Enzo Ferrari Biography – Italian Entrepreneur, Ferrari Brand, Motorsports, Legacy

Enzo Ferrari Biography
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Enzo Ferrari. Rainer W. Schlegelmilch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Enzo Ferrari Biography and Legacy

Enzo Ferrari was an Italian entrepreneur and former motor racing driver, who founded the Scuderia Ferrari Grand Prix motor racing team and Ferrari S.p.A.

Over the years, Ferrari created one of the most successful and iconic automobile brands in history. He was commonly referred to as il Commendatore or il Drake.

Early Life

Enzo Ferrari was born on 20th February 1898 in Modena, northern Italy to Alfredo Ferrari and Adalgisa Bisbini. However, even though the date of birth on his birth certificate states 20th February, it is said that he was actually born on 18th February. But since there was a heavy snowstorm that day, his father was only able to report the birth at the local registry office two days later.

Ferrari was the younger of two children, after his elder brother Alfredo Junior, who was commonly called Dino.

Ferrari had little formal education in his early years. In 1908, aged 10, he saw Italian race car driver Felice Nazzaro win at the Circuit di Bologna. This event inspired him to become a racing driver.

Death of his Father and Brother

During the First World War, Enzo Ferrari served in the 3rd Mountain Artillery Regiment of the Italian Army. The regiment specialized in mountain combat and supported the Italian Army’s mountain infantry troops.

In 1916, tragedy struck the Ferrari family. Ferrari lost his father and brother to a flu outbreak. The loss left him absolutely devastated. Two years later, during the 1918 flu pandemic, he became seriously ill and was discharged from military service.

The Start of a Racing Career

After returning from military service, Enzo Ferrari began looking for a job in the automobile industry.

He first approached Fiat and offered his services to them, but was rejected. He eventually got a job as a test driver for Milan-based car manufacturer C.M.N (Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali). C.M.N. rebuilt used truck bodies into small passenger cars.

Shortly thereafter, Ferrari was promoted to race car driver for C.M.N., making his childhood dream come true.

In 1919, Ferrari, aged 21, made his competitive racing debut in the Parma-Poggio di Berceto hill climb race. Driving a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder C.M.N. 15/20, he finished fourth in the 3-liter category.

In November of the same year, he participated in the Targa Florio, an open-road endurance automobile race held in the mountains of Sicily. Unfortunately, he was forced to retire after his car’s fuel tank suffered a leak.

Joining Alfa Romeo

In 1920, Enzo Ferrari, aged 22, joined the racing department of Alfa Romeo as a race car driver.

Three years later, he won his first Grand Prix in Ravenna on the Savio Circuit. The following year, 1924, he won three races in Ravenna, Polesine, and Pescara, making it his best season.

After the death of Ugo Sivocci in 1923 and Antonia Ascari in 1925, Ferrari lost some interest and enthusiasm for racing. Instead, he became more interested in the background and organizational aspects of racing.

Founding Scuderia Ferrari

In 1929, Enzo Ferrari founded Scuderia Ferrari by taking financial help from wealthy amateur racing driver Mario Tadini and textile heirs Alfredo and Augusto Caniato. It would eventually go on to act as the racing division of Alfa Romeo.

The purpose of the enterprise was to enter amateur racing drivers in various races, most of whom race in various Alfa Romeo 8C cars. At one point, when at its peak, the Scuderia Ferrari team included around 40 drivers, including Ferrari himself.

Retiring from Racing

After the birth of his first son, Dino, in 1932, Enzo Ferrari decided to retire from racing. Instead, he began focusing on the management and development of the factory of Alfa Romeo race cars.

In 1933, as Alfa Romeo began experiencing financial difficulties, Scuderia Ferrari became the acting racing team of Alfa Romeo. In 1936, Ferrari and Bazzi built the Alfa Romeo Bimotore, which became the first car to wear a Ferrari badge on the radiator cowl.

The Prancing Horse Emblem

The prancing horse emblem had been created and sported by Francesco Baracca, an Italian fighter plane pilot.

During the First World War, prior to taking off, Baracca gave Ferrari a necklace with the prancing horse on it. Unfortunately, Baracca was shot down by an Austrian airplane. And so, in memory of his death, Ferrari used the prancing horse to create the world-famous Ferrari emblem.

Managing Alfa Corse

Around 1938, Alfa Romeo made Enzo Ferrari the manager of the factory racing team, Alfa Corse.

In his new capacity, Ferrari managed many talented and established drivers such as Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, Giuseppe Campari, and Louis Chiron.

The previous year, Alfa Romeo had bought the shares of Scuderia Ferrari and then transferred the official racing activity to Alfa Corse. But Ferrari disagreed with this new policy and at last left Alfa Romeo in 1939 after a disagreement with the managing director of Alfa Romeo, Ugo Gobatto.

Ferrari then formed his own company, Auto-Avio Costruzioni, which supplied parts to other racing teams.

The deal with Alfa Romeo included a condition that restricted Ferrari from designing and racing cars for four years. But in spite of this condition, Ferrari managed to manufacture two cars (which were the first true Ferrari cars) for the 1940 Mille Miglia, an open road endurance race. The cars were driven by Lotario Rangoni and Alberto Ascari.

World War II Years

During the Second World War, the Ferrari factory was forced to undertake war production for Mussolini’s government. The war years put a temporary end to racing and the two Ferrari cars had no chance to compete.

In 1943, Enzo Ferrari moved the factory from Modena to Maranello, where it was bombed by the Allied forces but quickly rebuilt. During this period, the company mainly focused on fabricating grinding machines which were copies of original German tooling machines.

Post-War Racing

After the end of the war, in 1947, Enzo Ferrari established Ferrari S.p.A with the intention to start manufacturing cars bearing his own name.

In 1948, the Ferrari team’s first racing car made its debut in Turin. And toward the end of the year, they had their first victory in Lago di Garda.

The following year, they had their first major win at the 24 Hours Le Mans with Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchel-Thomson driving a Ferrari 166 MM.

In 1950, the Ferrari team entered the newly established Formula One Drivers World Championship, eventually becoming the only team to remain continuously present since its formation. They soon made their mark in the competition by winning their first world championship Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1951.

And in the following two years, 1952 and 1953, they won their first and second championships with Alberto Ascari, thereby beginning the Ferrari legacy.

Accident at Mille Miglia

During the 1957 Mille Miglia, a 4.0 liter Ferrari 335 S, driven by Spanish driver Alfonso de Portago, blew a tire and crashed into the roadside crowd, killing de Portago, his co-driver, and nine spectators, five of whom were children.

Enzo Ferrari and Englebert (the tire manufacturer) were charged with manslaughter and the criminal prosecution initiated against them lasted for almost four years, when it was at last dismissed in 1961.

This accident was a low point in Ferrari’s career, one that would haunt him for years to come.

Continued Success at Racing

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the Ferrari team continued to race in Mille Miglia, Le Mans, and Formula One. Each event garnered new victories for the team, thereby increasing the popularity of the Ferrari brand.

Some of their greatest victories came in Formula One in the 1950s and 1960s with great drivers like Juan Manuel Fangio, Mike Hawthorn, and Phil Hill winning the world championship.

Ferrari also had nine victories in Le Mans during this period, which included six victories in a row from 1960 to 1965.

Expanding the Ferrari Brand

Enzo Ferrari’s main passion had always remained racing. And in order to finance his racing endeavors in Formula One and other competitions, the company began manufacturing and selling road cars.

In the early 1960s, the company manufactured Dino road cars that sold well, and then followed it with models like the Ferrari 275 and Ferrari Daytona. The success of these road cars enabled the company to finance its Formula One racing, which resulted in John Surtees winning the world title in 1964.

Merging with Fiat S.p.A

By 1960, Ferrari was experiencing increasing financial difficulties. There were several new safety standards and clean air emission requirements for road car production which needed to be complied with. On top of that, the Ferrari team was racing in multiple categories and competitions.

All these difficulties forced Enzo Ferrari to look for a business partner who would be able to manage and expand the production of the Ferrari road cars. And he found one in Fiat S.p.A.

By 1969, Enzo Ferrari had sold 50% of the company to Fiat with a condition that he would have 100% control of the company’s racing activities, while Fiat would take charge of road car production. Fiat agreed. By 1988, Fiat would own 90% of Ferrari.

In 1971, Ferrari stepped down as managing director of the road car division.

Management Style

Enzo Ferrari’s management style was highly controversial. He had a strong, overpowering personality and an autocratic way of running the company.

Perhaps, the most controversial aspect of his management style was pitting his drivers against each other in order to make them more competitive and improve their performance. It is said that he deliberately increased psychological pressure on his drivers and encouraged intra-team rivalries, believing that it would produce better results for the drivers.

Ferrari also often expected his drivers to go beyond reasonable limits, many of whom lost their lives driving for the team. After the death of Giuseppe Campari in 1933 and Alberto Ascari in 1955, Ferrari refrained from getting too close to his drivers, out of fear of emotionally hurting himself in case of their death.

Final Years

The last championship won by a Ferrari driver before Enzo Ferrari’s death was in 1979, when Jody Scheckter won the title.

After that season, Ferrari experienced a minor downfall in their performances, with 1980 and 1981 being dull seasons. In 1982, Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve (one of the few drivers whom Ferrari had become close to) was killed in an accident during the free practice for the Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder.

The same year, teammate Didier Pironi was ruled out of the championship while he was leading the table, after an accident at Hockenheim. The accident forced him to sit out for the remaining five races, thereby losing his lead and the championship by 5 points. However, in 1982 and 1983, Ferrari won the Constructors Championship.

The last time Enzo Ferrari witnessed a Ferrari driver winning was when Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto finished first and second respectively in the Australian Grand Prix in 1987.


On 14th August 1988, Enzo Ferrari, aged 90, died in Maranello.

The cause of his death was not revealed to the public, who were informed of his death two days later in accordance with Ferrari’s request, in order to compensate for the late registration of his birth.

Shortly before his death, the Ferrari F40 sports car was launched to honor his achievements.

A few weeks after his death, Ferrari finished first and second at the Italian Grand Prix. It was the only race McLaren failed to win that season, almost as if the race was destined to be a tribute to Enzo Ferrari.


Enzo Ferrari is considered one of the most iconic and influential figures in the history of motorsports in general and Formula One in particular.

He was one of the few people who had achieved a legendary and almost mythical stature during his lifetime, which only intensified after his death. He created a company, a brand, which has become iconic in itself, and he did it all from scratch, starting from humble beginnings. The Scuderia Ferrari racing team is now the oldest surviving and most successful team in Formula One history.

Rarely has a man commanded as much respect and admiration in the world of automobiles as Ferrari has. His strong and intimidating personality, leadership style, and charismatic look earned him nicknames such as il Commendatore, il Drake, il Grande Vecchio (the Great Old Man), and l’Ingegnere (The Engineer).

Because of his reserved life, and his reluctance to travel and grant interviews, he always remained an enigmatic and mysterious figure, which only served to enhance his image.

In 1994, Enzo Ferrari was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. And in 2000, he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

One thing is for certain, the legend of Ferrari shall continue to live on and his shadow shall continue to loom large in the world of racing.