The F1 Clienti programme offers unique emotions. In its garage reside some of the Scuderia racers that have won the most titles - cars that a fortunate few enthusiasts still race on the track
There was a time when only official drivers could drive a Ferrari single-seater on a racing circuit. It was a privilege reserved for a small number of chosen ones. And of course, they paid for the pleasure. However, since 2013, Ferrari clients too have been able to enjoy the thrill of climbing into the narrow cockpit of a Formula 1 car; thanks to the F1 Clienti programme the owners of these dream cars can feel like Scuderia Ferrari drivers. The F1 Clienti team prepares the car, perfects the set-up, takes it to the track and entrusts it to a group of mechanics who have a lifetime of Formula 1 experience supporting some of the greatest champions of the recent era. The Ferrari client, in full racing suit and helmet, raises a finger - the traditional gesture to signal 'engine' - and the dream begins.
The new driver is accompanied by the people who once nurtured Prost, Alesi, Mansell and even the legendary Schumacher, experts who have given driving tips to Marc Gené, Olivier Beretta, Andrea Bertolini, Davide Rigon or Giancarlo Fisichella. Stepping into the shoes of a real Ferrari Formula 1 racing driver. The F1 Clienti workshop boasts a range of single-seaters, including some which date back to the seventies, including iconic cars raced by Niki Lauda, along with other models spanning the years until 2013, the last year before the hybrid power units arrived on the scene - too complicated and dangerous to be handled by non-professional drivers. The 'older' cars, meanwhile, are managed by the historic department, but these don’t often make an appearance on the track; instead, these vehicles are more commonly seen at motor shows such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
For these special clients Ferrari organises around half a dozen events every year. From the United States (where they drive at Austin and Laguna Seca) to Japan, with appearances on amazing European tracks like the Spa or Estoril circuits. These are not races, but at these events the client-drivers are given the opportunity to take a spin on real circuits, with their single-seaters specially prepared for the occasion by a genuine racing team. From engineers to engine specialists, wheel changers and mechanics, around fifty people dedicate their efforts to the care of the Prancing Horse’s historic single-seaters. Around seventy of these experts are based at Maranello, in the premises occupied by the Corse Clienti management team; this special location is a real travelling museum, a treasure trove of wonders where the historical archive of all Formula 1 races is housed. Filippo Petrucci is the technical coordinator: “All Ferrari single-seaters in circulation have either been raced or used for tests.
There are no single-seaters that have been built exclusively to be sold. All of our cars have a history of racing under their belts, and end up with the Gestione Sportiva, which sells them once they have reached the end of their racing life, with all the spare parts that remain.” It’s hard to say how much a Formula 1 car might be worth - it all depends on its individual racing pedigree. The F2001 which won the World Championships with Michael Schumacher at the wheel was sold at auction by RM Sotheby’s in Manhattan for the princely sum of 7.5 million dollars, and this remains the highest price ever paid for a Formula 1 car.
“We see some real jewels on the track," explains Gianni Petterlini, nicknamed 'Attila', who was a Formula 1 head mechanic for a number of years. "But driving a Formula 1 car is actually more straightforward than you might think. Once you have learnt how to start, it isn’t complicated. The difficulty lies in pushing the car to its limits. Completing a circuit of the Fiorano track in 1’20” isn’t impossible, but taking 10-20” off that speed becomes a task for a real racing driver.
But it’s also important not to go too slowly, because otherwise the tyres cool down and the car starts to slide away.” Some of the owners of F1 cars are racing drivers, or in other words, people who like to push it on the track. They come from all over - with Alexander West from Sweden, behind the wheel of Felipe Massa's F2008, Peter Mann from the US, having fun with Raikkonen's F2008 and Peter Greenfield, who owns the F2003 dedicated to Gianni Agnelli.
Other drivers include Luis Perez Companc from Argentina, driving Schumi’s F2004, Rick Yan from China in his F2004 that was raced by Barrichello, and Eric Cheung from Hong Kong who, in addition to an FXXK and an FXX, also owns Alonso’s F2012 and Raikkonen’s F2007 - his own private Scuderia!
At the end of last year, a young Belgian woman also took part - the lucky daughter of Stephane Sertang. Marie Sarah drove Kimi Raikkonen’s F2007, the last Ferrari to have won a World Championship. Not bad going. “Before letting our new clients drive around the track, however, we invite them to Fiorano," Petrucci and Petterlini explain. "Where we give them the opportunity to learn how to drive around the track in their car for an entire day.”
This is something more than a driving school. Rather, it is a master class that is delivered after becoming a racing driver. “We choose an easy set-up, relatively high above the tarmac, which is suited to most situations," explains 'Attila'. "It’s a Barcelona-type set-up.” One which does well anywhere. Rather like what is sometimes said about the colour grey - it goes with everything. But unlike grey, which only becomes elegant when worn in a certain way, a Ferrari is always captivating. Whichever way you drive it.