There’s a car­ni­val at­mos­phere when the SF70H takes a spin around Fio­rano

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

Trafc duty at rush hour next to the Colos­seum in Rome would be prefer­able to this – or maybe even herd­ing sheep in the depths of ru­ral Tus­cany. But for one day ev­ery year, a few po­lice ofcers in Maranello draw the short straw and are sent to the yover at Via Abe­tone In­fe­ri­ore, just down the road from the iconic Fer­rari fac­tory gates. The only con­so­la­tion is that it’s close enough for a lunch break at the equally leg­endary Mon­tana restau­rant, which is so full of mem­o­ra­bilia that it’s more redo­lent of Räikkö­nen than ravi­oli these days.

There’s a great view of the Fio­rano test track from the yover – and that’s the prob­lem for these bold ofcers of the law. Ev­ery time a new Fer­rari F1 car runs, the tifosi gather at the bridge like sup­pli­cants at com­mu­nion, ready to show their sup­port and divine the prospects for the sea­son ahead.

Un­for­tu­nately, it’s not only the tifosi who want a piece of that bridge. Via Abe­tone In­fe­ri­ore is one of the main ac­cess roads into Maranello, so join­ing them is the usual car­a­van of trucks thun­der­ing to and from the lo­cal in­dus­trial

es­tates, over­loaded Fiat Pan­das on the school run, boy rac­ers with their go-faster Pun­tos, and – this be­ing Maranello – the oc­ca­sional man-racer in a Fer­rari as well. Not to men­tion, shortly af­ter we ar­rived, a car­load of nuns in an an­cient Re­nault 4. In short, it’s a true Ital­ian job of eclec­tic traf­fic chaos.

All the in­gre­di­ents are in place for the Mon­tana to add squashed tifoso to their Fer­rari-in­spired menu if there’s even the slight­est mishap. And that’s why the be­lea­guered po­lice force scurry up and down the bridge all morn­ing in a fu­tile at­tempt to keep the faith­ful be­hind the white line that de­mar­cates road from gut­ter (there’s no pave­ment) and save them from them­selves.

It’s not just the sev­eral hun­dred spec­ta­tors that’s the prob­lem per se. It’s the fact that they bring lad­ders, zoom lenses, col­lapsi­ble kitchen chairs, tree-climb­ing equip­ment: any­thing that might help them get a bet­ter per­spec­tive on la rossa break­ing cover for the rst time.

Even though the SF70H is not sched­uled to emerge un­til mid-morn­ing at the ear­li­est

(so, re­al­is­ti­cally, close to lunchtime…), by break­fast the crowds are al­ready gath­er­ing to se­cure the best spot. En route, many will have passed through the Maranello Café close to Fer­rari’s main en­trance: a tem­ple to the Pranc­ing Horse, with dark vel­vety espresso and, for those de­ter­mined to keep the win­ter chill res­o­lutely at bay, in­dus­tri­al­strength grappa. Plas­tered over the walls are pho­tos of Fer­raris past and present, as well as peo­ple who have been associated with them. In­clud­ing, some­what in­con­gru­ously, Pope John Paul II in a Fer­rari Mon­dial.

The con­ver­sa­tion at the bar is all about when the new F1 car will run.

“I’ve heard it won’t run at all,” says one reg­u­lar, gloomily. “It’s al­ready on its way to Barcelona for test­ing; that’s when they’ll run it for the rst time.”

“No, no: it will run, it will run,” says the bar owner sagely – and cor­rectly, as it turns out. “What it’s go­ing to be like? I have no idea. But it will run. The driv­ers wouldn’t miss this op­por­tu­nity.” From out­side, two old men keep watch on Via Abe­tone, sur­vey­ing the com­ings and go­ings over the tops of their news­pa­pers, lost in their thoughts of what is (maybe) to come and a haze of cig­a­rette smoke.

Just be­fore 11:30, Kimi Räikkö­nen nally breaks the si­lence that has set­tled over the bridge. But, as it turns out, the SF70H is rel­a­tively quiet. So quiet that there’s an au­di­ble col­lec­tive in­take of breath as the new car comes out for the rst time, fol­lowed by noisy re­crim­i­na­tions as peo­ple jos­tle for the best view. The sound of the turbo hy­brid is al­most drowned out as a po­lice­woman fu­ri­ously blows a whis­tle, out­raged by the crowd’s mass re­fusal to ac­cept the au­thor­ity of the white line. All that mat­ters to them though, at this mo­ment, is see­ing the car in which their hopes and dreams will be car­ried for the next nine months.

It’s fair to say that the ini­tial re­cep­tion from the tifosi is slightly muted. They set great store by aes­thet­ics and, as one fan points out: “It’s not a beau­ti­ful car – to me any­way. But if it wins, then that won’t mat­ter. It will be­come beau­ti­ful later.”

Those who haven’t been able to se­cure a prime spot on the bridge have gath­ered in other places at the perime­ter of the two-mile Fio­rano cir­cuit. In a laugh­ably op­ti­mistic at­tempt at keep­ing out pry­ing eyes, the wire fences form­ing the bound­ary to the track have been lined with a type of ny­lon web­bing. This now has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese. And those who haven’t come equipped with a penknife have in­stead brought lad­ders, or even their own cars to stand on. You quickly learn that there are no se­crets in Maranello, cer­tainly as far as Fer­rari are con­cerned.

One place where no new car can hide is the small hair­pin about half­way along the Fio­rano lap. If you walk down from the bridge where the crowds gather, through the un­der­pass, and turn left into a ce­ram­ics fac­tory car park, dodg­ing the bro­ken tiles, you’ll reach a eld owned by Fer­rari that takes you up to the wall next to the slow­est part of the track. Here you can get within a few me­tres of the cars: it’s far bet­ter ac­cess than any tifoso would en­joy at a grand prix.

And that’s why those who make a day of it come here when­ever a new car runs. There’s enough room to build a grand­stand and a bar­be­cue (ac­tu­ally, it’s more of a pop-up restau­rant) with­out the risk of be­ing mown down by a pass­ing truck or feel­ing the weight of law en­force­ment. There’s an im­pos­si­bly el­e­gant Fer­rari se­cu­rity guard in at­ten­dance, but he seems to have turned up mostly for a smoke and a chat.

The tifosi start early: in ev­ery sense, as the am­ple re­serves of empty bot­tles and cans prove. This is an all-day party to which ev­ery­body is wel­come. Here, fans come from all over, but there’s been one par­tic­u­larly loyal group of tifosi from Verona, led by the ebul­lient Lu­cio – the proud owner of a Vil­leneuve-era ag and an elab­o­rate dread­locked wig – who have made this eld their sec­ond home. They’ve been com­ing here since the Schumacher glory years, and it’s in­ter­est­ing that their loy­alty still lies with the seven-time world cham­pion. One of the many home-made ban­ners they afx to their view­ing plat­form sim­ply reads: ‘The one and only Schumi for­ever.’ Even now.

“No, it’s just not the same since those days,” Lu­cio conrms. “In the past – the Schumi years I mean – you used to see a lot more tifosi here. You see this lit­tle plat­form we’ve made? In the past, for test­ing, it used to be four lev­els high. They won’t let us do it now. Any­way: maybe our num­bers are fewer, but our pas­sion is the same. That’s the main thing. Forza Fer­rari!”

Lu­cio’s af­fec­tion for Schumacher partly stems from the fact that he wit­nessed his

very rst Fer­rari out­ing, at the end of 1995 with the 412T2 – Maranello’s last V12 F1 car.

“Not that many peo­ple knew about it, but my friend who worked in the fac­tory over there, told me that some­thing was go­ing on at the track,” he says. “So I came down and I saw Schumi in that fan­tas­tic car. He had all­white over­alls and a plain hel­met, but it was denitely him. And that was the start of a fan­tas­tic story for Fer­rari, and for us as well. Ever since, we al­ways came down to see the new cars test­ing, although we haven’t come here so much in re­cent years. That’s be­cause they’ve re­ally cut down on test­ing in Fio­rano and in gen­eral. It’s a shame: test­ing is a great op­por­tu­nity for the fans to get close to the driv­ers. And vice versa. Prob­a­bly the peo­ple who make the rules don’t re­alise that.”

Lu­cio re­calls the time when Felipe Massa ran out of fuel while test­ing at Fio­rano. Rather than wait­ing for the break­down truck, Felipe got out of the car, hur­dled the fence, and came over to talk to them. It was a mo­ment that was hugely ap­pre­ci­ated, but it prob­a­bly wouldn’t hap­pen any­where other than Maranello. The tifosi, on the whole, are not a trav­el­ling tribe, with the ex­cep­tion of an an­nual trip to Monza.

“We’ve got jobs and fam­i­lies and it’s more and more ex­pen­sive now,” ex­plains another fan, Da­vide, star­ing wist­fully through the fence. “Why would you go when you can see ev­ery­thing so well on TV, with your friends and fam­ily? But it’s nice to see the cars and driv­ers for real from time to time, which is why I come down to have a look most years.”

Not ev­ery­one is an es­tab­lished vis­i­tor. For Marco, re­splen­dent in a red wig, this is his rst trip for the pre-sea­son shake­down. He was per­suaded to come down by friends, but it’s not taken him too long to en­ter fully into the spirit of things, just like a reg­u­lar. As one of the younger mem­bers, he sees things with less of a rose-tinted (or should that be rosso corsa- tinted?) per­spec­tive.

“We sup­port the team pas­sion­ately but we also of­ten give them a re­ally hard time,” he points out, rea­son­ably. True enough; af­ter the SF70H’s rst, ob­vi­ously ten­ta­tive, laps, one co­me­dian shouted out: “Is that Ser­gio Mar­chionne driv­ing?”

“Not even Schumacher won the ti­tle straight away with Fer­rari,” con­tin­ues Marco. “So we need to be pa­tient and give the driv­ers more time. This year will be in­ter­est­ing: ev­ery­thing changes and the car looks pretty good. What we want is some good re­sults. It will be tough to win the cham­pi­onship, but if we see that we’re on the right road that gives us hope for the fu­ture.”

The ini­tial roll-out of the SF70H gives lit­tle away, due to the cold and blus­tery con­di­tions that pre­vail in cen­tral Italy at this time of year. So very soon it’s time for lunch, which the tifosi en­joy in con­sum­mate style.

One of their num­ber is a chef in Verona, and on his day off he’s come down to Maranello to pre­pare lunch for the group. And not just for them: for the se­cu­rity guard, for the pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers doc­u­ment­ing the oc­ca­sion, and for any­body else who hap­pens to wan­der past.

“We bring plenty of food and wine be­cause we know we’ll meet lots of peo­ple, and we need to look af­ter them,” ex­plains Lu­cio, hand­ing out plates and glasses. It’s this gen­eros­ity of spirit and spon­ta­neous hos­pi­tal­ity that mark out the tifosi as an ex­tra­or­di­nary bunch, like no other F1 fans.

The chef has made gnoc­chi and tomato sauce, and pork roasted with rose­mary; there’s wine from Verona and home-made limon­cello, as well as freshly-sliced salami as an aperitivo. It’s even more de­li­cious than any­thing the Mon­tana could have come up with – and yet it’s pre­pared in the mid­dle of a misty eld on an age­ing gas ring. The chef says the main in­gre­di­ent he puts into his food is love, and look­ing at this army of rag­tag pil­grims who res­o­lutely keep the faith af­ter a decade of dis­ap­point­ment and al­ways look out for their fel­low en­thu­si­asts, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to savour ev­ery bite.

Else­where in Maranello, life goes on. There are the usual vis­i­tors to the museum, de­spite the driz­zle, plus a few cus­tomers who have come to col­lect their pur­chases di­rectly from the fac­tory. Away from the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of Via Abe­tone, Maranello is a sur­pris­ingly un­pre­pos­sess­ing place, with the low-rise in­dus­try and in­ter­minable af­ter­noon clos­ing typ­i­cal of small-town Italy.

You wouldn’t be able to tell that this was the birth of a new F1 era – or guess that it was a place of par­tic­u­lar pil­grim­age. Yet the tifosi still ock to that eld and that bridge as they have al­ways done, in the hope of wit­ness­ing the start of a mir­a­cle; their be­lief touch­ingly undi­min­ished from year to year. Faith may not al­ways move moun­tains, but it cer­tainly moves the spirit in a way that no other team’s fans ever will.

From the jostling crowds on the fly­over, to the pa­trons of the lo­cal cafés and restau­rants, all eyes are on the red cars


Be­ing a tifoso is a se­ri­ous busi­ness: you need the pas­sion and the com­mit­ment. You also need the red wigs and the flags…

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