but both were clearly uncomfortable with what had happened. Adding insult to injury, on the podium Schumacher lamely insisted on swopping steps with the second-placed Barrichello, even going so far as to exchange trophies, much to the disgust of the booing crowd. Ferrari was fined one-million dollars for artificially altering race results. 

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