The Character of Enzo Ferrari and the 1959 French GP.

Enzo Ferrari: Hero or Villain?

VillainIn 1959, and for many years to come, Formula 1 had a dark side.  Largely accepted at the time, drivers risked their life each and every time they revved the engine and dropped the clutch.  And if death was the dark side, then Enzo Ferrari was the catalyst.  He was like a passive-aggressive Darth Vader.  He had the ego and dark charisma of The Governor (The Walking Dead, television series/comic book).  Finally, Enzo had the snarl and sharp tongue only rivaled by the character Brick Top (Snatch, movie).

Enzo, himself, had a strange relationship with death. His son Dino died, in 1956.  Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari died of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  My understanding is that, at the time, his affliction was a mystery.  His death must have haunted him, especially in the latter part of the 1950’s.  How could anyone not be devastated by the death of their own son at such a young age?  And yet, he had no empathy for the danger his drivers faced.  More than that, he manipulated his drivers into pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones.

In my head, the history of Formula 1 has been playing out as an epic story made of larger than life characters.  My hope, therefore, is that I can convey a sense of story as I plod through the annals of F1.  Formula 1 racing, especially in the early days, is filled with bigger than life characters.  The protagnists have been challenged by their fear, their machines, and their competitors.  However, the story has lacked a villain.  Just as Bernie Ecclestone does today, in my opinion, Enzo Ferrari is the villain of the past.  Certainly, as the self-made founder of Ferrari, he is entitled to a modicum of respect.  Yet, it is difficult to condone his methods of manipulating his drivers into pushing themselves past their limit.

And so, I begin the story of Enzo Ferrari, the myth, the man, and the legend.  But now, it is time to turn to the race at hand, the 1959 French GP.

The French Grand Prix, 1959.

1959 French GP Tony BrooksThe track was a collection of roads named for the nearby town – Reims.  The XLV Grand Prix L’ACF was a 50 lap race taking place over 259 miles.  For just over two hours, some great names of Formula 1 raced around the high-speed road course.  This race was all about Ferrari power.  While Enzo was receptive to a number of advancements including disc brakes and rear-engined cars, he did believe in power.

The high-revving Italian V6 engines in the Ferrari Dino 246s’s blasted down the straight lines of the French roads.  Enzo was so confident that the track suited his cars that he ordered six cars to be raced.  Ferrari was in force.

As the picture hints, Ferrari did dominate.  In fact, Tony Brooks qualified his Ferrari around the 5.187 mile circuit in 2:22.8, a blistering pace.

The day was so hot that the hot tires literally pulled the asphalt out of the road and pelted pebbles at the drivers behind.  But, Tony Brooks in his bright red Ferrari could not be stopped.  He led every lap and won the race.  American Phill Hill finished 27.5 seconds back in second.  Jack Brabham grabbed some points in third place.

Miscellaneous Notations.

Stirling Moss Succeeds at the Nurburgring 1,000 kms.

Nurburgring 3d outline with stencil

In these days, drivers often competed in sports car races on non-F1 weekends.  Nearly a month ago (June 7, 1959), Stirling Moss went to the Nurburgring 1,000 kilometer endurance race.  He won.  In fact, he had also won the race in 1956 and 1958.  For me, this versatility weighs in Stirling Moss’ favor as to whether to consider him to be one of the greatest drivers of all time.  Stirling Moss may never have won a championship, but he displayed a wide-variety of skills with incredible adaptability.  Such skills ought not to be overlooked.

This raises an on-going question I have had.  Simply, can being “ultimately quickest” be defined purely by numbers, wins, and fast laps; or, must one consider more than just a drivers’ Formula 1 statistics?  As of yet, I have no answer.

Dan Gurney Steps Up.

As an American, I like seeing US driver’s succeed – even if it happened over 50 years ago.  A northern Californian, he got an audience with Enzo on a test day.  He was up to speed, immediately.  He impressed Enzo, who offered him a contract on the spot.

Driver Jean Behra Fights Ferrari Manager.

Behra vs Tavoni_edited-1Jean Behra was a hard-nosed Frenchman.  He also had a massive ego.  The result, following the race, was that Behra accused the Ferrari team manager Romolo Tavoni of assigning him a damaged car.  Things got heated, and the Frenchman took a swing at the wiry original hipster.

Enzo pitted his driver’s against each other; however, he does not seem to put up with insubordination toward management.  He was summarily fired, essentially on the spot.  This started a devastating turn of events.  Behra was killed in a support race, trying to impress his way back into a F1 drive, the day before the 1959 German Grand Prix.  For me, this stands as a reminder of two things: (1) that life is frail and fleeting; and (2) that we can never know which of our decisions will impact our lives the most.

Driver’s Championship.

  • Jack Brabham – 19
  • Tony Brooks – 14
  • Phil Hill – 9

Constructor’s Championship.

  • Cooper-Climax – 18
  • Scuderia Ferrari – 16
  • BRM (British Racing Motors) – 8