MILAN — If soccer is a serious affair in Italy, one that could spark rivalries even in the same city, Formula One is the country’s great equalizer sports-wise. If born on Italian soil, one just simply has to be a “Tifoso,” aka a supporter of Scuderia Ferrari.
Hence, it was no surprise that hundreds of people poured into the streets outside the central Ferrari store in Milan on Wednesday, when drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz made an appearance in the lead-up to the Italian Grand Prix, slated for this weekend in Monza, Italy.
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While fans crowded to get an autograph or selfie with their sports idols, Leclerc and Sainz were on duty to unveil a customization that will exclusively mark their cars this weekend. The tweak was conceived to celebrate the 75th anniversary since the company’s founder Enzo Ferrari produced the first car, dubbed 125 S.
Joined by Ferrari chief executive officer Benedetto Vigna, they lifted the veil on the special livery, which featured popping yellow details and a celebratory logo, both set to stand out on the F1-75 signature red car. To further mark the anniversary, the drivers will wear yellow overalls for the race instead of the traditional red.
In addition, the “Giallo Modena” collection of matching merchandise also dropped in limited-edition on Wednesday, both in stores and e-commerce. Developed in partnership with Bell Racing Helmets, Puma and Ray-Ban, these include a jersey T-shirt with sponsors’ logos, sunglasses in dark carbon fiber and the replica of the driver’s helmets.
Leclerc and Sainz both sported a yellow polo shirt in store, where they shared their sentiments ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, before dedicating all their time to greet fans.
“Monza is so special for us at Ferrari. It’s our home race. And we’ve got so much support, already a lot of fans are here and hopefully we’ll have a great weekend on Sunday,” Leclerc said.
Sainz noted that support reached new heights this year. “This year feels different. There are so many people coming to the circuits [around the world]; there are much more Ferrari flags this year because we’re more competitive and it looks that Tifosi are eager of victories,” said the Spanish driver.
Scuderia Ferrari got a strong start of the season, immediately going ahead of direct competitor of Red Bull Racing and its 24-year-old talent Max Verstappen, who’s the current world champion. Race after race, Verstappen eventually caught up and he now leads the driver standings with 310 point, while Leclerc ranks second at 201 points and Sainz is fifth with 175 points.
Still, Leclerc stepped on the finishers’ podium six times, including three as a winner, so far. At his second season with Scuderia Ferrari, Sainz also ticked off some boxes, winning his first Grand Prix in Silverstone, in the U.K., and overall stepping on the podium seven times this year.
Even if the more recent races didn’t go as smoothly as drivers wanted to — with some fans pointing their fingers at questionable team strategies rather than the driving duo — both Tifosi and drivers know that Monza represents a race of its own.
A result of the Ferrari Driver Academy and in his fourth season with the team, Leclerc officially won over the Tifosi’s heart in 2019 when his first career win, in Belgium, was followed a week later by his first victory at the Italian Grand Prix — becoming the first Ferrari driver to win at the local circuit in nine years.
“It was memorable. I think it was the best race I’ve ever did in Formula One in terms of emotions,” he recalled.
In general, he defined the Monza race as “an intense week, there’s not only the race itself on Sunday, but it has already started from Wednesday, from here. To see everyone here is always very special, we have this only in Italy. So there’s a lot of pressure and to have been able to win that Sunday [in 2019] was incredible. I will remember the moment on the podium forever.”
The last time Scuderia Ferrari won a Constructors’ Championship was in 2008, while the last driver of the team to be world champion was Kimi Räikkönen in 2007.
If keeping up the pace with championship leader Verstappen is getting trickier, there are plenty of reasons to be happy beyond the pure competition.
Formula One’s huge grip on audiences and enhanced entertainment quality have helped the car-racing competition to attract attention — and relative sponsorship opportunities — more than ever. The Netflix series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” which shows the behind-the-scenes of the competition, played a key role in contributing to the entertainment side, sealing the pop-cultural moment of the sport and attracting a new audience.
This new audience also increasingly pays attention to drivers’ own social media, which give access to their lives and through which they manage to establish a more personal connection with their fans.
This aspect is further putting drivers in the spotlight of brands for ambassadorships. For one, Giorgio Armani already grasped the sport’s potential in 2020, when the company tapped Leclerc for its made-to-measure campaign, which back then marked the first time the 24-year-old Monégasque driver fronted a fashion ad.
Overall, this year is the biggest Formula One season ever with a record-breaking 23 races, which also included the inaugural Miami Grand Prix in May. This added to the other American race in Austin, Texas, which is scheduled for next month.
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