Red let­ter days


Ever dreamed of be­ing a Fer­rari F1 driver? What was once an as­pi­ra­tion limited to the hand­ful of people in the world in pos­ses­sion of Fer­nando Alonso-like skills is now a real­is­tic pos­si­bil­ity for those with the in­cli­na­tion and the bank bal­ance, thanks to Fer­rari’s F1 Cliente pro­gramme

Old Fer­rari grand prix cars don’t die.

The su­per­seded stars now take on a new life in re­tire­ment, thanks to a su­per­an­nu­a­tion plan with cashed-up cus­tomers who want to live their For­mula One dream.

It is a far cry from the days when Enzo Fer­rari was alive and run­ning the show. Il Com­menda­tore had lit­tle time for sen­ti­ment when it came to up­dat­ing the Pranc­ing Horse eet, and would rou­tinely have his Fer­rari racers scrapped at the end of their days at the front of F1 or sports car rac­ing.

Right now, there are more than two dozen pen­sion­ers from the F1 pro­gramme that sit in pris­tine con­di­tion at Fio­rano in Italy, just wait­ing for the call to track ac­tion some­where in the rac­ing world.

In April 2014 that means Syd­ney, Aus­tralia and the in­au­gu­ral Fer­rari Rac­ing Days. Three own­ers have had their cars shipped down un­der to run along­side a fac­tory F1 car – ac­tu­ally, there are three for test driver Marc Gene in case of prob­lems – dur­ing a weekend of track ac­tion at Syd­ney Mo­tor­sport Park.

The red-let­ter days see the track at East­ern Creek look­ing the best it has ever been, host­ing more than 10,000 ti­fosi over three days dur­ing an event that re­quires more lo­gis­ti­cal in­put than the Aus­tralian Grand Prix. There is ev­ery­thing from a su­per­car dis­play with the lat­est LaFer­rari to a leg of the Fer­rari Chal­lenge and even kids’ slot car rac­ing and face paint­ing.

But the fo­cus is on the track and more Corsa Rosso cars than any­one has seen in one place at one time in Aus­tralia. There are old timers and shiny new ar­rivals, road cars and race cars, and some own­ers have even driven from Perth for the event.

The head­lin­ers, of course, are cars that were once driven by Ger­hard Berger, Michele Al­boreto, Kimi Raikko­nen and Fer­nando Alonso in the For­mula One world cham­pi­onship.

Their best days might be be­hind them, but they are as bright and shiny as they were in their glory days. And the sup­port pack­age even means the same com­put­ers used to start and run them when they were at the pointy end of F1.

“We see here that the F1 Cliente pro­gramme means our For­mula One cars live af­ter the end of their grand prix ca­reer,” says An­tonella Co­letta, head of the sports di­vi­sion at Fer­rari.

“We are the only brand able to do that. To have F1 cars for sale, and the me­chan­ics and en­gi­neers from the For­mula One team so the cars are main­tained to the high­est pos­si­ble stan­dard.”

Gene, who does a se­ries of earpierc­ing demon­stra­tion runs over the weekend that in­clude full race pit­stops and donuts in front of the main-straight grand­stand, says he is im­pressed by the Syd­ney lay­out.

“The rst turn is at-out, at 300km/h. You re­ally feel you are driv­ing fast and on the limit,” he smiles.

But what is it like for Eric Cheung, a Hong Kong-born busi­ness­man who has in­vested some of the pro­ceeds from property

suc­cess in Canada into a car raced by Kimi Raikko­nen in 2007?

“I rst started rac­ing in the 430 Chal­lenge in Asian GT races,” he says. “I saw people do­ing F1 and I thought it was un­reach­able.

“But I asked about buy­ing a car and they said it was pos­si­ble. First, though, I had to trial the seat – I could not buy a car and then not drive it.”

Even­tu­ally, Cheung had to choose be­tween a low-mileage test car used by Felipe Massa and one of the F2007s used by Raikko­nen in his ti­tle year. The bill, which is not some­thing to dis­cuss in po­lite com­pany, was some­where around $3 mil­lion in­clud­ing spares.

Run­ning costs? There are hints that the bill can top $50,000 for a sin­gle event.

“My wife Corinne re­ally gave me a push. With so much money, you have to get ap­proval,” he laughs.

Cheung’s car is based at Maranello and gets fairly reg­u­lar out­ings with its new owner, who loves the speed and drama of his F1 ride.

“I usu­ally take it out about ve or six times a year, if the time is OK. It’s mostly in Europe,” he says.

“I got Marc Gene to teach me to drive it. I’m his rst stu­dent. He’s very sin­cere.”

There is an­other F1 owner at the Rac­ing Days but he’s very dif­fer­ent to Cheung. His name is Jonathan Gi­a­cobazzi and he ba­si­cally grew up in the F1 pad­dock, as his fa­ther sup­plied wine to Enzo Fer­rari and was Gilles Vil­leneuve’s rst ma­jor per­sonal backer.

So Gi­a­cobazzi’s car is one of the most fa­mous F1 cars of all – the 312 T4 from 1979, chas­sis 041, that banged wheels with the Re­nault of Rene Arnoux at Paul Ri­card and then was three-wheeled back to the pits at Zand­voort in spec­tac­u­lar Vil­leneuve style.

“The car is part of our fam­ily,” Gi­a­cobazzi says. “Gilles ran six grands prix in it.

“It is in full work­ing or­der. I’ve driven it. Jac­ques Vil­leneuve drove it for a video to com­mem­o­rate his fa­ther.”

The T4 did not make the trip to Syd­ney but Gi­a­cobazzi is happy to see it get­ting oc­ca­sional ex­er­cise.

Talk­ing with him is more than just a chat with the owner of an old F1 Fer­rari, as he also has the world’s largest collection of race-worn crash hel­mets – 80 in all – and a bunch of other pri­vate Vil­leneuve stuff.

“I was in love with Gilles from the very be­gin­ning,” he says.

‘I still have the boots and gloves he gave me for my birth­days.

“I have Gilles’ hel­met from his last two vic­to­ries. It was given di­rectly to my fa­ther.” Cheung has a shiny new car­bon bre hel­met and likes to use it when he can, em­pha­sis­ing his Raikko­nen racer is more than a car.

“This is the most ex­pen­sive toy I have ever had. It’s both a col­lectible and a toy.”

So, bot­tom line, what’s it like to drive?

“You just can­not be­lieve it. It’s heaven and hell. It’s huge en­joy­ment and you re­ally want to share it with people. I’ve even asked my wife to drive.”

But there is al­ways a nag­ging fear in the back of his mind and Cheung has one very clear mem­ory from his rst run in the car. Sur­pris­ingly, it has noth­ing to do with speed.

“The en­gi­neer came on the ra­dio and said to go easy and take my time. Then he said ‘Re­mem­ber, a nosecone for this car costs 35,000 Eu­ros’.”

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