Top Gear at the Ferrari World Finals
Classic F1 cars, crashed 599XXs and Prancing Horse regalia - we report from the gathering of the Tifosi
Posted: 29 Apr 2014
It's absolutely chucking it down at Mugello and, for reasons too complex to explain right now, the only umbrella I have in the car is one made by Lamborghini.
Given Sant'Agata is only 65 miles away, you wouldn't think this would be an issue. But in this part of Italy, your choice of supercar loyalty matters. Raging bull or prancing horse: it's a turf war.
Today I'm on Ferrari soil for the Finali Mondiali - the marque's end-of-season festival, where the tifosi gather for a celebration of all things Ferrari. The tifosi are notoriously devout. The umbrella's staying in the car. Better to get wet than lynched.
The event is held at the Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit in Tuscany. For four days the 3.2-mile track becomes Maranello mecca for fans who enjoy dressing up as Stefano Domenicali on race day, check the time on their Panerai Ferrari watches and bleed Rossa Corsa. You don't need to own a Ferrari to get in, but it helps as you get free front row parking.
But even then, with your 355, 458, FF, or any of Maranello's mainline exotica, you're only at the bottom rung of the ladder. This is a place where serious Ferraristas come to play. And play hard.
Ferrari has a department known as ‘Corse Clienti'. It operates the one-make Ferrari Challenge and the Shell Ferrari Historic Challenge series, the final rounds of which are hosted at the Finali Mondiali. But even then that's little league stuff compared to Ferrari's XX Programme - the car club that makes you wished you'd worked harder at school.
It's technically a ‘special research and development programme', where, for a tidy (for which read ‘enormous') sum of money, you can become an owner/test driver for future Ferrari products. Hand over close to £2,000,000, you'll receive a 740bhp, six-litre V12-powered and DRS-fitted 599XX, plus a full team of engineers, mechanics and techies (clasping Ferrari-branded Acer laptops and all) to make sure your car runs like a proper race team.
In return you're permitted to drive at eight events that span the most famous race tracks in Europe, Asia and North America, helping develop technology for future road cars like the LaFerrari.
You can tell the XX drivers aren't professional racers, largely from the size of the waistband of their special race suits. Even so, they take it very, very seriously. Those who have had a particularly profitable year in business, as instead of trundling round in a boggo 599XX, they're strapping into the mid-engined, 800hp Enzo-based FXX.
But still, even the FXX represents only Championship-level Ferrari ownership. The Premiership comes in the shape of the F1 Clienti programme.
This is for people who've always dreamed of being an F1 driver but never quite made it because they (a) weren't quick enough and (b) were too busy becoming rich. Bond-villain wealth brings the ability to buy one of Ferrari's legendary F1 machines driven by the likes of Lauda, Raikkonen and Schumacher.
For an unspecified sum of money - we're guessing somewhere in between ‘a lot' and ‘GDP of China' - you can own and take the legendary Scuderia F1 cars on the track with a full support team behind you. They'll teach you how to get the best out of the car, they'll fix it if it goes wrong and they'll dry-clean you race suit when it gets muddy.
Sure, the F1 Clienti programme might just be another game for the super-privileged, but it gets these cars out onto the track, cars that would be otherwise shacked up at a museum. Certainly it's a more altruistic way to splash your cash that buying another super-yacht or developing that volcano-mounted moon-laser.
Of course it's easy to mock Ferrari's desire to thrust its badge onto everything from dressing gowns to theme parks, but, as I walk around the paddock, there's no denying the men, women and children have smiles tattooed onto their faces as they mill between the cars, squatting for photos, giving it the big thumbs-up. I'm not sure there's another badge - car or otherwise - that defines a nation so deeply as Ferrari does Italy.
And then I spot Tifosi junior. A baby in a miniature race suit, clutching a model 458 and sucking on a prancing horse pacifier. Quite literally, this is branding for dummies.
Still, what would any other brand in the world of cars or beyond give for such devotion? It's an asset you can't put a price on, a loyalty that gets Ferrari through the tough times and a community that fills the stands even when it's lashing down with rain.
They'd better be sure they're under a Ferrari umbrella, that's all I'm saying.
Words and Pictures: Rowan Horncastle