Scuderia Ferrari is perhaps the most storied and revered team in motorsport. Whether it is ignited by the red livery of its cars, the mystique of the Ferrari brand, or the bloodline of motorsports legends who have graced the stables - the Scuderia's fans worldwide are unlike any other. The fabled tifosi passion is on display at every opportunity, at every bend and at every race on the calendar.
But what happens once the podium ceremonies are done and the season is over? Away from the crowds the team is of course a living, breathing workplace. While part of it is already preparing for the next season and the hard business of racing, another part naturally becomes a curator of the last. Enter the F1 Clienti and its collection of racing machines.
The F2003-GA was driven by Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher to a Constructor's Championship in 2003.
To collect something often implies a static state of conservation. While no doubt some cars are prepared for just that, some are destined to return to the track. This amazing program allows select individuals to buy one of the past seasons' F1 cars and actually drive them. Obviously it is not as simple as putting the key in the ignition and driving off. An F1 car is a highly specialized bit of kit that requires a small staff to operate. It demands proper training and inherent skill to drive properly.
The program oversees all logistics, and the cars take up residence back in Maranello close to factory technicians, mechanics and spares. This ensures they are always ready and safe for any circuit worldwide. And what a calendar it is - F1 Clienti is a roadshow that travels the globe along with the Ferrari Challenge series. With stops in the USA, Europe and Asia, the world's best circuits once again become the concert halls of Ferrari's screaming engines, albeit with less crowds. If you are one of the very lucky few, your F1 will be at the track of your choice, all set up and waiting for you to be strapped in. This is no session in a simulator. You are an actual factory driver and this is your garage and crew.
So on this one weekend in early March, the F1 Clienti set up shop at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. A row of garages was blocked off and transporters began releasing their precious cargo. Three decades were represented, among them some very significant cars: Gerhard Berger's 412 V12 that won the German GP in 1994; Michael Schumacher's F1-2000 and F2001; Rubens Barrichello's F2003-GA and the very F2004 that Schumi racked up 13 wins out of 18 starts in 2004. Among drivers still active on the current grid, there was Kimi Räikkönen's F2008 and Fernando Alonso's F138.
One of the newer cars in attendance was this F138 driven by Fernando Alonso in 2013, the last of the V8-engined era.
That very range of machines present also puts the efforts of the technicians and support crew in perspective. A current F1 racing operation only has to deal with two identical cars. So while the list of support equipment and spares is unfathomably long, it is largely a case of having two (or more likely, ten-plus-one) of everything. I spied eight different cars with 19 years of technology between them. That spares list just grew exponentially!
The busy moments in the garage are just as intense as you imagine from F1 TV footage: everyone at their position with their game face on, wearing a pure focus that cuts through the high octane, high decibel chaos. But once the engines are silent and the doors draw to a close, the Ferrari energy becomes a little less overt but just as palpable. As tools and spares are packed up voices become hushed and calm, motions are more deliberate, calculating even. Gloves come on and the machines are touched with reverence and respect as if they were a framed Raphael painting. It is a beautiful ballet to observe up close.
At the end of the running sessions technicians go over every millimeter of every car with keen eyes and a practiced touch.
Once everything is deemed in order the task of breaking down and packing everything up begins to accelerate. In this case, the next stop is Road Atlanta for the men, women and machines of the F1 Clienti.
Until next time - grazie, grazie, Forza Ferrari!
Companion photo gallery: Exhibit F: Portraits from the Paddock
Story and images ©Joachim Rayos / autorista photo
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