Lapo Elkann reveals legendary Ferrari figurehead’s favourite ever F1 drivers

Sam Cooper
Ferrari's base in Maranello, Italy.

Ferrari's base in Maranello.

The grandson of one of the men credited for saving Ferrari from financial ruin has been recounting why his grandfather loved the Italian racing outfit.

Ferrari was founded by Enzo Ferrari in 1939 and was present during the first ever Formula 1 race in 1950 but in the 1960s, there was genuine concern the car company may go out of business.

With dwindling cash reserves, Ferrari sought investment and came close to a deal with American giant Ford only for another Italian brand, Fiat, to step in.

Fiat, under the leadership of Gianni Agnelli, purchased a 50% stake in 1969 which increased to 90% following Enzo Ferrari’s death in 1988.

That has been the way Ferrari operated since the 1960s with Fiat having a large say in their road car manufacturing but largely leaving the racing side alone, a key point if Enzo was going to consider a deal.

Fiat’s involvement has increased since the death of Ferrari’s founder, with Agnelli’s grandson John Elkann eventually succeeding him as CEO but another of his grandchildren has been reminiscing on what made Agnelli fall in love with Ferrari and how he made it a success.

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“He saved the Prancing Horse, preventing it from being sold to the Americans,” Lapo Elkann told Oggi magazine. “Then he chose the right people: [former Ferrari chairman] Luca di Montezemolo and Jean Todt.

“He loved Ferrari cars and he loved all the beautiful things in life. It’s not enough to be rich to appreciate beauty. Taste cannot be bought.”

Even before Fiat purchased the stake in Ferrari, Agnelli was a great lover of their cars, said to be bewitched by the 166 MM he saw at the 1948 Turin Motor Show. He also owned a 212 Inter, the 375 America, the 400 Superamerica, the 365 P Speciale, the Testarossa and the F40.

Agnelli oversaw plenty of drivers through his tenure and Elkann said his favourites were the ones who won.

“His favourite driver was the one who won,” the Italian businessman and philanthropist said. “I think that’s why he loved Michael Schumacher. Then he liked Gilles Villeneuve, his way of driving. And Ayrton Senna, who, had he not died so tragically, would have come to Ferrari the following year.

“He loved talent and courage and also recognised them in his opponents. He was a true sportsman.”

In 1996, Agnelli stepped down but kept the title of honorary chairman until his death in 2003. Current chairman and CEO John Elkan was installed in July 2018.