Race track's red devils

Race track's red devils

Ferrari has captured the imagination of fans with a long tradition of illustrious drivers and its iconic red car

Race track's red devils

No team has won as many races or world titles -- 16 constructors’ titles, 15 drivers’ titles and 216 victories. No team enjoys national support like Ferrari does in Italy. And for the moment, no other team makes as iconic a sports cars for the road, although several have tried.

Founded in 1946, the team was run by its legendary owner, Enzo Ferrari, until his death in 1988.

So strong is the magic surrounding Scuderia Ferrari that it was seen as an act of God when at the race following the owner’s death, a Ferrari won the Italian Grand Prix, at Monza, the only race that season that was not won by a McLaren.

This season, Stefano Domenicali, the current Ferrari director, pointed out that the only race the team has won so far was the British Grand Prix at Silverstone – on the 60th anniversary of the team’s first victory in Formula One, at that same track and event.

For Ferrari, which has almost always been in the top four finishers in the championship, so high are the expectations that if it does not win the title, it is considered a failure.

It last won the drivers’ title in 2007, with Kimi Raikkonen driving. In both 2008 and last year, Ferrari lost the drivers’ title in the final race of the season.

In 2008, the driver was Brazilian Felipe Massa; last year, it was Fernando Alonso of Spain, who lost out in the final race because of a poor strategic choice by the team. Both are still with the team.

How does Ferrari continue to perform at such a high level?

“It’s a team that is born to win,” Alonso said. “In the DNA of every single person in the team is a sense of competition and a passion for motor racing.

“We are in a moment of time when we want to win and be dominant in Formula One,” he added. “And we know we need to work hard for that and make some changes if we want to be as dominant as we were in the past decade.”

But Ferrari did go through a dark, low period -- from 1979, when it won the drivers’ title with Jody Scheckter driving, to 2000, when it won with Michael Schumacher. In between, it failed to win a single drivers’ title, and it won no constructors’ titles from 1984 to 1998. This was the team’s worst period.

It began to rebuild itself in 1993 after hiring Jean Todt, now the president of the International Automobile Federation, as director. Todt hired some of the best engineers and then the best driver, Schumacher, and the team developed into the fiercest winning machine in the history of the sport. It won the constructors’ title in 1999 and then both the constructors’ title and the drivers’ title every year from 2000 to 2004.

In 2008, Todt passed control to Domenicali, who has been working with the team in various capacities for two decades.

“It is part of the circle of sport and life that when you have an incredible period of wins, then it is normal that you have a period where you go down,” Domenicali said.

“And then you grow, and it is a matter of having this period of time be as short as possible before another period of success. And that is not easy, as the competition is very strong.”

Noting that the current reign of the Red Bull team was thanks to the genius of that team’s English designer Adrian Newey, who is an expert in aerodynamics, he said he believed aerodynamics had become too important in the design of the cars, particularly since it is of so little importance in a road car. But the team must now develop that.

“We have already made a step on the track-side management, now we want to improve on the area of simulation, because it is key to understanding tire behavior and its affect on car performance,” Domenicali said.

“And the key to the success of the last year is aerodynamics. So in that area, we are building up new people, but we need to be at a higher level, and that is the other area where we need to grow. It is now all about aerodynamics and tire usage.”

Although Ferrari has often appeared from the outside to be something of a cold and difficult team, rife with inner politics and infighting during its worst period, today it is known for being supportive of its drivers, and it remains the team that almost every driver dreams of joining.

“Everybody dreams of driving for Ferrari,” Massa said. “Even if Ferrari is not winning the championship, Ferrari is still at the top. So I think when you move from Ferrari, it is a step back.”

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