This year marks the 90th anniversary of Scuderia Ferrari and it's a big deal. Ferrari has won more Formula One World Championships than any other manufacturer, and don't forget its successes at Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona or the Mille Miglia.
Indeed, Ferrari itself is commemorating the occasion with the SF90 Stradale, an exotic hypercar that uses three electric motors and a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 to develop 986bhp. With a 1:19 lap of the Fiorano Circuit - 0.7 seconds quicker than a La Ferrari - it represents the bleeding edge of racing technology applied to a road car.
But before Ferrari became the revered global epicentre of hypercar production; before the Ford wars, the F1 politics, the Abu Dhabi theme parks and the stock exchange valuations. Before all of this, came the pursuit of one man’s ideal. Victory in motor racing was Enzo Alselmo Giuseppe Maria Ferrari’s lifeblood and only victory would suffice.
That huge, and often ruthless, reputation within the sport has been well documented, so here are a few lesser known facts behind the creation of the most admired and successful racing team in history.
1. Enzo was an accomplished racer before becoming a race team owner
Enzo grew up in an era when the horse and cart ruled the roads and the car was considered a luxury for the wealthy middle classes. In 1908, motorsport was very much in its infancy but even then, a 10-year old Enzo would soak up road race events in Bologna like we now gorge uncontrollably on Instagram feeds.
In 1918, and following the devastation of the Great War, Enzo landed his first car job in Turin at a small company called the Construzioni Meccaniche Nazzara (CMN). Colleagues nicknamed him “mad” when, one year later, Enzo ploughed his entire earnings back into a CMN racing car to enter hillclimbs. Enzo and his stratospheric level of self-belief shrugged off the low-level bants and in 1920, he became a works driver for Alfa Romeo Corse.
Remember, this is when Alfa Romeo were actually good and its rosta of drivers included Antonio Ascari, Giuseppe Campari and Ugo Sivocci. These guys were the Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen of their era, and a 22-year old Enzo was in that esteemed mix. At the wheel of a 6.0-litre Tipo 40/60, and in only his second appearance at the Targa Florio, Ferrari would take second place in this most gruelling of endurance races.
2. Ascari was the inspiration behind Scuderia Ferrari
It’s hard to imagine a man like Ferrari holding anybody in high regard, but in his formative racing years, Enzo worshipped the driver Antonio Ascari. Despite being teammates, he was inspired by Ascari’s personal and professional demeanour and well aware of the chasm in driving talent between them.
Beyond being a champ, ‘Il Maestro’ as Ascari was known, owned a small workshop in Milan and was a sales representative for Alfa Romeo. It wasn’t uncommon for drivers in those days to own the local car dealership for the brand they raced, and Enzo also controlled the Alfa Romeo franchise for Modena. However, what was unusual was Ascari’s peerless organisational skills and people management, plus the fact he was a trusted technical advisor to the Alfa Romeo management team. It was a career trajectory that Enzo aspired to emulate, keeping him close to racing and even closer to the centre of power, long after his racing boots had been hung up.
Later in life, Ferrari would say that ‘the spiritual heritage of the Maestro,’ was the force behind the Scuderia. Antonio’s son, Alberto Ascari, would also go on to become one of the greatest Italian drivers of all time, winning two Formula One world titles behind the wheel of a Ferrari.
3. Scuderia Ferrari was originally an unofficial race team for Alfa Romeo
In the late 1920s, Alfa Romeo was under the control of the Instituto Liquidazione, a government-run bank entrusted to return the brand to profitability. Racing was becoming increasingly expensive for carmakers, and Alfa was under more pressure than most to compete in fewer races.
Enzo seized the initiative, offering Alfa Romeo the opportunity to enter its cars in more racing events through his private team. Not only had he been an Alfa Romeo dealer since 1921, he was willing to offer shares in his newly formed company for technical and logistic support. Determined to retain its most talented drivers, and use its racing prowess to sell road cars, Alfa Romeo agreed to the terms. Enzo wanted to call the company ‘Mutina’, from the old Latin name for the city of Modena. It’s a good job the other shareholders stopped him...
The declared aim of Scuderia Ferrari was "purchasing racing automobiles of the ‘Alfa Romeo’ brand and participating with them in the races that are part of the national racing calendar." In reality, Enzo wanted to build a championship-winning racing team that would eventually replace Alfa Romeo.
4. Scuderia Ferrari wasn’t the first ‘Scuderia’
The racing driver Emilio Materassi is believed to have coined the term 'scuderia' - Italian for stables - as a way to describe racing teams, primarily because the drivers were dealing with ‘horsepower’. In 1928, both he and Tazio Nuvolari formed their own race teams or scuderias, buying race cars direct from a manufacturer and competing with their own team of drivers, mechanics and technicians.
Ferrari was still a works driver for Alfa Romeo Corse at the time, but he observed from a distance to understand the pitfalls and successes of such a business. Sadly, Materassi was killed at the Monza GP in the same year he founded his Scuderia.
5. The prancing horse logo didn’t feature until 1932
Today, Ferrari's prancing horse logo is as globally recognised as McDonalds or Coca Cola, just not quite as accessible. Yet in the early days, only the words 'SF' or 'Scuderia Ferrari' were applied to its race cars, despite the logo being in existence and in Enzo’s possession.
In fact, Enzo was gifted the emblem in 1924. He won his first and second race for Alfa Romeo Corse in successive years at the Circuito del Salvio, a venue that was located near to the birthplace of Francesco Barraca, a famous Italian Air Force ace.
Like many airmen in the Great War, Barraca had a painted insignia on his war plane. His was a black race horse, the emblem of the Royal Piedmont cavalry. On receiving the winners cup in 1924, Countess Paolina Baracca Biocoli offered her war hero son’s emblem to Ferrari, to put on his cars as a sign of good luck.
Ferrari graciously accepted, yet it was only in 1932 that the emblem would appear. By this stage, Ferrari had introduced the three colours of the Italian flag and placed the black horse on a yellow shield, one of the two colours representing the city of Modena.
6. Scuderia Ferrari raced motorcycles
You may think Scuderia Ferrari has always been about racing on four wheels but in 1932, Enzo opened a motorcycle department. He used bikes from the British manufacturer Rudge, who were also the wheel supplier for Alfa Romeo’s racing cars, as well as a custom Norton specifically for Pierro Taruffi, a talented racer who would alternate between driver and rider for the Scuderia. The Scuderia Motorcycle department debuted with a win in the Modena Grand Prix Primavera. In fact, the first vehicle to adorn the prancing horse emblem was a Rudge motorcycle at a race in Pontedera.