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Memories of The Old Man

Maurice Hamilton August 17, 2013
Enzo Ferrari remained involved with the team right up until his death at the age of 90 © Sutton Images
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When I was motor sport correspondent for 'The Independent', I kept notes on the career of Enzo Ferrari in the back of my Filofax. This was more practical than affectionate because, truth be told, the Old Man was not well and I was on standby to write an obituary.

That sad moment came 25 years ago this week. I was on holiday in Ireland and, this being 1988 BI (Before Internet), the notes were a godsend as I wrote a piece to deadline (no pun intended) and laid out Ferrari's substantial and influential career. I was able to lace the tribute with impressions and memories, having been in the Old Man's presence three times. The first, as these things generally are, was the most memorable.

It was on 17 March 1987 and the occasion was the signing of the Mark II version of the Concorde Agreement in the Cavalino restaurant, across the road from the equally renowned archway leading to the Ferrari production plant.

Bernie Ecclestone had recently been made Vice-President of Promotional Affairs for the FIA; an appointment, given Bernie's previous discord with the governing body, that amounted to the lion lying down with the lamb - on the understanding that Mr Ecclestone could be something of a wolf in sheep's clothing. Whatever the interpretation, the occasion was big news and half of Italy wanted in on it.

I thought it appropriate that this was St Patrick's Day because the scene in that cramped room was reminiscent of Paddy's Market. It was an unprecedented move to have the media present at such an event, which explained the scenes of absolute chaos.

The top table (we were supposed to be having lunch in the middle of this pandemonium) consisted of Aleardo Buzzi (head of Philip Morris), Jean Marie Balestre (President of the FIA), Enzo Ferrari, his son Piero Lardi Ferrari and Dr Franco Gozzi, Ferrari's press officer. While everyone dressed in suits, the Old Man wore a sports jacket and sweater and, of course, the customary tinted glasses.

The gathering was about the importance of F1's future but, for the Italian media, it was really about the presence of Enzo Ferrari, a man rarely seen in public. The news value may have been zero (the proposed signing had long-since been announced) but it was an extraordinary occasion simply to witness. Here was a perfect demonstration of the Old Man's implicit power. Even the normally voluble Balestre was subdued. Bernie, of course, scarcely uttered a word.

The two subsequent visits were more orderly. The first was an audience - and that is the appropriate word given the unctuous behaviour of Ferrari minions beforehand - with myself and colleague Eoin Young being led into the darkened office. Mr Ferrari spoke in a soft, slightly rasping voice and Dr Gozzi provided a translation that, you felt, came from a handbook of replies used many times. A few minutes later, Eoin and I found ourselves outside the room, aware we had done something significant, although not entirely sure what that might be.

The final visit was different again. This was in April 1988, the British F1 media being invited to Maranello on the occasion of the San Marino GP at nearby Imola. After the familiar fuss, we were ushered into Mr Ferrari's office, where he greeted us (again, through Dr. Gozzi), signed copies of his book 'Pilote Che Gente' in purple ink, posed for photographs and told us that Peter Collins (an Englishman, of course) was the driver he admired most. If the Old Man hadn't been wearing the tinted glasses, I'm sure we'd have seen a twinkle in the aging eye as he addressed his awe-struck British audience.

As it was, we eventually left the room feeling we'd been blessed, purely in the automotive sense, of course. 'Presence' doesn't make a start when describing a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, an icon whose lingering influence can still be felt 25 years on.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live