Károly Méhes looks back on a memorable weekend at Monza in 2004, when Michael Schumacher was at the peak of his powers and Ferrari celebrated their 700th Grand Prix at their home race.In the early 2000s I was working as a media consultant for Shell, one of Ferrari’s major sponsors in Formula 1. My role provided some good opportunities to take part in major events, such as the celebration of Ferrari’s 700th F1 race at the 2004 Italian Grand Prix. The timing was perfect. Michael Schumacher had just claimed a record-breaking seventh drivers’ title and Ferrari was at the peak of their powers. The fact that the celebration took place at Monza was a bonus. Piero Ferrari told me that his father Enzo had always considered the Italian Grand Prix the most important event of the year, in some ways even more prestigious than the championships. “He used to say to his engineers and drivers that they must deliver their best in Monza. Usually we had a new, more powerful engine available for Monza. The drivers knew what was expected of them,” he says.
With the title already in the bag, Schumacher probably took it a little bit easy at Monza that year. Rubens Barrichello secured the pole ahead of Williams’ Juan Pablo Montoya, with Michael back in third. After qualifying, I was honoured to receive an invitation to the big party celebrating the Scuderia’s 700th race. Ferrari’s stars of yesteryear were also in attendance. Phil Hill, the 1961 World Champion. Cesare Fiorio, former team principal. Ex-drivers Stefan Johansson and Eddie Irvine. Everyone was happy to be there and ready to reminisce about their time with the world’s most famous Formula 1 team. I also caught up once again with Monsignore Sergio Mantovani, the priest of the F1 drivers, who was always especially kind towards me for some unknown reason.
The big event was held outside the Paddock in a huge tent. At the entrance, an exhibition of historic Ferraris, engines and photographic tributes to the heroes of the team. Schumacher arrived in an easy mood, seemingly enjoying the moment. We were sat on large round tables, the menu card sitting atop our plates. But before the food, it was time for the formalities. The leading members of the team took to the stage, including Sporting Director Jean Todt, Schumacher, Barichello and test driver Luca Badoer. Luca di Montezemelo, the charismatic and legendary boss of Ferrari, spoke about the history of the team. From its humble beginnings with Enzo Ferrari in the early years of the modern World Championship through multiple titles up to its recent giant killing form with Michael Schumacher. As you can see from the menu card, it was a memorable dinner. We also received a gift as we departed – a keyring with the Ferrari logo commemorating the team’s 700th race. The next day, Rubens Barichello led home Michael Schumacher for the icing on the cake; a Ferrari 1-2 at Monza.
Back in 2004, 700 races seemed a lot. But here we are in the 70th year of the championship and Ferrari is getting ready to celebrate its 1000th race! Will there be a similar celebration at Mugello for Ferrari’s 1000th race? Probably nowhere near so extravagant, given the current situation with the pandemic. But it will still be a special weekend, even if Ferrari’s current form is hardly worthy of celebration. No one is expecting a miracle turnaround in the team’s current on-track fortunes, but 1000 Formula 1 races is still a unique achievement.