Károly Méhes travelled to Milan last week for Ferrari’s 90th anniversary celebrations ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. Here’s his impressions from the Grande Fiesta on Piazza del Duomo.
Enzo Ferrari established his first company in 1929 – exactly 90 years ago. His name would go on to become associated with one of the most well-known and prestigious automotive brands in the world. Today, Ferrari is one of the leading producers of supercars in the world, not to mention a top-running Formula 1 team. Their young driver Charles Leclerc finally won his first race at the Belgian Grand Prix. It was also the first victory for the team in 2019. The perfect lead up to the 90th anniversary celebrations in Milan.
I arrived the day before the big event. You could already feel the anticipation building. The Piazza del Duomo and adjacent Galleria Victor Emmanuel II shopping arcade are always packed with tourists, but there was already a dose of red fever in the air. Workers were busy constructing a huge stage on the Galleria side of the square, complete with a huge Ferrari graphic.
Gilles book launch
My first order of business actually took me to the headquarters of the Automobil Club di Milano on Via Corso. The new volume of Italian motorsport magazine Formula Passion series was being launched, ‘Gilles Villeneuve’: Machina 2. The book is made up of a series of interviews, much like my own recent book on Gilles Villeneuve. Those who met and worked with the legendary French-Canadian, who passed away in 1982, always have something new to add to his story. A Ferrari 312 T5 from 1980, driven by Villeneuve of course, took pride of place in the lobby and the ceremonial hall was packed with invited guests, friends and fans.
A legendary designer
The star of the event was Mauro Forghieri, 84, who designed the Ferraris that Villeneuve raced. Forghieri sparked up when speaking about Gilles and the anecdotes followed one after another. It is remarkable how many young people also turned up to connect with a piece of Ferrari’s past in this way. Many bring books, model cars and other memorabilia to be signed by famous contemporaries of Villeneuve.
Now it was getting time for the big event on September 4. I spent almost the whole day on the Piazza del Duomo and surrounding streets, soaking up the atmosphere as the number of red-clad fans grew by the hour. A cordon was set around the stage where the cars of Amon, Regazzoni, Lauda and Schumacher were lined up alongside this year’s SF90, all of them under wraps.
At 5pm the square was practically full. I spoke to a tall gentleman from Holland, immaculately dressed in a Ferrari suit. He’s been a devoted Ferrari fan since the 1980s and hopes that Max Verstappen will one day drive a scarlet car. As the crowd of scarlet began to pulse more intensively, I escaped to the Ferrari lounge and the Highline Galleria with sweeping views over the squar
Bernie & other invited guests
Soon the big names began appearing, along with a heavy security detail. Andretti, Alesi, Arrivabene, Merzario, Montezemolo and all the others. Massa got a special welcome, Irvine too. I also spotted Bernie Ecclestone in a smart black suit and tie. There was no big fuss around him like when he was in charge of Formula 1, so I approached. He was happy to shake hands and talk about Enzo Ferrari. Surprisingly, he said the Commendatore was a charming old man who was actually pretty easy to deal with. At least he always managed it somehow. “He was very sensitive and clever,” added Bernie.
It all went to plan
After the guests had all arrived, I headed up to the tower to enjoy the show and observe the behaviour of the fans. They got what they wanted for sure, especially when you factor in Charles Leclerc’s pole position on Saturday and magnificent win for the home team on Sunday. The first Ferrari win at Monza in 9 years. It all went to plan.