The Races Ferrari Missed

When I learnt that Turkey was Ferrari’s 800th race (out of 827), my initial thoughts were to check the figures, and that it would be interesting to examine the ones they missed.

1950    British GP    (1)
     Indianapolis 500    (2)
     French GP    (3)

The historical importance of this new World Championship was simply not appreciated at the time, and Ferrari missed the first round due to insufficient starting money for an overseas event. However, with Enzo Ferrari’s legendary lack of sentimentality, it probably would not have made a difference if he had realised the significance.

The Ferrari team went to Reims with drivers Gigi Villoresi and Alberto Ascari, but on realising the 1·5 litre supercharged V12 engines were not going to be competitive withdrew. Peter Whitehead, a rich British privateer and the first person ever to be sold a Ferrari F1 car, took his similarly engined Ferrari 125 to his highest ever finish of third, albeit three laps behind the Alfa Romeos. Ascari instead entered the supporting F2 race for Ferrari, which he won.

1951    Indianapolis 500    (4)

Since the World Championship only otherwise had European races for several years, the Indianapolis 500 was officially included from 1950 to 1960 to make the series look more intercontinental. The only notable crossover was in 1952, when Alberto Ascari missed the first-round Swiss Grand Prix to compete for Ferrari at Indianapolis. Piero Taruffi won for the team at Bremgarten; Ascari managed only 40 laps before retiring with a wheel problem at the Brickyard, but returned to Europe to win all six remaining European rounds (with only the best four scores counting). So Ferrari became the first team to compete in all rounds in a season of the World Championship. However, none were Formula One as in 1952 and 1953, Formula Two rules were adopted to generate better fields. Ascari then won the first three F2 rounds in ’53 on the way to a second title. This was nine wins-in-a-row, or seven as round-two at Indianapolis ’53 was missed.

1953    Indianapolis 500    (5)
1954    Indianapolis 500    (6)
1955    Indianapolis 500    (7)
1956    Indianapolis 500    (8)
1957    Indianapolis 500    (9)

In 1957, the Pescara Grand Prix (about halfway down the East coast of Italy) was held for the only time, which at 15.89 miles remains the longest ever circuit used. For some reason, Ferrari only sent one car for Luigi Musso. It should also be noted that all entries in ’56 and ’57 were Lancia-Ferraris, after at the end of 1955, Lancia had withdrawn and handed their cars and designer to Scuderia Ferrari. Juan Manuel Fangio won the World Championship for the team in 1956.

1958    Indianapolis 500    (10)
1959    Indianapolis 500    (11)
     British Grand Prix    (12)

Ferrari’s absence in Britain was blamed on strikes in Italy, but was probably a pretext for wanting more starting money. Ferrari driver, Tony Brooks, was able to start his home Grand Prix at Aintree in a Vanwall instead, but only lasted 13 laps.

1960    Indianapolis 500    (13)
     USA Grand Prix    (14)

The second USA Grand Prix at Riverside, California, was ten weeks after the rest of the season, and Ferrari prefered to look to the next year. Drivers, Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, picked up rides in customer Coopers. This was the last year of the Indianapolis 500’s inclusion.

1961    USA Grand Prix    (15)

That there was a USA Grand Prix in 1961, given to Watkins Glen at a few weeks notice to replace a scheduled Formula Libre race, had much to do with American driver, Phil Hill’s success in that year’s title-chase. Hill won the round before at Monza, tragically clinching the title due to his team-mate, Wolfgang von Trips, being killed in the race in an accident that took the lives of fourteen spectators. Ferrari declined increased offers of starting money, and Phil Hill attended as Grand Marshall but could not race. Enzo Ferrari probably would have been more than happy to take the cash but the shockwaves in Italy over the deaths at Monza left little choice but to not attend.

1962    French Grand Prix    (16)
     USA Grand Prix    (17)
     South Africa Grand Prix    (18)

The reason cited for non-attendance in France was industrial action. Ferrari did not have any drivers in contention so skipped the last two rounds. It was quite a spread of dates with Monza on 16th September, Watkins Glen on 7th October, and the title-decider between Graham Hill and Jim Clark (East London, first GP in South Africa), not until 29th December.

Ferrari managed full attendance in 1963 and John Surtees won the title for the team in 1964, but not in a scarlet Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari had a huge row with the Automobile Club d’Italia when they would not back him over his dispute with FIA over homologation of the Ferrari 250LM for sports-car racing, relinquished his Italian entrants licence, and swore his cars would never race in red again. The ACI did not bend so the Ferraris were entered in the last two rounds by Luigi Chinetti, a successful dealer for the marque in America, under the North American Racing Team banner, with the cars in USA racing colours of blue-and-white.

The dispute rumbled on into 1965, with the cars back in scarlet but entered (as Scuderia Ferrari) by team manager, Eugenio Dragoni, in the first race in South Africa (held on 1st January with second round, Monaco, not until May 30th). NART-entered Ferraris appeared again in the USA and Mexico at the end of the ’65 season, this time to run Pedro Rodriguez on Firestone tyres, bypassing the contract with Dunlop. Lorenzo Bandini led the ‘official’ team.

1966    British Grand Prix    (19)
     Mexico Grand Prix    (20)

Strikes again saw Ferrari miss Britain, and the last round at Mexico was another case of being outside the title-chase so why the bother?

1967    South Africa Grand Prix    (21)

Another South African GP near the turn of the year (four months before Monaco) which Ferrari decided to skip.

1968    Monaco Grand Prix    (22)

Ferrari driver, Lorenzo Bandini, had been killed at Monaco in horrific circumstances during the 1967 race. He had gone wide after clipping the chicane following the tunnel (then more a bridge than a tunnel), hit a post on the harbour-side barely protected by a straw-bale, and the car crashed to the other side of the track upside-down with the ruptured tank turning it into a fireball. The marshals took an age to do anything not having the clothing to approach the inferno or suitable extinguishers, and between the noise of the passing cars racing unabated, Bandini could be heard screaming. Eventually, charred and smashed, he was dragged out to die three days later in hospital. The death of von Trips had drawn censure from the Italian government and the Vatican, and Bandini’s death caused another national uproar of flak in Ferrari’s direction. Safety standards were reported to be the reason Ferrari did not attend Monaco in ’68, but the Commodore never seemed to consider driver-safety a priority. Drivers were often goaded into pushing harder by being berated for not trying, or having their car turn up late for practice if out of favour within the team, despite the deaths this contributed to. Had they gone to Monaco in ’68 and had another tragedy, the Italian backlash might have been unsustainable, so it was about the safety of the team, not the drivers.

1969    Germany Grand Prix    (23)

In 1968, Enzo Ferrari had secured the future of the marque by selling Ferrari to FIAT in a deal that guaranteed him control of the racing team. 1969 was a restructuring year in which only Chris Amon raced for the team until the British Grand Prix. There he was joined by Pedro Rodríguez, the team skipped Germany at short notice, and Amon had left by the next round at Monza. Rodríguez was entered in Canada, USA and Mexico by Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team. Only an older car, not used since the second round at Spain, was sent over, attended to by Chinetti’s mechanics, in what seems to have been a cheap way to collect on the large starting and prize money for the American events.

1973    Dutch Grand Prix    (24)
     German Grand Prix    (25)

Another half-hearted year by Ferrari. Jackie Ickx was into his fourth season for the team but left after the British Grand Prix. Arturo Merzario had driven the second car at some races. The team did not enter the two GPs, a week apart, in Holland and Germany, as the car was uncompetitive, and Merzario finished off the season with the team.

Phil Hill and John Surtees had both found out when they joined Ferrari that the main emphasis was often on Le Mans, back in the ‘sixties a bigger event than any Grand Prix, and success there selling more cars to raise money for Enzo Ferrari’s racing. After 1973, works involvement in sports-cars ended to concentrate on Formula One. Thus Ferrari were back in force challenging for the title in 1974, with Nicki Lauda winning it in ’75.

1976    Austrian Grand Prix    (26)

Nicki Lauda was still critically ill in hospital after his fiery Nürburgring accident. Enzo Ferrari threw a tantrum over James Hunt having his Spanish win reinstated on appeal, and announced he was withdrawing from the World Championship, almost leading to the cancellation of Austria. They were back with Regazzoni the round after. Lauda returned for Italy, annoyed Reuterman had already been signed to replace him for 1977, in which year Lauda won his second title for Ferrari. Jody Scheckter won the team’s next drivers’ title in 1979.

1982    Belgium Grand Prix    (27)
     Swiss Grand Prix    (28)

The team started the year with Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi. After one point in the first two races in South Africa and Brazil, Ferrari raced at Long Beach sporting two rear-wings, offset one to the left and one to the right, arguing both were individually within the width restriction. This was basically another Ferrari hissy-fit. The Ford Cosworth teams were running underweight against the heavier turbo-cars by taking advantage of a rule allowing them to top up water-and-oil before post-race weighing, and were pouring gallons of liquid into big tanks in the sidepods. Pironi retired but Villeneuve finished third and was obviously disqualified.

Next was San Marino, which FOCA led by Ecclestone boycotted. Once the Renaults had blown up, although some think it was one of the most exciting races ever with the Ferrari drivers repeatedly passing each other, sometimes twice a lap, it seems more probable they were showboating, until on the last lap, Pironi nipped by and grabbed the win. Villeneuve was livid, he had played second fiddle to help Scheckter win in ’79, now it was his turn, and he vowed never to speak to Pironi again.

He never did. In the final burst of qualifying at the next event in Belgium at Zolder, Gilles went out on qualifying tyres that he had already had the best of to make up a tenth of a second on Didier. He came across Jochen Mass’s March who tried to get out the way. Mass went to the left as Villeneuve did, then Jochen pulled to the right just as Villeneuve decided to go right, flying over the March right-rear wheel launching him into a bank. The front of the car was smashed away, Villeneuve was thrown out and killed. The team withdrew from the race.

Didier Pironi alone raced in Monaco, Detroit and Canada. Patrick Tambay joined the team by Holland where Pironi won again. Both were on the podium in Britain with Pironi third in France.

In Germany, Pironi took pole in the dry qualification session on Friday. Saturday morning, it was teeming with rain, and of the few cars out Didier was driving four seconds a lap faster than anyone else with Hockenheim as then a very fast circuit. In the forest, he came upon a wall of spray that was that of Derek Daly’s Williams. Daly pulled over so Pironi blasted past, but Derek had pulled over to pass the slower Prost whose Renault the Ferrari hit before somersaulting into the barrier. Didier Pironi’s legs were so badly injured amputation was considered, and his F1 career was over. (He later died in an off-shore power-boating accident. His pregnant girlfriend, Catherine Goux, subsequently called the twins, “Didier” and “Gilles”.) Patrick Tambay started the race which he won.

Tambay remained the sole Ferrari driver for Austria and Switzerland (held at Dijon, France). At the latter weekend, he had a trapped nerve in his back and had to withdraw. Mario Andretti joined the team for Monza and took pole. Rene Arnoux had been signed to drive the scarlet cars in 1983 and the Tifosi had already taken him to their hearts, perhaps because of the famous battle for second between Arnoux and Villeneuve at the 1979 GP. So when Arnoux won for Renault with Tambay and Andretti second and third, instead of being disappointed, the Tifosi just treated it as a Ferrari 1-2-3!

Andretti raced in the last round in Las Vagas, his last race which unfortunately he failed to finish. Tambay again withdrew with back problems.

Didier Pironi only lost the title by five points. Ferrari won the Constructors’ Cup despite only 22 starts in sixteen races, indeed two of those starts with the double-wing making sure they would not count for points. (Nearest rival, McLaren, missed San Marino and Nicki Lauda withdrew from the German race after a wrist injury.)

All the rounds since Ferrari have competed in, with Michael Schumacher winning five titles 2000 to 2004, plus Kimi Räikkönen in 2007.

It is often the case that F1 statistics depend on how one counts them. I have chosen to include the five races that featured North American Racing Team entries but no Scuderia Ferrari entries, as they were surely on behalf of the official team. With twenty-eight races missed, I still make it one race premature that Scuderia Ferrari celebrated the eight-hundred at the 2010 Turkey Grand Prix, but Whitehead’s private-entry at Reims in 1950 does give them 800 as constructors. This would still only be 799 Grands Prix as the 1952 Indy 500 was not a GP. Fifteen of the races in ’52 and ’53 were Formula Two (so Ascari never was Formula One World Champion). The fourteen races in 1956 and 1957 were with Lancia cars, but entered as Lancia Ferraris. This would only be 764 F1 World Championship Grands Prix that Scuderia Ferrari had at least one pure Ferrari in, but what the heck, let us not rain on the parade and call it eight-hundred.

The top-five for constructors are [after Turkey 2010]:

Team    Races    Wins     
Ferrari    800    211     
McLaren    682    167     
Williams    553    113     
Lotus    497    79    (not including new Lotus)
Tyrrell    431    23     

Ferrari have started the last 456 races. McLaren started the last 449 races since failing to qualify for the 1983 Monaco GP. Williams have started the last 466 since joining in the boycott of the 1982 San Marino GP, which is the last race McLaren skipped deliberately. (The teams that withdrew from the 2005 USA GP count as having retired, not as DNSs.)

Ferrari Constructors titles were won in 1961, 1964, 1975 to 1977, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1999 to 2004, 2007 and 2008.

(It was Dima (thank you) in the comments that pointed out I had missed that Scuderia Ferrari withdrew from the 1950 French GP and that only a private Ferrari started. I have since given this article a partial rewrite after the Ferrari Market Letter showed an interest in publishing the post.)

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12 Responses to “The Races Ferrari Missed”

  1. Alianora La Canta Says:

    That is an awesome snapshot of history, Sebastian X – thank you for the comprehensive and detailed analysis of why Ferrari hasn’t done every race :)

  2. The Speedgeek Says:

    What an awesome post. When the SpeedTV guys mentioned that it was Ferrari’s 800th GP, I had the exact same reaction. The only difference between you and me is that I’m waaaaaaayyyyy too lazy to do the breakdown and write it up. Fantastic work!

    • Sebastian X Says:

      Thank you not just for the praise but for realising the research issue. I would really like to update this blog more often, but looking up the information makes some posts very time-consuming.

  3. Maverick Says:

    You’re right, more people should read this blog

  4. Dima Says:

    Great research! One correction though: you didn’t realize there was one more Ferrari team’s absence: France-50. It was the race where Ferrari didn’t show up as a team, and the only Ferrari that participated was Peter Whitehead’s privately-entered car. So technically, this was another Ferrari’s miss. This makes 28 absences in the 61 years.

    • Sebastian X Says:

      Very good spot. Thank you for that.

      Sorry about the delay responding. My PC died and the repair-shop took too long to tell me. I will add an update to the entry to mention your correction but not until later in the week as I have a backlog of other stuff to do in the next day or two.

  5. Gary Brown Says:

    Sebastian,
    Many thanks, as a lifelong Ferrari fan, it was most infomative.
    One thing i found particularly touching was the fact about Didier Pironi’s widow calling the twins “Didier and Gilles”, never knew that!
    Regards
    Gary

    • Sebastian X Says:

      Thank you for your words. It has come to my attention that it was probably Pironi’s girlfriend, not his wife, that named the twins “Didier and Gilles”. According to Wikipedia, his marriage broke down, but I have not been able to find a solid source to confirm this.

      • Sebastian X Says:

        I did some more digging, and the mother of the twins was definitely Catherine Goux, whilst the woman he married was Catherine Bleynie (according to the 1982 San Marino edition of Grand Prix International). She may have actually called the twins Didier-Gilles and Gilles-Didier! The same first names of both women probably explains why what should have been a reliable source said incorrectly that it was his widow. I have changed the information in the entry.

  6. Chad Says:

    Hello Sebastian X, would you like to see your article published in the 36 year old Ferrari Market Letter? I enjoyed reading your work and wanted to offer this opportunity. Please let me know, Chad

    • Dima Says:

      Chad, if you decide to publish the article, please make sure you include the correction I mentioned above: another absence (the 28th) in 1950 French GP.

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