Many Formula 1 fans who have been to Italy will no doubt know it: as soon as you enter Maranello, you immediately know you are in "Ferrari-land."
Wherever you are in the Maranello area, everywhere you see the prancing horse.
Whether things are good or bad for the Scuderia, in Maranello the 'Tifosi' will support Ferrari in good times and bad. This year, too, the team experienced a shaky season and it was noticeable in the famous village.
When having a coffee with some Italian journalists in one of the many picturesque coffee bars in Maranello, we quickly come into contact with the "real" fans as they are called by the Italian colleagues.
The fans know the journalists and immediately begin discussions about the past season, with the well-known Italian hand gestures of course not missing. Although the discussions flow delightfully between the fans and journalists, something is missing. By Italian standards, it all seems a bit flat, the passion doesn't shine through and that has nothing to do with the pride of the Scuderia.
As we get into conversation with the fans, it quickly becomes clear that one is not from around here. In fact, as members of one of the Ferrari fan clubs, the fans have come to Maranello from both northern and southern Italy, and not for the first time this year.
The passion is so great that some fans have come all the way from Sicily, only to return home the same day. Then we are talking about a single trip of at least 8 hours and that is "only" for an end-of-year factory tour with the other fans!
Another example is that Ferrari fans in Italy have enormous passion for their team. Yet as mentioned, this year seems to be a bit flat, the absolute holy fire is a bit missing in the eyes of the fans.
Especially the famous 'next-year-we'll-be-there' statements that have often passed from the Scuderia over the past decade no longer seem to give fans enough confidence.
Whereas the 'real' fans as we see them here in Maranello will always know how to find their way to the village sacred to them, the same is not true for the rest of the country and Italian F1 fans.
Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc
In Italy, in fact, a lot fewer people watched F1 last year, with Ferrari's lesser performance clearly seeming to play a role. The team's drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, can still count on the support of the fans, especially the younger fans, but during our visit to Maranello, there is no fan willing to venture into the question of whether either of these two drivers will give Ferrari the next world title.
Despite the fact that both drivers are also very good according to fans in Maranello, it remains to be seen whether they will join an illustrious list of phenomenal Ferrari drivers. Indeed, if we follow the Italian media, we see the vaunted "Il Principe"-or "the Prince"-expression recurring less and less often when trying to describe the Monegasque's class.
As we say goodbye to the fans with many jokes back and forth, a little later we walk into the old workshop and house of Enzo Ferrari, where we see many pictures and props of Michael Schumacher recurring.
A great champion, difficult for a future Ferrari driver to match at all. In addition to Schumacher, we also see a lot of pictures of founder Enzo Ferrari passing by, and we see that Enzo's love was mostly for a driver who managed to win only six races, Gilles Villeneuve. Wherever you go in Maranello, pictures or drawings of Villeneuve, often even together with Enzo, are found in every place.
You can't really find a greater contrast. The outwardly rational and frequent winner Schumacher, versus the emotional and statistically unimpressive Villeneuve. Yet in their own way, both drivers captured the hearts of the tifosi and Villeneuve in particular those of founder Enzo Ferrari. The founder died in 1988, and did not live to see the golden days of Schumacher himself.
This, of course, immediately raises the question. Will Leclerc or Sainz ever be able to become that type of driver?
The future will tell. It is often said in this era that without a good car you can never show it. But is that really true? Wasn't it precisely Schumacher who played a key role in bringing in the right people for Ferrari's resurrection in the mid-1990s?
After we have made our lap around the nostalgic grounds that sometimes still give you goosebumps, we join the closing media lunch organized by team boss Fred Vasseur. While enjoying the delicious Italian food, everyone gets the chance to ask Vasseur his or her last question of the year. And just at that moment, the name of three-time world champion Verstappen finally drops in Maranello.
From the Italian media, in fact, comes the question of whether Verstappen is still not welcome at Ferrari, after he spoke out very clearly at the end of 2019 about that year's Ferrari engine, illegal or not.
In response, then Ferrari president Louis Camilleri at the time let it be known that there would never be room for Verstappen at Ferrari. Asked what Vasseur thinks about it now as team boss, a smile appears on the Frenchman's face. After thinking for a moment, Vasseur replies, "It is not a discussion for now, but never say never."
When Vasseur then rightly points out with additional political angles and truths that Verstappen is not an option for now, we still have to conclude that Verstappen's name is also singing around in Maranello. For now, the chances seem very small that the Dutchman will ever choose Ferrari, but somewhere you should never rule it out. After all, Ferrari will always try to go for the biggest names in the sport and in Formula 1 things can always change.
As lunch ends and we head back home, an Italian colleague takes us quickly inside Enzo Ferrari's living room. There we also see in his living room yet another beautiful photo of him and Gilles Villeneuve. As we leave the house, the receptionist tells us that the last person to use the house was Michael Schumacher. The seven-time world champion stayed at Enzo's house with his family between his many test sessions at the Fiorano circuit.
With that great quote in our pocket, we drive back home, with in our minds Ferrari, Schumacher and Villeneuve. Did the Italian media think the same thing when they asked Vasseur about Verstappen? The now three-time world champion is currently as dominant or even more dominant than Schumacher ever was and gave away shows with both bad and good bolides the way only Gilles Villeneuve knew how to emotionalize Enzo Ferrari. Is the Dutchman the ideal driver Enzo always envisioned in his mind?