“Ferrari passion is infectious; it’s hard not to get sucked in,” said Hannah Marie Hassall, a fan from Guildford, England. “The history of the team, and everything that comes with supporting Ferrari, the passion is like no other.”
Tifosi is not exclusively used to describe Formula One fans. It also applies to groups of sports fans in Italy, including soccer, and denotes those who also boisterously celebrate their teams.
In motorsport, however, tifosi just means Ferrari, with an endless parade of red that runs from the season opener in Melbourne, Australia, to the grand finale in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where helicopter shots of the race show the roof of the Ferrari World theme park, a logo stretched over more than two million square feet.
“The first time I found myself in Ferrari uniform and putting my luggage into a 575 and driving from the Ferrari headquarters to Monza, I drove so slowly, because I wanted to enjoy the moment second by second, minute by minute,” said Matteo Bonciani, who worked for the Scuderia Ferrari Formula One team during the 2000s, its most successful period.
“I was not a Ferrari owner, I was not someone wearing the uniform,” he said. “It is a pride you feel as a mechanic, as a cleaner. People will stop you and ask for your photograph, even if they don’t know who you are. To work for Ferrari is to be part of the best aristocracy possible.”
Ferrari makes six-figure supercars so exclusive that the tifosi are unlikely to ever come into contact with them. Few of those wearing Ferrari T-shirts at a grand prix are likely to have driven a Ferrari, and fewer still will own one.
Despite that, the connection that the tifosi feel with Ferrari as a marque is a connection that has led to the creation of more than 160 official Scuderia Ferrari clubs around the world, with nearly 20,000 members in 18 countries.
While Italy is the natural home of the tifosi, Ferrari passion is truly international. Each year at the Japanese Grand Prix, held in October at the Suzuka Circuit about 240 miles southwest of Tokyo, some Ferrari fans dress as red-clad samurai, with horse headdresses emblazoned with the prancing-horse logo. The former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, who now drives for Williams, remembers their support.
“Japan has one of the most incredible set of fans in general, and many of them are cheering for Ferrari,” Massa said. “Even on Thursday when there is no track action, the fans are there in the grandstands opposite the pits, whether it is dry or raining.”
In the towns and villages surrounding the track, there is Ferrari passion throughout race week. Toyisha Seki, a chef and restaurant owner in Shiroko, spends the week of the Japanese Grand Prix cooking while wearing full team kit and regaling customers with stories of the Ferrari personnel who have eaten at his restaurant over the years.
But the Ferrari magic extends beyond Formula One. The Ferrari Racing Days event at Suzuka attracts more than 15,000 people for a few short races and extensive display runs of Ferraris old and new.
In 2007, at a Ferrari anniversary celebration in Melbourne, tens of thousands of Australian fans gathered to watch display runs,while in 2013 more than 40,000 fans attended a Ferrari demonstration drive through Jerusalem’s Old City. A similar drive in Moscow attracted an estimated 100,000.
Wherever the team’s mechanics are greeted at the airport like heroes, fans crowd outside the hotel like they are rock stars.
“When you jump on a plane and after so many hours arrive at the other side of the world to see people clapping for you, even if you are not the person who was driving the car, or the person who designed that car, but you are anyone from the cleaner to the driver,” Bonciani said. “To be wearing that uniform, and to be cheered for it, is something that is unique.”
That cheering has persisted for the duration of Ferrari’s involvement in the Formula One World Championship. From 1984 to 1999, Ferrari endured a long world-title drought, but the global passion for Ferrari did not wane. The team’s last championship was in 2008, yet during races Ferrari shirts still outnumbered every other team.
In a 2017 survey of more than 200,000 Formula One fans in 194 countries, nearly one-third named Ferrari as their favorite team. And in 21 of the sport’s 25 biggest markets, Ferrari topped the rankings despite neither of their drivers’ scoring well.
That is in stark contrast to the popularity of Michael Schumacher, the former Formula One driver and seven-time world champion credited with inspiring the explosion of Ferrari fever. Schumacher became Ferrari’s first world champion in 21 years in 2000 and helped restore the team’s glory.
Since Schumacher’s 2006 departure from the team, Ferrari has won three world titles: two constructors’ and one drivers’. But one decade since its last drivers’ crown, Ferrari is once again challenging for the title, with Sebastian Vettel in the lead for the drivers’ championship after winning Budapest and finishing second in Belgium.
If he holds that lead, that will give the tifosi another reason to celebrate. And if Ferrari wins Italy, something the team has not done since 2010, reason will go out the window.