Despite having no prior experience watching car racing of any sort, by the time I arrived in Italy, I had become one of Ferrari’s biggest fans. I started watching F1 racing a year before our trip. My middle son and his wife had been following the sport for a couple years, and I’d seen their Instagram posts that showed them grilling with friends while they watched the races. I was surprised he was into car racing. Growing up he had watched football, basketball, hockey, and baseball with his dad, but never auto racing.
“It’s so much fun! But you need to watch Drive to Survive first so you have some context,” he told us, referring to the Netflix series that had been launched a couple of years prior. David didn’t need any convincing—despite professing that he’s not a “gearhead”, I knew he was very into cars. When we first met, he was working to restore a 1965 Austin Martin, and any time he saw a sleek car on the road, he’d point it out to me, expecting me to show us much enthusiasm as he did. I knew he’d have fun watching a show about grand prix racing. We started watching the series that very evening, binge watching several episodes until 2:00 in the morning, and we were both hooked.
The show wasn’t just about racing cars, it was about so much more: the people, the egos, the money, the competition, the scandals, the expensive cars, and yes, those sexy young drivers. I felt an affinity to the Italians, so started rooting for Scuderia Ferrari from the start. And it didn’t take long for me to develop a huge crush on Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz. I ignored the fact that he was younger than my own children, and any time a friend expressed shock that I was an F1 racing fan I’d show them a picture of my “boyfriend.” “Oooooh, I get it!” was the usual response.
Once we powered through the Netflix show, we started watching the F1 races live. I learned about tyre selection, DRS zones, chicanes, dirty air, and more. I was a soaking up everything, including all the back stories on the drivers, their teams, and their Team Principals. Although I’d asked David about what he wanted to see or do while we were in Italy, he had left the decision-making almost entirely up to me. His only request was that we visit Motor Valley just outside of Bologna to see Ferrari. In addition to visiting the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, where we would be able to take a turn in the F1 simulator. After watching so much F1 racing, we were both excited to try it.
I knew, even before this trip, that it’s not only in the Motor Valley where Ferrari is revered. Italians all over the country seemed to have a love affair with everything Enzo Ferraro created. I had seen the massive Ferrari gift shops in Rome, plenty of Ferraris zooming past me on the autostrada, and more than a few old Italian men sporting some sort of Ferrari-logoed clothing. I’d even chatted with some of them about the sport, earning their respect when I shared that I too was a Scuderia Ferrari fan. We discussed our mutual frustration that the team was firing Mattia Binotto from his position as Team Principal and that Ferrari was struggling to get their car to compete on the straightaways. It didn’t seem to matter that Sainz, or his partner LeClerc, could maneuver so well on the chicanes if Red Bull was going to smoke them once they came out of the turn. I knew we would be going to the museum in Maranello, but I never anticipated having this much day-to-day discussion about Ferrari.
We were both so excited for our turn in the simulator that we arrived 45 minutes earlier than our scheduled time, so we started in the museum first. The second we walked in the door, a huge screen flashed a picture of Carlos Sainz, as if they knew I’d be arriving at that moment. David pointed to Sainz and laughed, not at all threatened by my silly boy-crush. The cars in the museum were shiny and sexy, from the older models to the new F1 racing cars, and I surprised David by spending so much time studying the cars and reading about the history of Ferrari. Italy has a love affair with design, and as someone who was trying to be Italian, I was trying to appreciate this aspect of the race cars. I was also trying to distract myself from how nervous I felt about driving in the simulator.
I asked David to go first so I could see what it was like. The host at the museum helped him climb into the tiny cockpit of the car and belted him in. He had a choice of driving in automatic mode or using the paddle shifters for gears. He wanted the full experience—or perhaps he was just being macho—so he asked for the paddle shifters. I turned on my phone to video his drive around the famous Italian Monza track which I could watch from the screen in front of the simulator.
Just five seconds after hitting the gas, he slammed headfirst into the wall, completely misjudging how much he needed to downshift and brake to make the turn. An Italian man and his grandson were standing next to me watching and they both laughed out loud and pointed to David in the simulator. That wasn’t their last laugh, however, as David continued to accelerate too quickly, shift too slowly, and misjudge braking for most of the drive, crashing a total of seven times during his short three-minute drive.
After David climbed out, I wedged myself into the car. I couldn’t imagine how the F1 drivers fit into these cockpits, it was so incredibly tight. The windshield at the front of the car had a piece of metal down the center, presumably for safety if the car should roll, but I found the way the metal bar split the view through the windshield very distracting. I was still trying to understand if I should look left or right when the guy asked me if I was ready, and suddenly I was driving the racetrack at Monza.
I had selected the automatic transmission thinking I’d have plenty to focus on without trying to learn paddle shifters. I went slowly around the first curve, tugging at the steering wheel to keep the car within the course so I would avoid any track limit violations. I continued driving and avoided any crashes, but I was going so slowly I wasn’t able to finish the course within my time slot.
I unbelted myself but it was so tight in the car I needed help from David and the Ferrari host to pull me out. When they tried to help, however, they discovered I had been sweating so much from the stress of my test drive that I was dripping wet, and they couldn’t get a grip on my arms. David thought this was hilarious, but I was horrified and hot and just wanted out of the car.
It seemed neither David nor I were cut out to be F1 race car drivers, but at least I could share my love of Ferrari with my fellow Italians. I appreciated the sexy design and respect the speed of these cars like Italians do. I understood the historic rivalry between Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini that brought these two luxury Italian brands to the world, something surely every Italian knew. One day, maybe I’d be lucky enough to drive a real Ferrari in Italy, and when I did, it would be me flashing my lights to signal the car in front of me to move over quickly because a Ferrari was coming.