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The superseded stars now take on a new life in retirement, thanks to a superannuation plan with cashed-up customers who want to live their Formula One dream.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