AT HOME WITH THE TIFOSI
There’s a carnival atmosphere when the SF70H takes a spin around Fiorano
Trafc 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 ofcers 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 ofcers 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 afx 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 conrms. “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 denitely 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…