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Today in history... a new name on the motor racing scene

12:00am | & News

On October 5th, 1919, a young Italian car mechanic and aspiring engineer took part in his first car race, a hill climb in Parma, finishing in fourth place. He would go on to compete in 47 races, winning 13 of them, but it was not as a driver that he would make his name. That name was Enzo Ferrari.

The young Ferrari was a good driver, but not a great one. Some commentators felt he took too few risks because he cared too much for the sports cars he drove. He wouldn't risk destroying an engine he'd worked on just to win a race.

It was no surprise to those who knew him when, from the late 1920s, he gradually quit his career racing cars to spend more time building them. He was always happier – and more talented – under the bonnet than behind the wheel.

Having raced for Alfa Romeo, he eventually secured a job with the company and took over its racing department in 1929, managing its stable of drivers and overseeing the development of new cars. Known for a heavy-handed management style and a tendency to promote his own name on Alfa's products, he often clashed with his bosses and finally parted company with them in 1939, on the brink of World War Two.

His ambition to start building his own cars was thwarted by the war, his factory forced instead to produce machine parts for the war effort. It also saw the factory relocated from Modena to Maranello to escape Allied bombing raids. It wasn't until 1947 that Enzo, by then approaching 50, was able to found his own car company.

For any business hoping to sell prestige sports cars, success on the race track was crucial and it wasn't long in coming for Ferrari. When victory in the 1949 Le Mans 24-hour race followed a series of smaller wins, the motor racing world was forced to recognise Ferrari's arrival. In 1952 Ferrari driver Alberto Ascari became the world racing champion, winning every race he entered.

The fifties would prove pivotal for Ferrari, his cars dominating the racing scene, winning eight world championships and five Grand Prix championships. This was partly because Ferrari's cars were stronger and more powerful, but also because he flooded races with his cars and hired the most daredevil drivers to race them. It was a winning policy, but one that also courted controversy and disaster.

Between 1955 and 1965, six of Ferrari's drivers were killed in crashes and on five occasions his heavy, superpowered cars careered off the racetrack and into the crowds of spectators, killing 50 in total. After one such disaster in 1957, Ferrari himself was put on trial for manslaughter, but acquitted.

Gradually Ferrari's dominance began to dwindle, partly due to other manufacturers' advances, but also because of Enzo's own stranglehold on his company. He was often suspicious and scornful of technological advances which he hadn't personally developed and, as a result, slow to incorporate them in his own cars.

Even so, his road-going cars had earned an unrivalled reputation for combining performance with classic Italian styling. Owning a Ferrari became a dream and a marker of success for entrepreneurs around the world.

Enzo Ferrari died on August 14th, 1988, at the age of 90, but his legacy lives on. Ferrari returned to winning ways on the Grand Prix circuit, winning successive world drivers' championships from 2000 to 2004 with Michael Schumacher, and again in 2007 with Kimi Raikkonen.

Meanwhile the Maranello factory continues to produce some of the world's most exclusive and sought-after sports cars, all bearing the famous prancing horse emblem and the legendary name of Ferrari.

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