Toto describes life on the road at one of the world’s best-loved motoring events and how it left an impression that will last a lifetime…
Until last weekend, the Mille Miglia to me was something that existed only in books on a dusty shelf in a library. I had read the tales of great races or heroic drives – but they belonged to the past, distant from the sport we race in today.
Now I have driven through Italy for four days in an incredible Mercedes-Benz 300 SL prototype as part of the modern Mille Miglia. And my perspective has changed 180 degrees.
At every place we came to, from the cities to the towns to the small villages along the way there was so much passion, respect and friendship. Encouragement to go faster, to let the engine roar, to feed the fans’ passion for these amazing machines.
And then always, with a twinkle of mischief in the person’s eyes, came those same words to finish: “Forza Ferrari!”
It was a bond of friendship and a shout of competition all at the same time, a reminder of the passion and the excitement that surrounds our sport. This was why Enzo Ferrari called the Mille Miglia the race of the people.
Every other weekend, we travel round the world and talk about how Formula One has become an entertainment event and a global business franchise. Of course, these things matter in today’s world.
But these four days in Italy, blasting through the countryside on skinny tyres in a car that had the technology of a rocket ship back in the 1950s… they reminded me why we really exist.
It’s not about business, it’s not even about creating an entertainment package. It’s about passion, courage, emotions, the cars, the drivers and their fascination for the fans.
As we ate up the miles towards Rome on Friday evening, in the dark, rain falling, wipers on and windows open, it gave me goose bumps to think of what those heroes achieved more than 60 years ago.
Whether it was Caracciola, or Nuvolari, or Sir Stirling Moss, or any of the hundreds of other drivers who took on that challenge… To see dawn breaking over the starting line in Brescia, to hear the countdown and then to go, blasting flat out to Rome and back, was an incredible test of courage and skill.
At every other corner, you had a brush with your own mortality. These were true gladiators, cheered on by fans in love with the cars, the speed and the risk. It has given me new respect for the legends of our sport and a new perspective on where we came from.
Those open roads, and passionate fans, are the roots of our modern day motorsport. Some people will say it is what we have lost in modern F1. But I prefer to think it is the soul that we are rediscovering this year.
And as we head to Monaco this week, this is probably the best moment to remember how motor racing fires the passion in us all – a passion for machines and for competition and for camaraderie, too.
In F1, the drivers will take on the biggest testing of driving skill on the calendar in the fastest machines in the sport’s history.
At Indianapolis, one of our great champions will take on the special challenge of the Indy 500. Other heroes, professional and amateur, will take on the Green Hell of the Nürburgring across 24 hours.
This is what our sport is about – pushing limits, embracing new challenges, flirting with danger and firing the emotions of our fans.
Whether they are in the Monte-Carlo harbour, the short chute at Indy or the forests of the Eifel, they will all be celebrating the same thing: the passion that is the beating heart of our sport.