Ercole Colombo, the Ferrarista photographer

Ercole Colombo, the Ferrarista photographer

The veteran Italian F1 photographer looks back at his celebrated career

Words: Matthew Barker

We catch up with Ercole Colombo, one of the most respected and experienced Formula One photographers and a man who has been a regular fixture in grand prix paddocks around the world since the late 1970s.


The Official Ferrari Magazine: How did your passion for photography and for F1 come about?

Ercole Colombo: My father lived just a few hundred metres from the Monza race-track, and he took me to watch the races, from when I was six or seven. I remember the names of [Giuseppe] Farina, [Alberto] Ascari, [Juan Manuel] Fangio and other champions at the time.


I was always hanging around the Monza race-track and in 1961, in order to see the single-seaters up close, I joined the group of barellieri, the people who carried the stretchers to the ambulances if there’s an accident. These groups were dotted around at every track marshal station. 

Jody Scheckter on his way to victory at Monaco in 1979 <em>Photo: Ercole Colombo</em>
Jody Scheckter on his way to victory at Monaco in 1979 Photo: Ercole Colombo

In the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, there was a massive accident involving [Jim] Clark and [Wolfgang] von Trips, when the German driver and 14 spectators lost their lives. Luckily, I was located half-way along the elevated turn and I didn't see that tragedy take place.


TOFM: Do you remember your first camera?

EC: The first camera I used was my father's Voigtländer Brillant, a 6x6 that he allowed me to use from time to time. It was very valuable and so I had to be extra careful with it. My first reflex camera was a Praktica LLC, then over the years I moved on to a Pentax, the first camera with a motor, then the Olympus OM1 and OM2.

I took a picture of Jody Scheckter's Ferrari with one of those and won the Dino Ferrari Award in 1979, a genuine Oscar for F1 photographers, because the winner was presented with the award by Enzo Ferrari.


TOFM: How did you start taking photos of races?

EC: Combining a passion for motor racing with photography was natural, and considering the snaps I took were good, and that I had a few magazines and a handful of sponsors too, it was a hobby that quickly turned into a profession.


TOFM: How did you feel the first time you entered a paddock?

EC: Entering the paddock, even today, is always a thrilling experience. The first time at Monza, I was so happy, my heart was beating so hard. I couldn't believe I could actually touch the cars and walk near the drivers.

Sebastian Vettel in action at the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix <em>Photo: Ercole Colombo</em>
Sebastian Vettel in action at the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix Photo: Ercole Colombo

TOFM: Do you know the drivers well?

EC: Yes, I have met many, and I am friends with lots of them. The drivers of the 1960s were legends in my eyes. From 1970 onwards, [Clay] Regazzoni, [Vittorio] Brambilla, [Arturo] Merzario became friends that I travelled with and went out to dinner with.


Over subsequent years, I saw drivers grow in lower formulas, and the friendship with them was stronger; we often went on holiday together between one race and the next. Now the sons of my friends are drivers. That's the third generational change since I started out. That's life.


TOFM: Do you remember the first time you saw a Ferrari?

EC: Absolutely. It was at Monza with Ascari. I have always been a true Ferrari fan. In my mind I can see Phil Hill's 156 “Sharknose”, which sped along the top of the elevated turn at Monza to win the race and the title in 1961.


All the others have accompanied and made their mark on my professional career, from the world titles won by [Niki] Lauda, Scheckter, [Michael] Schumacher and [Kimi] Räikkönen, but also accidents, such as those suffered by [Gilles] Villeneuve and [Didier] Pironi.


Ferrari red has always been, and continues to be, the colour that has dominated my camera lenses and my eyes.

Enzo Ferrari with Gilles Villeneuve in 1980 <em>Photo: Ercole Colombo</em>
Enzo Ferrari with Gilles Villeneuve in 1980 Photo: Ercole Colombo

TOFM: What is your favourite picture among those you have taken of Ferraris in F1?

EC: Definitely the shot captured for eternity of Enzo Ferrari kissing Villeneuve at the 1980 Italian GP. Gilles suffered a terrible accident before the Tosa corner, a tremendous blow against the outside wall that detached the rear underchassis from his car.


The next day in Casinalbo, near Maranello, Pironi was presented to the press as the driver for the subsequent season. Villeneuve got there late, because he had had to undergo further x-rays that morning to ensure there were no complications from the accident.


When he entered the room he walked towards Enzo stretching out his hand to shake his. Enzo pulled the young Canadian towards him and kissed his head. You can see how much Enzo cared about Gilles in this picture.