Mauro Forghieri – interview

Mauro Forghieri – Scuderia Ferrari won eight Formula 1 Constructors’ Championships and four Drivers’ titles under this brilliant engineer’s direction. This is his story. Words Massimo Delbò.

THE DRIVE-MY INTERVIEW  with Ferrari’s race-car genius Mauro Forghieri

As I leave the home of engineer Mauro Forghieri, I know that weight (of cars) is his enemy. I also know that space is about to be mine. How can I pack into just a few pages the life of this man, who shaped 30 years of Formula 1 and sports-car success under the brooding Enzo Ferrari? Forghieri, promoted to technical director of Ferrari in 1962 before he was even 27 years old, is the youngest to have achieved that position. He remained in charge for 25 years, a record at Ferrari. In those days the technical director designed the entire car: engine and gearbox, suspension and aerodynamics. He was the last at Ferrari to do so. ‘Back then,’ he remembers, ‘things were easier. Sitting at my drawing board, I could picture the whole project. Putting it down on paper was just a consequence. Today, with the computer, your fantasy is killed. You see only a piece of the whole.

Mauro Forghieri and Niki Lauda

Mauro Forghieri and Niki Lauda

‘When I started at Ferrari in 1957 under Andrea Fraschetti, Ferraris – both racing and road cars – were very traditional with their tubular chassis and front engine. Mr Ferrari knew me because my father, Reclus, had worked in his mechanics’ shop since the early days in Modena, when they were making racing parts for Alfa Romeo.

‘Ferrari ordered the left-over sports cars to be destroyed. The financial director had a different opinion’

‘He gave me the assignment of designing the first concept for a chassis of a rear-engined car. To me it was a nonsense project. He picked me because I was the youngest, the least experienced, the least mentally caged.’

That reputation didn’t last. ‘In 1959 I started working under Carlo Chiti, on “parts” of projects, not really knowing what they were for. Only later did I discover that they were for the first rear-engined racing car made in Maranello, but Chiti never shared information with his people. Then, just after presenting the 250 GTO prototype, Giotto Bizzarrini left and I was assigned the first big problem to solve.

‘The rear of the new car was very unbalanced, and Willie Mairesse went off the road. He swore it was not his fault. To understand what had happened, I made a couple of levers 2.5m long. Lifting the car with those, I saw that the whole rear axle was moving. The location was not firm enough. ‘So we installed a Watt’s linkage, and it worked perfectly. In April 1962, after Le Mans testing, Stirling Moss came to shake the hand of Willy Mairesse – the first man who could pass him on the outside.’

‘The brakes still had to be tweaked to work – we paired a new brake pad with a used one, and won’

Other moves were afoot in the early 1960s, not least the ‘palace revolt’ in which Chiti and Giotto Bizzarrini each found themselves out of a job. ‘This is how I became technical director,’ Forghieri says, ‘and I was made aware of it on the evening before the weekly meeting when everything happened. Nothing could be done. Ferrari’s decisions in such matters were always irrevocable.

‘In 1961 we went on to win the Formula 1 Championship with Phil Hill. We had 25bhp more from our engine than the other competitors, but that changed the following season. Hill did not believe that we couldn’t fix the situation, but the truth was that we had no clue. The engine was still my first love. The English were moving forward with chassis development and aerodynamics. Innes Ireland, a gifted driver and engineer, gave me a perfect report on how the car was handling. We were in trouble.’

Forghieri soon managed to find a way forward. ‘I spent days and days in Monza with my amazing team of designers, a crew better then with a pencil than a full team is with PCs today. We were waking up so early in the morning that the racetrack was still full of hares when we started practising. We learned a lot, we understood that we would need a monocoque, but for that we would need new tooling and new knowledge.

‘In the meantime, with Salvarani, I designed a normal frame, made with small rectangular tubes, to which we riveted the alloy body for the 156. It went faster in corners, but now the carburettors were suffering in the g-forces.’ This solution had brought a new problem. ‘So we hired the young engineer Michael May, a Swiss but born in Germany, from Bosch. He gave us knowledge of direct injection and we discovered how quick the reactions of the engine were with it. We ended up with a solution like Mercedes’ and, after our first victory with Surtees at the Nürburgring, Mr Ferrari got a letter from the president of Mercedes-Benz. “We have to visit him,” he said to me. That meant I had to go! Mr Ferrari handed me one of his watches, nothing special apart from the Ferrari-branded face.

‘When I arrived, there were five Alfa Romeo Giulias parked. I liked that. During the meeting, we spoke English and French, and I explained that we would use the solution only in racing and not for production cars. As soon as I gave him the watch, he lightened up. He was an avid collector! ‘Several years on, I met him again, and he told me he still had his Ferrari watch. And about 30 years after that, I was working with Oral Engineering [Forghieri’s own company] and consulting for several car manufacturers, including BMW for some F1 activities. One day, in Munich, I was introduced to a young gentleman, one of BMW’s vicepresidents. We went on talking for a while and he told me, “I have a Ferrari watch. It was given to me by my father…”’

The sports-racing cars were Forghieri’s priority in the run up to Le Mans, but there were limits to what his small team could achieve. ‘It was often me, stressed from the situation, who pointed out to Ferrari: “We are 72 people, including you and your personal driver, and we have to take care of F1, F2, Can-Am, sports cars. We are not enough. We either need to double in size or we stop doing something.”

‘He didn’t want to change, but he realised we were at a turning point. We were bothering Ford and Porsche so much that their reactions, and investments, were becoming evident. We still won a hillclimb championship thanks to Ludovico Scarfiotti, and in doing so we became [Porsche team manager] Huschke von Hanstein’s worst nightmare.

‘Ferrari was worried. Family pressures meant he was not in a position to give Ludovico a Formula 1 drive. When we lost Lorenzo [Bandini, May 1967, Monaco] and, one year later, Ludovico [Scarfiotti, June 1968, Germany], I suffered a lot. I lost not only two great drivers but two wonderful friends. It took me a while to recover from their deaths.’

In 1969 Fiat bought 50% of Ferrari. The agreement was that Enzo would be left free to manage the racing department while Fiat would run production. But at the end of the 1973 season, Ferrari withdrew from all racing except Formula 1. ‘Fiat’s presence was minimal,’ remembers Forghieri, ‘and Mr Ferrari’s decision was more a personal decision than an analysis. He just wanted to win more in Formula 1 and I totally agreed with him.

‘Few know that he ordered the left-over sports cars to be destroyed. Luckily Ermanno Della Casa, the financial director, had a different opinion. Unknown to Enzo, he sold them and brought us the money for racing. Without him we would have had a smaller budget and, today, fewer happy collectors around the world. The truth is that, once Fiat had arrived, we had no more financial problems, yet still Enzo would check how the money was being spent. I remember him being very generous indeed, but he always had a great respect for money. I think that’s normal for somebody who had, for a long time, risked everything he had.’

Enzo Ferrari’s relationship with Maranello and its people is often recalled with a mix of love and hate, which grew over the years. ‘He transformed this village into one of the most renowned places in the world,’ says Forghieri, ‘and he made its inhabitants rich, but it was not easy. At the beginning they nicknamed him Il matto, ‘the crazy one’, because he was driving and testing racing cars on normal roads. He hired many people, mostly from Maranello, and soon Ferrari became one of the largest employers in the city. Maranello quickly realised that, with Ferrari, it had a bright future.

‘Everybody was supportive of the firm but salaries were never generous. At Fiat, and more so at Alfa Romeo, the salaries were great, but at Ferrari everybody was proud of their role within the company, from the most humble bluecollar workers to senior managers. We lived and breathed it.’

The ethos of Ferrari as a racing team first and a car manufacturer second was not lost on Forghieri. It was a small company, designing racing cars that, shortly after, were lightly detuned and available as road cars. Ferrari epitomised how competition improved the breed.

‘I have a Le Mans victory to prove it,’ Forghieri smiles. ‘Since the first time I saw it and drove it, I was in love with the 275 GTB. It was beautiful to look at, entertaining to drive and it fully respected Mr Ferrari’s idea of a road car. He always said that it had to be the closest possible reproduction of the racing car and provide the same feelings, in both looks and the emotion of driving.

‘In 1965 at Le Mans, Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team, heavily backed by us, was racing with P2s and 250 LMs. During the night we started having issues with the vented disc brakes: they were getting too cold along Les Hunaudières and then, when they suddenly heated up, they cracked. After losing the P2s, we had to invent a solution to save the 250 LM.

‘It was Gaetano Florini who gave me the idea. Close by were the 275s of some customers. We sent a mechanic to dismantle their solid disc brakes, which had almost the same offsets as our cars’. I told them to leave a note on the car, saying, “Sorry, the discs will be returned after the race.”’ That wasn’t all, though. The brakes still had to be tweaked to work. ‘To adapt to the small difference in dimensions, we paired a new brake pad with a used one. We won with Luigi Chinetti’s NART 250 LM, driven by Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt, and the happiest people of all were the owners from whom we “borrowed” the brakes. They felt that they had helped the team to win.’

But even Forghieri couldn’t reign at Ferrari forever. He resigned in 1987 to work for Lamborghini, creating its V12 engine for the Formula 1 Championship, and then moved on to Bugatti during the Artioli years. In 1994 he founded his own engineering consultancy, where he is still active 25 years later. And yet Forghieri is still revered by so many as a Ferrari man above all else. Is there a reason?

‘This is absolutely natural,’ he replies, ‘because what happened in Maranello during the 1960s, the ’70s and the beginning of the ’80s is so amazing that, today, it could seem almost unreal. A lot of talented people could design a good engine, a few less a good racing one, but fewer still can do so with a very limited budget, and almost none under the time constraints imposed by Ferrari and the added pressure of working for this man who gave everything in life to win car races. And only a crazy man can, in the same circumstances, design a whole racing car.’

Forghieri knew, though, that he couldn’t maintain the pace indefinitely. ‘I resigned because I felt that continuing under that pressure would kill me. The energy Mr Ferrari had was disappearing, and after almost four decades together I couldn’t imagine staying on without him.

‘When I told him my decision, he offered me a cheque. I thanked him, but said no. If I’ve been here all these years, I told him, it was not for the money, otherwise I’d have complained to you every month. I’ve been here because you allowed me to do what I really loved.

‘He didn’t get upset, but calmly replied that he agreed with me. He would have done the same, he said.’

Left and right Mauro Forghieri and Niki Lauda deep in discussion at 1974’s French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois; the engineer looks down onto John Surtees and his Ferrari 158 at the Nürburgring, August 1964, in the year they won the Formula 1 World Championship; Forghieri appears little changed today.

Above Enzo Ferrari put Forghieri under great pressure but the two understood each other well; the engineer is still busy today but finds time to relax at home.

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