In the entire history of the Formula 1 world championship, there are less than a hundred privileged people. We are talking, of course, about the men who have tasted the joy of wearing the colors of the Scuderia, if only for one Grand Prix. Among them, some did not have the chance to rub shoulders with Enzo Ferrari, who died in 1988. In the eyes of the Commendatore, the others lived with a common status: they were pilots, with all that it has of honor and of respectable, but they were no more than the company itself and its other employees.
Believe it or not, those who held a special place in the mind of the Italian leader can be counted on the fingers of one hand. They are four, precisely. And, as crazy as it sounds, two of them have never participated in an official F1 World Cup race.
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If you appreciate motorsports as a whole, surely you know the name of the darling among the darlings: Tazio Nuvolari. He is the first driver to have made a deep impression on Enzo. Besides, this is perhaps the reason why it is a little apart. Whoever stands out, before everyone else, always has the advantage of the timeline. Because he becomes the "master stallion" for the following ones.
This constant is valid in almost all fields, and all sports. In football, it's Pelé. In boxing, it's Ali. Better still, being the first offers an eternal privilege: memory being selective, it retains, over time, only the best. This is why Ferrari may not have been entirely objective every time he has been called upon to bring up Nuvolari, throughout his career.
Tazio Nuvolari, driving an Alfa Romeo 12C-36 flanked by the Scuderia Ferrari crest
Credit: Getty Images
But don't get me wrong: the Italian rider was indeed unique. If we wanted to sum it up, it looked like he could win any race, with any material in his hands. Enzo Ferrari understood this. Very quickly. Long before he was the Commendatore. May 25, 1924, precisely. That day, the future entrepreneurial giant competes in the Circuito del Savio. He won, at the wheel of an avant-garde Alfa Romeo for the time, and with a lot of margin over his first pursuer. It's Tazio Nuvolari.
Of course, the one who is also particularly comfortable on two wheels conceded more than 25 minutes to the winner. But he did it at the wheel of a Chiribiri, much more modest than the Alfa RL of the pilot from Modena. And this is not trivial. "The first time I met him I didn't pay attention to this skinny little man, wrote Enzo, later. But during the race, I realized that he was the only one able to challenge my victory. "
Where do you find the courage to slip into your sheets every evening?
Subsequently, Ferrari always considered Nuvolari as a benchmark of the race, and the successes of the "Flying Mantouan", on two and four wheels, ended up proving him right. The Ingegnere logically made him one of its pilots in the early 1930s, when he took over the sporting direction of Alfa Romeo. To tell the truth, the entrepreneur from Modena had breathed his name to Alfa officials much earlier, in 1925. The manufacturer was looking for a successor to Antonio Ascari after his fatal accident in Montlhéry, and had invited Nuvolari, on the advice of Ferrari , for private testing.
Siena (left), Ferrari test driver, Nuvolari (center) and Borzacchini (right), in 1933
Credit: Getty Images
The future campionissimo had impressed the gallery for several tours in Monza, before violently going out into the background. Result? Two broken legs, in plaster, and a medical ban on walking for at least a month. Six days later, the Italian fled the hospital and raced to the Grand Prix des Nations, asking his mechanics to tie him to his motorcycle and help him hold on to the start and finish. To win. And become European champion.
This anecdote justifies a large part of Enzo's admiration for Tazio. In the mind of the Commendatore, two criteria set the very great pilots apart from all the others. They are probably linked, moreover: they are the relation to danger and the style of driving.
Back then, and still today, everyone who gets behind the wheel in an automobile competition has a relationship to risk unparalleled to ours – us common people. Nuvolari's was incomparable to that of the other pilots. This peculiarity gave rise to one of the most famous exchanges between the champion and a journalist, after his most memorable victory. It was in 1935, at the Nürbürgring, where he had subdued the overkill Mercedes with a four-year-old Alfa.
"Where do you find the courage to climb into your cockpit every time? asked the reporter.
– And you, where do you hope to die? the pilot retorted.
– Me ? I do not know. At home, in my bed, I hope.
– So where do you find the courage to slip into your sheets every night?"
Nuvolari had extraordinary courage. And a style Ferrari was crazy about. "In the turn, he flanked the muzzle of the car in, and shaved it until the point where the straight line was drawn., wrote the Commendatore in his book Piloti, che gente. There, the car was already in position to go straight, without correction. "
In fact, "Nivola" belonged to a category of drivers to which Ferrari had given a name. "He was what he called a "Garibaldien", explains Jean-Louis Moncet. That is to say, an aggressive guy, who fought to the end. These had a special place for Enzo Ferrari. But the one who may have been even stronger is Guy Moll. He had no ulterior motive. He was bombing. "
Moll, the Franco-Algerian Enzo was crazy about
"If he was not the first foreigner to have been part of my team, Guy Moll was undoubtedly the first exceptional driver", will confirm Ferrari. Indeed, Nuvolari had made the choice to release – temporarily – Enzo Ferrari before the emancipation of the Scuderia, dissatisfied with the material which he had available. Moll, him, became in 1934 one of the three drivers of the team, alongside two stars, the Monegasque Louis Chiron and especially the Italian Achille Varzi, great rival of "Nivola".
He was French, born to a Spanish mother and a father who emigrated to Algeria, where he was born. "I do not know if it is this mixture of nationalities and backgrounds that made this boy a prodigy, but I am in any case convinced that he deserves to be brought together with Nuvolari and Moss, will note the Commendatore. Like Nuvolari, he had this strange and singular spirit, the same aggressiveness, the same carelessness in the way of piloting, the same determination to face danger.. "Within a few weeks he had tamed Chiron at home at the Monaco Grand Prix and competed with Varzi at the Coppa Montenero. Maybe a little too much.
Guy Moll, winner of the 1964 Monaco Grand Prix. On his left, Enzo Ferrari
Credit: Getty Images
As a good visionary, Enzo Ferrari did not tolerate, already at the time, that two drivers of his team were engaged in such battles on the track. "I decided to tell them to abandon this little game because it was not appropriate to seek provocation at this point, he confided. So I got my sign ready, but just as I showed it to the raging boy who was emerging, his car spun around the corner. Moll then changed gears and, while doing his pirouette, signaled to me that he understood my description. I was flabbergasted. I had never seen such coolness, such self-control, such an ability to reason on two different planes under the terrible constraint of danger.. "
Moll was amused by the risk, played with death. He ended up losing, on the track, on August 15, 1934. But he had already won, before that, the admiration of the Commendatore: "He was an ace of the wheel like there were few. "
After that, and for nearly half a century, Ferrari has seen great pilots, of course, and many champions, too: Ascari, Fangio, Hawthorn, Phill Hill, Surtees … But no "Garibaldien", does same wood as Nuvolari and Moll. Until the end of the 1970s. And his discovery by Gilles Villeneuve.
The Canadesino has revived a category of drivers that the Ingegnere had come to believe definitively dissolved by time. "He was everything Mr. Ferrari loved", agrees Jean-Louis Moncet. He had quickly become a spiritual son for Ferrari, who had defended him body and soul against the press after a disappointing first season with the Scuderia.
His talent, raw, primitive, and so pure that it generated new technical challenges, sent the Ingegnere back to his true passion. "With its destructive capacity for mechanics, gearboxes, clutches, brakes, it also teaches us what we must do so that a pilot can defend himself in times of need.", said of him the creator of the stable.
Above all, Villeneuve fascinated the Commendatore with something much more irrational, an obsession with unparalleled speed. "In his head it was clear: no one in the world could go faster than him, remembers Pierre Dupasquier, former boss of Michelin. This in any context, and for anything. "
I called them idiots!
The Canadesino races did not say everything about this state of mind. Even the legendary pass that he opposed to René Arnoux in Dijon in 1979 had only shown part of this constant need for speed and, in a way, to cheat death.
"Once I remember yelling at him, rewinds Dupasquier. With Pironi, they had a game at Paul-Ricard which consisted, with a rental car, of jumping into the vineyards to fall as far as possible. They scared each other, in turn. It was a few months after my wife died in a car accident. I took them both from the motorhome and called them both little idiots!"
Basically, the myth that Villeneuve became after his death, during the Zolder drama, says everything about Ferrari. A stable where results count, for sure. Maybe even more than anywhere else. But where passion is even more important. In 1979, the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu pilot was beaten by his teammate, Jody Scheckter, who was rewarded for his consistency. But in the minds of Enzo Ferrari and the Tifosi, the Canadesino has remained a unique driver. "With him, we were not afraid, emphasizes Dupasquier. We laughed, or we died. "
Nuvolari, Moll, Villeneuve. You counted well. Is there one missing. The fourth, Niki Lauda, did not have quite the same esteem from the Commendatore and, frankly, we can't really explain why. Was the Austrian a "Garibaldian"? We would tend to answer no. Of course, he was a dead man. More than all the others: very few men came back alive from an encounter with the Grim Reaper like him did, after his terrible accident at the Nürburgring in 1976.
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He was endowed with an immeasurable talent, thanks to which he put an end to a period of eleven years without a title, a dearth that the team had never known until then. But that wasn't everything. Many believe that the first meeting between the two men immediately dispelled the idea of an idyllic collaboration.
When the Austrian made his first tests of the 312 at Fiorano, he had indeed provided a fairly straightforward analysis: "This car is really shit. "Lauda had started his career as a Ferrarist in this way and ended it a little more than three years later, slamming the door, with two Grands Prix remaining of the season, a new champion's crown on his head. What had provoked the black anger of the Commendatore.
These two episodes, combined with all the tensions that ignited the relationship between the pilot and his team, are they enough to justify that he did not have exactly the same status as the other three? This is not so sure. After all, Nuvolari and Villeneuve had at times also strongly criticized the machines of the Scuderia. And the Italian had also allowed himself to let go of the boss of the team.
But beyond his talent, Lauda was also endowed with an intelligence, a mastery and a technical background superior to the norm. He was not "only" a dummy. He was not just a talented pilot. He was a man and a driver who could measure up to Ferrari. Which commanded respect, including that of Enzo. But also what prevented the Commendatore from saying it out loud.
Niki Lauda at the wheel of the Ferrari 312T2 during the Dutch Grand Prix, August 28, 1977
Credit: Getty Images
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