On April 8, 1947 legendary US industrialist Henry Ford passed away and while it signified the end of an era, the same year also spawned the beginning of a historic relationship that would become known as one of the most successful partnerships in motorsport history.
When Enzo Ferrari started making his own cars in 1947, he began working with Shell as his Fuel and lubricant supplier. Over 60 years later that relationship has netted 221 race victories, 207 pole positions, 228 fastest laps, 15 driver’s championships and 16 constructor’s championships.
There is no other team with the history and epic achievements of Ferrari in the world of Motorsport. You can think of others that mean a lot to the world of motorsport but none come close the historic and dominant position Ferrari has held over the decades.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Ferrari in Maranello this summer to learn more about Shell V-Power, Ferrari and the relationship the two companies have. What I discovered was a surprise to me. Perhaps it wasn’t a “surprise” so much as a tongue-wagging, jaw-dropping mountaintop experience. I was simply awe-struck.
Arriving in Maranello, by car, I was intrigued with how rustic the landscape was (I had never been to Italy). We tend to manicure everything here in the States including the grass between the east and west lanes of a highway. Not in Italy—no they seemed to have reached a détente with the landscape. It’s probably best that way, I thought.
The first evening was spent at the Ferrari Museum and it was there that I saw the most expensive Ferrari in the world—a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. It recently sold for $30 million. It is no wonder that collectors are buying cars as a place to put cash. It’s also no wonder Barrett-Jackson is so popular these days.
As we walked through the Museum, I was quickly overcome by the feeling of time rushing past me. Each car we walked past had decades of history and an incredibly compelling story to it—a race history or production value that was attached to some amazing world event or moment in history. Not just a few of the cars…every single car we walked by had this historic impact and story to it.
Gilles Villeneuve’s 312, Alberto Ascari’s 500 F2, Schumacher’s F2004 and the Bread Wagon. The cars were frozen moments in time when human endeavor and raw material combined to create a pinpoint in human history that would impact the lives of so many.
We stumbled into the trophy room and if you ever needed a tangible example of the success that Ferrari has gained since 1947, this room was it! It literally takes your breath away. Knowing the history of Ferrari is one thing, seeing it is another.
The next day we toured the Ferrari factory and the company has a unique approach to its work environment. Sustainability is a big issue for Ferrari and I quite honestly thought we were in a greenhouse when we first walked in. Trees and atriums dotted the factory floor and there was a man building a V12 engine (which takes several days to do) working next to trees and plants in a perfectly controlled environment where the temperature and humidity is constant.
As we walked the assembly line, we watched the “marriage” when the chassis and body meet for the first time and while that moment can be odd or stressful with humans, you will never find an more perfectly arranged wedding. The 458 Italia’s slipped onto the chassis like a glass slipper before midnight. Each component carefully assembled to exacting standards.
The leather for each part of the car is stretched over the component by hand and the quality of the leather is impeccable. The process for the electronics, components and body are equally mesmerizing. Walking around with a phalanx of 458’s, F12’s, FF’s and other incredible Ferrari’s hanging over your head is an amazing, if not otherworldly, experience.
At each station—be it engine, dashboard, seats, chassis or body—employees were working with a passion and attention to detail that I had not experienced before. They clearly love what they do because what they make is part of them. It is part of the Ferrari ethos and the dedication to their craft is more than just a job, it is all very Italian. It takes six days to make a 458 Italia—as Jonathon Ramsey (journalist on the tour) said…how many Toyota’s do you think they make in the same time period?
Ferrari is medium-sized—with approximately 3,000 employees—and in the business of creating a product of such pure design and passion that only Apple has achieved a bigger brand presence in the world. Very few fail to recognize the Cavallino logo. While the word “Iconic” is currently being molested, abused and exploited to death, I can comfortably say that Ferrari’s logo is truly iconic and mean it in every sense of the word.
As we approached the end of the assembly line, something Henry Ford imparted on the world of car making, there was a Shell station in which the fluids were put in the vehicles. It struck me that every cylinder of every Ferrari since 1947, when fired, had Shell fuel in the piston chamber…every single one of them. From the $30m 1962 250 GTO to the 458 Italia’s and LaFerrari we saw.
After eating lunch at the Cavallino across the street—where the Old Man ate lunch—we went to try out the Shell/Ferrari simulator. With 180 degree projection screens, a real cockpit, brakes and steering wheel, we felt like Fernando Alonso. We even had a timed lap from Fernando as a time to beat at Fiorano.
It must be said that at 6’ 3”, I was very suspect about getting into the simulator. It appeared to me that it would take a shoehorn and Vaseline to get me into the monocoque and a Belger crane to get me out. I wasn’t far off my assumption.
Never the less, I fit—barely—and my knees were jamming the top of the monocoque at a painful rate. The steering wheel was in my chest and the brake pedals were like pushing on a concrete wall. This, I am told, is what the pedals feel like in the F138. I’ll take their word for it.
I was with two journalists, Graeme Fletcher and Jonathon Ramsey, and they couldn’t have been nicer chaps. Both proceeded to kick my backside from north to south on the circuit. I set the slowest time and missed many corners and apexes. Clearly I am no Formula 1 driver. The system was amazing and state-of-the-art but there is no way I could drive in that position and have any meaningful lap time. I believe I am more of a sports car, Le Mans kind of guy.
Graeme and Jonathon did really well and put in good lap times and I could have spent a week talking to both of them. They’ve driven a lot of cars and covered the industry for a long time. Graeme is British-born Canadian and he is one of the nicest, most insightful chaps I’ve met.
As we left the simulator—my tail between my legs—we headed to Montana’s Ristorante. The legends that have been in this restaurant are too numerous to count. I was introduced to Rosella and asked for a special plate with Michael Schumacher’s favorite dish on one half and Fernando Alonso’s favorite on the other—Fernando doesn’t like big chunks of tomatoes. It was incredible! The food, the Chianti Classico and company was impeccable.
A few tables over was none other than Ferrari technical boss Pat Fry. He was deep in conversation otherwise I would have asked him about the pull-rod gambit he played on McLaren. I would have asked about the new tires and reduction of weight for the car and how they were going to handle that. As it was, I left well enough alone because I am sure he didn’t need my pie-hole yapping at him.
As we ate and talked about our day, it became clearer with every location we visited. Ferrari and Shell are not a sponsorship. They are a partnership and to truly understand Ferrari, one has to understand Italy.
Italy and Ferrari are one. They are symbiotic to each other and one does not live without the other. Understanding Italy and the people that live and work there is to gain a better understanding of Ferrari itself. The point was driven home when visiting Fiorano and touring Enzo’s home.
The purple pens on the desk, the opera LP’s on the shelf next to the record player and the books chronicling every race, car and detail since 1947 and the apartment on the second floor where Schumacher would stay when in Maranello and the history within. It was Italy itself and you can understand why Schumacher, unlike others, chose to stay there instead of a posh hotel.
As interwoven as Ferrari is with the nation of Italy, you get a sense of how serious the company takes its partnerships. Seeing the Shell station on the Fiorano circuit, the Shell engineers at the factory and the fuels and lubricants used in every car—you quickly understand that this is how soluble Shell have become within the partnership that truly is the blood of Ferrari coursing through the veins of the Italian employees who continue to build the most fantastic sports cars in the world—all using Shell V-Power of course. Just like my car…minus the Ferrari bit of course.