ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 31 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   A Small Town Called Maranello

  by Angus Browne, Australia

While touring Europe with friends, Angus Browne was travelling through Italy when he realised that he was going to be passing by the home of Ferrari. Instead of just passing by, Angus made sure they stopped and looked at the Fiorano test track as well as the nearby Ferrari factory

A short time ago I found myself on a road trip around France and Italy with a group of friends. On about the third week of the trip we were driving from Lake Garda in Italy to the Adriatic coast. As I examined the map, I discovered that we would be passing very close to the town of Modena. Now, I knew enough about Ferrari to know that the town of Maranello is close to the town of Modena, and that if I was going anywhere near either of them then we were going to visit the Ferrari factory.

The problem then was, how do you find a Ferrari factory amongst a medium sized Italian town? As luck would have it, our neighbours from Australia were in Lake Garda at the same time as we were. As they were Italian, and have spent a lot of time there, he felt able to give me the definitive instructions for finding the Ferrari factory.

"It's a small town, Maranello. It pretty much only has one street and the factory is at the end of it."

A Minardi flies past at FioranoConfident in our ability to find the factory, we set off. The first thing we did wrong was to miss the exit on to the Autostrada. Twenty minutes later, we returned to the correct exit and made for the town of Maranello, due south of Modena. Thirty minutes further on, we finished our exploration of the northern fringes of Modena and finally began to head south. A recurring question I asked myself was, why does the Italian countryside have so many dead ends? And surely we've been up all of them by now?

Thirty minutes and one police car later, we had been been up every single road and there was nowhere else left to go other than Maranello. And so we arrived. Now Maranello is not a small town. In fact it has a population of some thousands, there are numerous streets, and there was no evidence of a high performance car factory.

We tried numerous streets and looked down various passages, none of which contained anything as large as a Ferrari factory. After half an hour of fruitless searching, I got out of the delivery van and heaved a sigh of exasperation. At that very minute I heard a distinctive noise in the distance, the high pitched scream of a Formula One engine.

I figured that if I could hear a Formula One car, then there must be a Formula One factory nearby, so we jumped back into the van and headed towards the noise. We drove west for about five minutes, passing a sign that told us we had left the town of Maranello and were now in Fiorano. Fiorano is a name that will be familiar to Formula One fans more than it will be to Ferrari road car fans. This is because Ferrari has a test circuit at Fiorano and we had found it.

Several things indicated to me that this was in fact the Ferrari test circuit. Firstly, there were numerous Italians clinging to the chicken wire perimeter fence. Secondly, it was in fact next to the Ferrari factory. Thirdly, and what really gave the game away, Michael Schumacher himself was driving a Formula One car around the circuit.

Ferrari testing is apparently quite a frequent event for the inhabitants of Maranello and Fiorano. Despite this, it seems to attract quite a large crowd whenever they hold it. And if they were testing a Formula One car in your backyard, wouldn't you make the effort to amble across the road? Anyway, space was tight at the chicken wire fence and it took a while to secure a position, but once we had, we were about 5 metres from the car as it swept around the hairpin and roared down the main straight.

Michael Schumacher rounds a bend at Ferrari's Fiorano test trackWhen we did get to the fence, the first car that roared past was a Minardi. Shocking as this may sound, I was disappointed. I'd come this far to see a Ferrari, not Minardi. Don't get me wrong, you hear good things of Minardi, I like the team and I think they keep the original spirit of F1 alive in the day of sponsorship and corporatisation. But I wanted a prancing horse.

Whilst contemplating this somewhat indulgent dilemma, we decided to move position and make for the flyover on the far side of the circuit where we noticed a substantial crowd. Once we got there, we realised why. There was an uninterrupted view of 90% of the circuit. And by now the somewhat slow silver car had become a substantially quicker scarlet (well, red) car.

Michael Schumacher had hit the track and all was well again. We settled in with the easy camaraderie of the fellow spectators, many who seem to have interrupted their lunch, and watched the Schu do his laps.

The Fiorano circuit isn't a big one, and it has multiple configurations. So if Schu decides he wants to cut a lap short, he just goes up the bit that connects him with the pits. And the pits aren't really pits. It's a Shell Service station, except it doesn't seem to sell magazines, milk and maps. It does honestly look like a suburban Shell service station with a payment area and an overhanging roof. The Schu pulls in, and its like those silly advertisements where the service station pretends they're a Formula One team, with people rushing out to change the tyres and fuel the family wagon. Except that this time, it's the Formula One team pretending to be a suburban service station.

Schumacher would do about three laps, come in, have the oil checked, the windscreen wiped down, the tyres changed and be sent out again for three more laps. All the while, the spectators are passing the prosciutto e formaggio amongst themselves, obviously enjoying every minute of it. And if you think about it, an inhabitant of Maranello could have spent their entire life there and they would have seen some of the greatest drivers the world has known. Just recently they would have had Mansell, Prost, Schumacher, Alesi and Berger, let alone Villeneuve and Scheckter.

At the southern end of the circuit, there is a block of old apartments. From most of the windows, you could have thrown chewing gum on the track. And guaranteed the people who lived there probably complained about it. "Gee, those cars do go on, don't they? Harry, go talk to that Todt character and tell him to shut up." Ironically, having the track next door may not be a selling point. Strange.

The whole testing scenario went on for some time, and whilst my fellow travellers were no doubt enjoying it immensely, they didn't actually want to set up a tent and try to forge a subsistence, living by foraging bits of food from the underpass. So back into the pseudo-delivery van we piled, confident we could now find the factory and make the day complete. And sure enough, after completing the five minute drive in under thirty minutes, we found it.

The Ferrari factory buildingThe Ferrari factory looks like a local school. In fact the whole thing makes you think that Ferrari are a Formula One team in denial. Firstlt, they dress their test facility up as a service station, and then they make their factory look like a slightly down at heel high school. Apart from the large sign across the top that says 'Ferrari' there is nothing to indicate that this building is it.

We couldn't get into the factory itself, but we did see the famous restaurant, full of memorabilia. At the entrance there are helmets of some of the greats, one of the V12 engines sits on a stand and there were numerous pictures of Ronaldo, who had apparently just paid the factory a visit. We decided not to dine (because they weren't open) and went back outside to soak up the atmosphere some more.

It has become a bit of a sporting cliché to say that Ferrari is the most evocative name in motor racing, if not in motor cars. But when you stand in the warmth of a late spring sun in an Italian field, and watch the red cars going around with a crowd of locals who will stand for hours just to watch their heroes in action, then you can't help but be swept up by the emotion of it all. It is for moments such as these that we are in fact here. If you haven't done it, then go and do it. And if you have done it, go do it again.

The afternoon was starting to wear on, we had a hotel to check into and time was pressing. One last look around and then we piled into our delivery van again and made for the coast. Of course, to get to the coast you have to go down the Autostrada, and we all know what it's like trying to find an Autostrada in Italy...

Angus Browne© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
Send comments to: Terms & Conditions

 Back to Atlas F1 Front Page   Tell a Friend about this Article