By Alex Easthope
MARANELLO, Italy. This scruffy industrial town’s tranquil December air is about to be pierced by the yelp of a Ferrari V12. Michael Schumacher’s 2000 World Championship winning car will see the light of day yet again, as it gets a shakedown under its new extremely privileged owner at the firm’s private test circuit: Fiorano.
Photo used any creative commons Gregory Moine
Ferrari narrowly clinched the title that year from Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren at the penultimate race at Suzuka, Japan. Unfortunately Mika’s car is currently sat dormant, shrouded under a white plastic sheet in one of the British outfit’s industrial units in Woking, amongst nearly 50 relics of the marques cars, away from prying eyes. This comparison succinctly sums up the stark contrast in ideas between the two most successful rivals in Formula One’s 61-year history.
Ferrari offer ex-F1 cars for sale through their Corse Clienti service, and allow owners to run them at circuits around the world, giving people a chance to see, hear and feel them; essentially preserving their history for generations to come. Mclaren store all of their old-timers in Unit 2: a warehouse that houses all the cars, of which one or two will be carted out a year for demonstrations or merely static viewing.
This lifeless collection is F1 mythology. A high air of mystery and secrecy shrouds what is essentially one of the most valuable, important assemblies of Formula One cars in the world. A collection not one of us is allowed to see. Does McLaren have the passion that Ferrari so apparently does, or is it concealed deep beneath the surface of its soulless perception? This comparison is almost becoming cliché…
F1 Cliente was set up by Ferrari in 2006, on the back of the success of the Corse Cliente – a project established in 2001 to build closer links with clients who wanted to take their cars racing. The F1 Cliente allows bona fide Ferrari customers to buy their own little slice of the Scuderia’s history. Your Ferrari F1 car won’t sit motionless in your front room or your office though. You’ll actually get to drive it. On the ‘Ferrari Racing Days’ circus, you’ll lap at your leisure legendary circuits from all over the world, including Spa-Francorchamps, Laguna Seca and Silverstone.
You’ll then be invited to the Finali Mondiali – Ferrari’s annual party at the Mugello Autodromo, where you’ll get to drive your car alongside the current works drivers in their own current cars. Full factory support headed by ex-race engineer of 20 years – Andrea Galletti, means that your car will be looked after and maintained by the very personnel that kept it going through the season it once drove in anger. It’s surprisingly easy, providing you’ve got very deep pockets.
Choice of which car you’d like is as hard as it is varied. Any post-1970 season Ferrari Car is available, given it hasn’t already been bought, or crashed and cannibalised in its former life. Fire snarling 1000bhp+ turbo monsters from the 80’s, such as Gerhard Berger’s F1-87/88c, to the highly strung, V10 electrified cars from the noughties, Schumacher’s F2003-GA for example. You can choose the coolest souvenir from the ultimate gift-shop in the world.
Before 1970, famously unsentimental Enzo Ferrari would typically cut up his cars for scrap or spare parts when they had finished their given season. Often the following year’s car would be last year’s chassis, with minor adjustments if any at all. This sadly means that some of the most important single-seaters that raced bearing the prancing horse emblem no longer remain: Phil Hill’s 1961 championship winning, iconic 156 ‘Sharknose’ for example. Again: F1 mythology.
Similarly McLaren hardly kept any of its early cars, and had them sold to private collections around the world to fund its racing operations. This was until Ron Dennis was drafted in as Team Principle in 1980 and the decision was made that all of the then-new, Carbon Monocoque MP4 (Marlboro Project 4) cars would be kept by the factory.
The highly successful M23, that raced under Jochen Mass, Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt was so good that it lasted four seasons from 73-76 and won the firm its first driver’s and constructor’s titles. Obviously many examples of the car were produced, and though some were crashed (Jody Sheckter – Silverstone 73), many can still be traced all over the world. It is believed only 12 to 15 of the M-series cars that spanned over 14 years, have been retained by the factory.
The MP4/4 won 14 of 15 races in 88 with Ayrton Senna at the helm. A decade later the MP4/13 of Mika Hakkinen held off Schumacher to win the 98 title. In 2008, a further ten years on, Lewis Hamilton won his first championship in the MP4/23. These three cars are all significant, yet locked away in an unassuming warehouse in Woking.
Since its use was established in 97, Unit 2 as it’s internally known has housed McLaren’s whole post-81 back catalogue of cars. Iconic cars, with iconic names adorning their iconic liveries, sit silent in rows horizontally and vertically. It’s like the attic of the space-age McLaren Technology Centre, away from the public eye and only opened if need be. Despite keeping all the necessary software and equipment to keep them running, the cars sit lifeless.
Notable chassis’ will get outings at public events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed but less significant cars (T-Cars or non-winners) will be left there until their inevitable crushing when only their legacy will remain.
Granted, outing these cars in the public eye faces legal issues, with tobacco sponsorship from Marlboro and West lining most of the cars; but where McLaren will not deface their precious cars, Ferrari overcome this by simply wiping the tobacco decals, and in some cases actually transferring a modern day livery onto the older cars ensuring no legal issues with old sponsors. Clever…
Can it really be that hard to get these cars driving again? I’m sure Lewis or Jenson would love to cane some of them round a track. Hamilton had the pleasure of piloting Senna’s MP4/4 round Silverstone, and Button drove Prost’s turbo MP4/2C at Goodwood.
Few of the relics line the boulevard at headquarters in Woking. Several of them are at Donington Museum in a McLaren Exhibition. Many of them will be shipped worldwide to sit static in the company’s flagship MP4-12C supercar dealerships. But when will we get to see the cars attacking apexes again, hearing them bark through the gears, feel the ground shake as they erupt to life.
It is highly unlikely McLaren would adopt a F1 Clienti style project, which is a shame. I’m sure there are some die-hard McLaren fans that would pay big bucks to drive some of the cars. McLaren’s corporate image and high air of secrecy would not agree to lend out the family china. I for one will savour witnessing the scarlet cars I grew up with shrieking round circuits for all to enjoy.