Legendary Ferrari F1 Engineer Speaks About His Life & Career
Tifosi and die-hard Formula One fans will already be familiar with Mauro Forghieri’s incredible legacy, but for the benefit of those who may be less acquainted, we’ve included a short bio.
Born in Modena in 1935, Forghieri studied mechanical engineering at the University of Bologna. At the suggestion of his machinist father, Enzo Ferrari hired the young engineer in 1960—less than two years later he’d be put in charge of the company’s entire racing department as chief of technical development. Best known for his groundbreaking 312 series of cars, which included the 312 and 312B F1 machines as well as 312P and PB Group 6 prototype racers, under his guidance Ferrari would go on to win four F1 world championships as well as eight constructor’s titles.
We were honored to have a chance to sit down with Mr. Forghieri and have a friendly and informal chat about his wonderful contributions to motorsport history, and are beyond excited to share his thoughtful insight and hilarious anecdotes with you.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself, please.
A: Well I’m a very old man, from the era of 1962-1992 Formula One. Part of an era with people like Bruce McLaren and Colin Chapman. F1 was very different then, it wasn’t so much about money. Teams were on a much friendlier basis, say for example, if I needed to borrow a tool I could ask Lotus to lend it to me for perhaps six hours and they’d be happy to help—it was very important to everyone involved that come Sunday all teams were ready to race. Again, money was much less important, and what little there was came from the people watching races, and after a race, it was spent by teams on hotels, food, and sometimes girls! It was a different world, very difficult to explain to someone used to how things are run today.
In that era, say from roughly 1962-1980 or 1984, racers had to be men before they were champions, do you understand what I mean? Drivers ate with mechanics and technicians, it helped maintain a friendly, family-like atmosphere. Today, there is too much money involved, and sponsors have destroyed the spirit of the championship.
Q: When do you believe things began to go downhill?
A: 10 to 12 years ago, I’d say. Much of it started with aerodynamics and wings, part of which I am to blame for, as I introduced Ferrari’s first wing with this car in 1967 at Spa, and driven by Jacky Ickx. Not only are the aerodynamic devices of today terrible from an aesthetic point of view, they also make F1 incredibly boring, with no overpassing—like a big parade. If we were to make the front wing a bit smaller, it would bring back a lot of excitement, the cars would be passing again, sliding around, but this will never happen because they need more room for advertising.
Q: So you mean Enzo wasn’t a fan of sideskirts?
A: Even when something was an improvement, if it wasn’t strictly legal Ferrari was against it, even as other teams would already be taking advantage of loopholes. Miniskirts weren’t allowed because nothing on the car apart from the tires was allowed to touch the ground, but after a year of other teams using them he finally told me “OK, go ahead and use the miniskirts since you like them on the ladies so much!” We were competitive without skirts, but to win without them when everyone else is using them is not so easy, let me tell you!
Aerodynamics were really starting to play a big role in car design in those days, and we hired a great aerodynamicist. When we sent the car to the windtunnel, I told the boy “I designed this car, the chassis, the groundbox, the engine and bodywork, but when we send it to the tunnel let the wind dictate its final form—we will accept whatever shape the windtunnel gives the car”. Of course, Ferrari told us “It’s ugly!” but we countered “Yes, but it’s very good!”
Q: We read in your bio that you were originally interested in a career in aeronautical engineering, is this true?
A: Well I was very young, perhaps 22 or 23 years old, and I wanted to work for Northrop in the States and work with turbine engines, but my father had worked with Ferrari and had them contact me and offer a job—the rest is history. I wanted to work in aeronautical engineering because of what they say about the bumble bee, that he shouldn’t fly according to all known laws of physics, but because he doesn’t understand these laws he just flies anyway! It’s a very beautiful way of looking at things, I think.
Q: Are you happy about the way things turned out?
A: Well, an opportunity is an opportunity, but I suppose it depends on your point of view. I am very thankful for many of the wonderful people I had the privilege of working with in my time with Ferrari.
Q: What do you miss about your days with Ferrari?
A: Well, it was a different world then, and to work for an F1 team was to live a life of sacrifice. Teams had limited resources, both financially and with staffing, and most of your year was spent preparing for the season, or working within the season—we were lucky if we got five hours of sleep, frequently we got perhaps one hour. Including Ferrari, his secretary, and his drivers, there was 170 people in the racing department, and our time was split between F1, hillclimbs, and prototype racing for Le Mans, the Targa Florio, and the Nurburgring endurance races—they were hectic times.
Life is unquestionably better for those involved with motorsport today, but motorsport itself is much worse in my opinion—it doesn’t have the respect it once had. For example, let’s say as you are interviewing me here, pretend I am a new F1 champion—while you are interviewing me there will be a crowd of other reporters hanging around, hovering, grabbing my arm waiting for their turn. There is no dignity or class, and people are treated like babies. It is unfortunate I think.
Photography by Afshin Behnia and Josh Clason