Former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo talks Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton »

Enzo Ferrari has been lifeless these previous 32 years so we got here to Rome to fulfill the person who’s the residing embodiment of probably the most well-known motor racing workforce the world has identified.

Across the desk — simply turned 73, trim as a greyhound, carrying a bespoke blazer — sits Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

An Italian aristocrat, born in Bologna, Montezemolo needs to offer this uncommon interview as a result of, on Sunday, Ferrari will compete of their 1,000th race, a singular feat, on the Tuscan Grand Prix in Mugello. And, his household aside, Ferrari is the love of his life. 

Luca di Montezemolo gave a uncommon interview to Sportsmail on the eve of Ferrari’s 1,000th F1 race

The former Ferrari president spoke to Sportsmail’s Jonathan McEvoy from his workplace in Rome

In two stints, amounting to 29 years, as workforce supervisor and later as chairman, Montezemolo led the Scuderia to 19 world titles, and many close to misses, to cement their standing as probably the most profitable title in Formula One historical past.

He enters the room and greets me like a misplaced son. It is not any reflection on my standing however merely the Montezemolo method. An expression of the allure for which he’s famed.He calls his secretary and tells her to not settle for any interruptions whereas we chat. That shouldn’t be totally noticed as a result of his cellphone buzzes with a message from the Pope’s assistant. And a short chat with the chief government of Italy’s largest financial institution. 

On the sideboard rests the well-known image of Muhammad Ali standing over the prostrate Sonny Liston. It is signed and devoted to Montezemolo. ‘Muhammad didn’t actually like automobiles,’ he says. ‘We talked about his gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and he told me that Ferrari was a myth — the only car he loved.’

I remind Montezemolo of the tribute Bernie Ecclestone paid him when he left Ferrari without end in 2014, the casualty of an influence wrestle with the now deceased Sergio Marchionne, a stern, taciturn, bullying presence in comparison with his personal extravagant elan. 

The 73-year-old left the Scuderia in 2014 however nonetheless loves the well-known Italian workforce

Di Montzemolo believes it would take Ferrari two years to get again in control within the sport

‘When I think of Ferrari,’ stated Ecclestone, ‘I think of Enzo Ferrari and of Luca Montezemolo, and nobody else.’ Montezemolo closes his eyes on the lustiness of that remark.

These days he runs his Italo trains enterprise, and guides different portfolios akin to his household’s personal fairness agency. His fingers are in lots of pies — he masterminded Italia 90 — and his affect is such that he was lengthy courted for the presidency of Italy.

Sundays are usually not so sort on his feelings now. For Ferrari go into this weekend’s landmark race method off the tempo, a pale shadow of previous glories, for no need of cash. It is a failure of organisation and management. Montezemolo warns me he doesn’t need to launch right into a polemic in regards to the present state of the workforce, however he laments that it’ll take at the least two years to show it round, even with the correct individuals on the helm.

‘We were always contesting the championship to the last race, but that has not been the case for a number of seasons now,’ he says.

But, first, to the beginning of all of it. That got here when Montezemolo was requested on to a radio phone-in as a younger, promising rally driver. ‘The listeners could ask anything,’ he recollects. ‘They could use bad language, anything. 

Along with Michael Schumacher, Di Montezemolo visited the Pope at the Vatican in 2005

Di Montezemolo was key to Ferrari’s domination of Formula One in the early 2000s that saw them pick up five straight drivers’ championships up until 2004 with Schumacher (above)

‘One person said motor racing is for rich people, it is dangerous and bad for the environment. I answered those claims, pointing out people who had come from nowhere to be drivers. Lorenzo Bandini was a mechanic before he drove for Ferrari.

‘Now, Enzo always had the radio on at Maranello and he said, “Who is this guy? He is ballsy. I want to meet him”.’ Montezemolo went in to see the ‘Old Man’ and, after finishing his post-graduate research at Columbia University in New York, grew to become Enzo’s right-hand man, reporting again to his irascible boss — who by no means flew and even took a raise — on Ferrari’s F1 progress. He was 24, a detailed affiliate of Gianni Agnelli, and quickly appointed workforce supervisor.

He analysed all the pieces in minute element, arrange a transparent construction of command and introduced in his first world champion, a younger Austrian known as Niki Lauda, to associate Clay Regazzoni for the 1974 season, a mix of youth and expertise.

One of the photographs on the wall is of the primary win he orchestrated —Lauda at Jarama in Spain that yr. Montezemolo is leaping excessive into the air as he watches the win from the trackside. There adopted world titles in 1975 — at Monza, pleasure of joys — after a 12-year hiatus going again to John Surtees, and once more in 1977.

The 1976 season contained the outstanding accident to Lauda on the Nurburgring, the place his automobile caught fireplace and he was seconds from being burned to demise. Montezemolo was on the scene. 

Di Montzemolo had been concerned at Ferrari way back to 1974, pictured with Niki Lauda

‘The doctor said to me Niki can survive if he is able to react himself and not go to sleep. It was not a problem of the face and the burns. They are superficial. He will not die because of those.

‘The problem is the gas he had breathed in. Niki told me, “Luca, I heard what the doctor said and I did not want to sleep. I decided not to sleep”. Niki survived thanks to himself. I shall never forget when he came back at Monza, just a few weeks later. I can speak to you for three days about this. He was getting ready and a little bit of fresh blood came down from his face on to the white balaclava.

‘In Japan, in the last race when he lost the championship to James Hunt by half a point, he came in and said it was impossible to see anything in the rain. I said we can say there was a problem with the car, not that you decided to stop. “No”, he said. “I decided to stop, because it is impossible to race in these conditions. We are not masochists”.

‘Niki is one of the great friends of my life. I spoke to him one week before he died. I miss him always.’

Montezemolo left F1 in 1977 and unfold his wings — working the drinks firm, Cinzano, and launching Italy’s America’s Cup bid, amongst different enterprises. He took management of Juventus, a uncommon failure and the one yr he want to expunge from his life.

Di Montezemolo was key to turning Ferrari round from a disaster through the Nineteen Nineties

But soccer’s loss was Ferrari’s boon. In 1991, three years after Enzo’s demise, the place was in gloom and disarray.

The final championship was method again in 1979 for Jody Scheckter.

Chaos reigned. Who designed the automobile, requested Montezemolo?

Nobody knew. He had to return to the drafting board, revitalising each the street automobile enterprise and racing workforce. In got here Jean Todt — who, horror of horrors, turned up for his interview in a blue Mercedes — Ross Brawn and designer Rory Byrne. And, in fact, Michael Schumacher. This was the dream line-up who dominated the early years of the century. ‘Michael came at the perfect time. He was the ultimate team driver. He liked that environment. He gave everything to the team and had their loyalty in return.

‘He spent as much time as he could at Maranello and ate at the restaurant by the factory. 

Schumacher arrived in 1996 at Ferrari as Di Montezemolo put together a winning team

‘I was pleased his son Mick won the F2 race the other day at Monza. I remember when he was tiny. They were at my house for dinner and there were mosquitoes. Michael put a covering on his cot to protect him from being bitten.

‘And every five minutes Michael got up from the table to lift the blanket to see that Mick was fine.’

I ask him who stands out amongst Ferrari drivers. Schumacher and Lauda prepared the ground, together with Alberto Ascari. Kimi Raikkonen, the final Ferrari champion in 2007, is one other he preferred. ‘He was silent, a good man, a team man,’ he stated. Gerhard Berger, he says, contributed necessary wins.

Nigel Mansell’s hearty driving he appreciated, too.

He says: ‘Fernando Alonso was possibly as good as Michael in the race. In the race.’ Yes, however too troublesome. That is a Montezemolo no-no. Sebastian Vettel, the outgoing No 1, he says turned up for his interview with a field of Swiss candies — the final main driver appointment he brokered.

But who’s the best ever? ‘Jimmy Clark is my hero, Jackie Stewart also fantastic, and Ayrton Senna, of course. Alain Prost was very, very good. But he was a small fraction below the best, best, best. 

The Italian admitted he spoke to Ayrton Senna about a Ferrari drive just days before the Brazilian’s tragic death at the Sam Marino Grand Prix in 1994

He also praised current world champion Lewis Hamilton as ‘one of the best drivers in history’

‘I invited Ayrton to my house on the Wednesday before Imola in 1994. He said he wanted to drive for Ferrari. I said I wanted him to drive for Ferrari. He was pleased I was against electronic aides, which he thought made average drivers seem as good as him. Three days later he died.’

I ponder whether he may see Lewis Hamilton at Ferrari. He barely dodges the query, however I’m left with the impression that if Montezemelo have been nonetheless in cost, the Briton could be wearing pink.

‘Listen, Lewis is one of the best drivers in history,’ he says. ‘I have sold him some Ferraris. He is very correct. A good person and a good driver. The other one I like is Max Verstappen.’

Montezemolo, who will attend a celebration dinner in Mugello on Saturday evening, has damaged quite a few tv units in anger over time — when Schumacher crashed in Jerez in 1997 and when Hamilton beat Felipe Massa to the title on the final lap in Brazil in 2008. ‘That is what it means to me,’ he says. ‘I love Formula One and I love Ferrari, and that will never change.’

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