Why Ferrari always pushes its drivers away

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Sebastian Vettel, Credit: Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel, Credit: Ferrari

“Like a dragon that eats its children”

If Niki Lauda were still alive, he could now tell Sebastian Vettel (33) that the German is not the first person whom Ferrari has sidelined with intrigues and chaotic decisions. More than that, and brutally speaking: It is a tradition at Ferrari to disgust drivers away when they are no longer needed.

It is virtually in the genes of the Italian traditional racing team. The genes have been breathed into them by the company founder Enzo Ferrari, who died in 1988 and is still present in Maranello like a poltergeist that everyone fears.

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His values are still unconditionally alive at Ferrari today. Enzo Ferrari cultivated a kind of love-hate relationship with his drivers from the very beginning. He adored them like fighter pilots, but was also willing to sacrifice them if it served his cause. And this love stood and stands above everything. “Enzo was like a dragon that eats its children,” is how Niki Lauda once succinctly summarized the philosophy of the charismatic company founder.

The old man’s aura is indeed still omnipresent. Even today, even technocratic Ferrari engineers break into reverent silence when they hear his name. As if the patriarch were standing next to them as a ghost, watching them. In the museum in Maranello Enzo Ferrari sits like a saint behind a glass wall. In the midst of the ultra-modern factory halls, the wax figure appears like a bridge that connects the Ferrari world of today with the myth and legend.

Enzo Ferrari was no saint

But: Enzo Ferrari was no saint. The mixture of passion and toughness made the great powerful man with the dark glasses a legend. The triumphs, but also the tragedies. Alberto Ascari’s fatal accident with a sports car in Monza is one of them. Count Berghe von Trip’s last drive in Monza, when the German dragged 15 spectators to their deaths, is one of them. Or the loss of Gilles Villeneuve. Ferrari loved the audacious Canadian, who died in a fatal accident during training in Zolder in 1982, just like his late son Dino. He had photos of both of them on his desk – illuminated by candles until the end.

Niki Lauda was the first victim of bullying by Ferrari. “The old man”, Niki once said, “had great charisma. He had a unique way of talking. It was a chant that sounded like a sermon. It was just very difficult to interrupt him.”

Lauda continued: “But he could also be tough. When I made my comeback after my accident at the Nurburgring in Monza, Enzo already had a replacement in Carlos Reutemann. I almost lost my life because of Ferrari, but he doubted that I was still fast enough. I could never forgive him for that. It was like a knife in the heart. I swore I’d get him back. That’s why I left Ferrari after my second World Championship title at the end of 1977 and moved to Brabham.“

“The Judas sold himself to the competition for 30 sticks of salami,” Ferrari answered with anger.

Even Michael Schumacher was not immune to Ferrari politics. Credit: Ferrari

Alain Prost also knows what it’s like to suddenly be put up for adoption by Ferrari. The Formula 1 superstar switched from McLaren to Ferrari in 1990. As a bringer of salvation, the then three-time world champion was to lead the ailing racing team back to its former greatness. In 1990 everything was still going in the right direction. The Frenchman won five races and became vice world champion. One year later Ferrari built a faulty construction with which even a driving genius like the Frenchman had no chance. Ferrari needed a pawn sacrifice and found it in Prost.

After the sixth race in Mexico the Scuderia threw him out. Allegedly because he had insulted Ferrari. „The car drove like a truck,” said Prost. „But you can’t compare a Ferrari with a truck”, the responsible persons in Enzos Maranello answered astonished.

Later Prost told me what really happened: “My steering in Mexico was broken. That’s why I also gave the Italian journalists the following quote: ,I didn’t have a chance today because the power steering wasn’t working. With the heavy steering the car drove like a truck‘. Anyway, they wanted to get rid of me and used the incomplete statement as justification.”

Even Michael Schumacher was not immune to Ferrari politics. A fact only few people know: The most successful Ferrari driver of all time (five World Championship titles) did not retire completely voluntarily in 2006. Ferrari had already signed a contract with Kimi Raikkonen before. Felipe Massa, who, like Charles Leclerc today, was managed by Nicolas Todt – the son of the almighty Ferrari legend and the current FIA president Jean Todt – was supposed to stay in the driver’s seat. So Schumacher was kindly advised not to extend his contract.

Raikkonen himself was dropped even twice by Ferrari. The Finn, who won his first title in 2007, stood in the way of the Italians’ plans. They wanted to sign superstar Fernando Alonso for 2010. Massa couldn’t and wouldn’t quit for the known reasons, so Raikkonen had to jump the gun. At the end of 2018 the Finn was again in the way of Ferrari and Todt junior. This time because of Charles Leclerc. So they moved the cool Finn to the partner Alfa Romeo to make room for Leclerc.

Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, had to make way for Sebastian Vettel in 2014. And this despite the fact that the Spaniard twice became vice world champion with an inferior Ferrari. The break between Ferrari and the Spaniard even went so far that the then Ferrari press department asked journalists to write badly about the Spaniard.

In 2020 Sebastian Vettel is on the hit list. Probably because the new saviour Charles Leclerc and his entourage do not need any disturbing factors. Vettel has only one consolation: he is in extremely good company.

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Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

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