Of Twitter and tifosi
Rivalries — particularly between organizations — intrigue me. The rivalry between Ferrari and McLaren is particularly interesting, especially considering the relatively small world of Formula 1. I’ve touched on this before — twelve teams make up the current Formula 1 ranks. While each team employs hundreds to staff their Formula 1 operations, the actual number of people directly affiliated with on-track operations is relatively small.
I spend a lot of time on Twitter. A LOT. For Formula 1 fans in the United States, it’s another way to band together around our shared love of the sport, 140 characters at a time. I wanted to see how others would respond to a fundamental question in Formula 1. This question defines one in the eyes of others within the realm of Formula 1 — are you the sexy, finely tuned distillation of pure power and raw adrenaline, or are you the sleek embodiment of technical purity?
These questions haunt the minds of Formula 1 fans, and I needed a response to put my mind at ease. To Twitter!
McLaren vs. Ferrari isn’t the only battle on pit lane; however, their rivalry is both longstanding and scandalous. In 2007, McLaren managed to set the dubious record of Highest Fine Ever Levied in the History of Everything — $100,000,000 — when the team was found guilty of breaching Article 151(c) of the International Sporting Code by possessing confidential information concerning systems on another team’s car.
Yes, you read that correctly. One. Hundred. Million. Dollars.
The events of 2007 — colloquially known as Spygate or Stepneygate — are comprehensively documented online and not the primary focus of this article. The short version: Nigel Stepney, ostensibly angry over Ross Brawn’s departure, lashed out against Ferrari by providing engineers from other teams with confidential technical data on various systems used by the Ferrari team on their cars. After a series of investigations, extraordinary meetings (yes, that’s what they are called), testimony from McLaren drivers and team personnel, motions, and other various and sundry gatherings, McLaren (among other teams) was found guilty of “any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally” (FIA International Sporting Code, p. 58).
Regardless of the other questions raised as part of this entire fiasco, one question begs answering: why would McLaren, a venerable name in its own right, obtain confidential information on another team’s car?
This is Scuderia Ferrari’s F2007, winding through the turns at the 2007 United States Grand Prix. Imagine this beast screaming past you at over 185 miles per hour.
Stare at that picture for a minute, please. Let your eye trace the curve of the nose into the cockpit, winnowing around the engine and skimming over the low rear wing. Can you blame McLaren (or any team) from wanting to know how that machine worked? Sensuous curves of carbon fiber composites wrapped tightly around a core of pure power: a championship-winning combination that dominated the sport for several years.
Ferrari spends a lot of money — we’re talking “you could run a small country on that kind of budget” money — in making their cars perform without sacrificing aesthetics. I’ve never really counted myself among the ranks of Ferrari fans — not even when Raikkonen drove for Ferrari — but even I have to admit the F2007 was a beautiful car.
We’ve all identified a dream company that, if they called tomorrow, we’d leap. The same can be said for Formula 1 employees, and the company in this context is almost always Ferrari. As the oldest team on the modern Formula 1 grid, Scuderia Ferrari represents tenacity, technical brilliance, and an unflagging work ethic. To work for Ferrari is to continue a tradition of greatness. To work for Ferrari is to work for what Enzo Ferrari built, many years ago. To bring victory to Maranello elevates a driver to the highest levels of adoration.
When Chris (my husband) started watching Formula 1, he decided to primarily cheer for Michael Schumacher. Schumacher and Ferrari have always worked incredibly well together. I’m not sure what pacts were made or magic was cast when Ross Brawn, Nigel Stepney, Michael Schumacher, and Jean Todt joined forces at Ferrari, but the results were nothing short of astonishing. Relentlessly pursuing technical perfection, Ferrari dominated the sport for several years and (directly or indirectly) brought about several changes in the regulations. While Schumacher’s last season was not his best, Ferrari still held a dominant position at the front of the field.
Schumacher understood his role within the team — he was there to win each race, to continue the traditions ensconced by Enzo Ferrari several years prior. He developed a strong bond with the team — fans could sense the genuine affection between Schumacher and his engineers. The tifosi adored Schumacher, he gave them what they craved: victory on Sunday afternoon. Schumacher returned the sparkle to Ferrari’s name; he made Ferrari the place where drivers wanted to end their careers, world championship title in hand. In response, Ferrari provided Schumacher with a car that represented art in vehicular form.
I keep mentioning the tifosi, loosely defined as enthusiastic Ferrari fans. This definition is a bit misleading. Substitute “balls-out crazy” for enthusiastic and you may be getting slightly closer to the true definition of the term. Tifosi are the northern lights of Formula 1 racing: impossible to explain; breathtaking in their splendor.
Imagine sitting trackside with thousands of other fans; most wearing at least one piece of team-branded attire. Some fans spend extraordinary wads of cash on team-approved kit: others spend hours designing and applying handcrafted logos to t-shirts. There’s a lot of red. Red tends to dominate the color palette of any given race weekend. Races in the United States are no exception.
It’s roughly six hundred degrees outside. You’ve found a sliver of shade, tucked in under the skyboxes in the main grandstand. You’ve got a good view of the pit lane, and you’ve managed to find yourself situated almost directly across from the Ferrari pits.
Thump. Thump. Thump. THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Are those. . . drums?
Welcome to the wonder and whimsy known as the tifosi. Suddenly, your hand-transferred logo looks shoddy; your team colors pale in comparison to the gloriousness that is the tifosi in their full, slightly inebriated glory.
Drums. Whistles. Singing. Joy.
I snapped this picture on Saturday qualifying during the 2007 United States Grand Prix. Massa’s pit was almost directly across where we were sitting, and this small group of Brazilian tifosi (who technically represent their own subset of tifosi; don’t make me break out the Venn diagram for this one) made sure everyone in the stands knew they were there for Ferrari and Massa. This group sang, banged on a drum, chanted, and cheered. Massa came out of his garage to wave. He had to.
How can you deny the tifosi?
David Baxendale, who provided this image via Creative Commons, better captured the sheer size of tifosi crowds at many venues. It doesn’t hurt this image is from Monza, home of the tifosi:
Imagine standing on that elevated platform in the upper half of the image, wearing Ferrari red. The familiar strains of Italy’s national anthem blare from enormous speakers. Look at those people wearing red. They are all singing along, singing to you, singing because of you. The track becomes the sanctuary; the anthem the tifosi’s hymn. You are the physical embodiment of a nation’s pride.
Call it a religion. Call it a cult. Not everyone’s a member, that’s certain.
This was my first response, and I understand this sentiment completely. I was raised with a bias against Ferrari and a strong love for teams like McLaren and Williams. It’s kind of like raising your kid to like the Cubs or the White Sox. You can’t cheer for both teams, and your choice will shape your destiny for generations. Some families raise their kids to cheer for Ferrari; Dad raised me to cheer for McLaren. When Raikkonen went to Ferrari, I felt betrayed, for I’d have to cheer Ferrari on.
It’s what you do.
I cut my racing teeth following drivers like Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, then Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya. I still believe the MP4-20 is one of the most beautiful cars to grace a starting grid. Watching Jenson Button put the MP4-27 through its paces this year makes me wish for a Raikkonen-Button McLaren future pairing.
I’ll be honest: I don’t understand the love for Ferrari, but I accept it. To love Formula 1 is to accept the role of tradition and history in the sport. Ferrari has earned a certain level of respect by virtue of their tenure and role in the sport. McLaren’s sleek, calculating, refined image balances Ferrari’s tempestuous, bold, lavish countenance. Each highlights the strengths and weaknesses of one another; demonstrates the allure and mystery of Formula 1.
NOTE: Lest you think McLaren’s been ignored, I beseech you to wait two weeks before making that determination. I need a Part Two for this.
Doctor Erin Hansman (not that kind of doctor) is an avid enthusiast of Formula 1 motor sport. When not following “the pinnacle of international motor racing” she works for a small, private university in the middle of Missouri wrangling databases, preparing reports, and developing new ways to do things. She can also be found on Twitter via @DrHansman and at her often-neglected personal blog drhansman.com.