History and histories

Enzo the driver: determination and destiny

With the valuable support, depth of knowledge and illustrative talent of Prof. Massimo Grandi

Photo credit: Massimo Grandi

Enzo was not born poor on a snowy day in February 1898. His father had started a mechanical workshop in Modena (that is now home to the Casa Enzo Ferrari Museum) and his mother came from a wealthy family of Marano sul Panaro. The Ferrari family was among the very first in Modena to own a car, a De Dion Bouton.

But in World War I, he lost his father and his brother, becoming the head of the family and forcing him to reinvent his life. He loved cars, as a boy he had watched many local races and then discovered the legendary Indianapolis and a driver with Italian origins, Raffaele – Ralf – De Palma who had won the 500-mile race in 1915. That world attracted him. He moved to Turin hoping to land a job at FIAT. But he was to come away disappointed. He did, however, find the right job: bringing stripped chassis recovered from abandoned remnants of the war which were then renovated by a workshop in Turin ready to be rebodied by the Italo-Argentina coachbuilder in Milan. That’s how he became a driver, even if it wasn’t exactly racing! 

Enzo wasn’t afraid of anything, he was enterprising and began to frequent the bars where the drivers met: the Del Nord in Turin and the Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. He took on some secret challenges and then the temptation to start racing became too hard to resist. He decided to go into debt and buy a CRM to debut at the Parma Poggio di Berceto. Fourth in class, eleventh overall. It was the 5th October 1919, he was 21 years old.

The young Enzo, 21, in his second race: the 1919 Targa Florio that ended without victory in a CMN. He was to return the following year behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo, finishing second overall and recording the fastest lap

He became a racing driver. He received an invitation to participate in the Targa Florio on 23rd November. He hit the road, travelling with his mechanic Sivocci all the way to Naples and then by ship to Palermo. The race was cruel: their fuel tank came off after just a few kilometres, it took 40 minutes to repair it, the weather was foul, he wasn’t able to learn the roads. He went out of his way to finish the race but arrived in Cerda out of time. Florio himself readmitted him into the rankings. Ninth overall. Only 9 arrived. Not too bad considering the conditions that day.

Enzo was already an Alfa Romeo driver when the P1, the Milan-based Grand Prix weapon, was introduced in 1923. It was still too early for him to participate in an international GP

Revenge came the following year: with the Alfa Romeo 40/60 entrusted to him by the manufacturer directly for his brilliant performance on board an Isotta Fraschini in 1920.

On that day in truly dreadful weather, Enzo drove like a true champion, finishing second overall and first in class. He would have taken first place if the Alfa mechanics hadn’t made a communication error during refuelling.

1923. Ferrari won the Grand Prix at the Circuito del Savio with the Alfa Romeo RL. On that occasion, Countess Paolina Baracca gave him the Prancing Horse emblem as a gift

The real talent of Ferrari as a driver was immediately evident: he was fast but respected the mechanical components and avoided risks and accidents. Two skills that at that time had immense value. Not only that, he was just 22 years old: today we are surprised by the performance of Verstappen, Russell and Norris, but Enzo, in an era when the drivers were not always youthful, was a very young star.

The victory at the Savio Circuit was an unforgettable one for Enzo: the gift of the Prancing Horse by the Baracca Counts allowed the young driver to embrace a symbol that would go on to represent him for the rest of his life. The shield with the black horse on a yellow background first appeared 8 years later at the 24 Hours of Spa

Ferrari’s first overall victory came at the Circuito del Savio, in 1923, in Ravenna, again with Alfa Romeo, but this time driving the RL 3000 Targa Florio. It was a special day, he met the Count and Countess Baracca, parents of the famed World War I flying ace Francesco Baracca, who had died in action in 1918, and they suggested that Ferrari adopt their son’s “prancing horse” emblem for his racing Scuderia, saying it would “bring him luck.”.

How they drove! No helmet, no windshield, no safety protection in Enzo Ferrari’s early racing years. The drivers were admirable but even more so were the mechanics who sat by their side during the race