SO, Ferrari presented the Pope with a model Formula One race car. After all the usual jokes about the Pope’s chauffeur are over, one criticism will remain – the same one always levied against the Vatican.
“Why doesn’t he sell it and give the money to the needy?”
The answer, Virginia, is that we have souls as well as bodies, and the Pope has to take care of both parts of us.
“Okay” I can hear you saying “This ought to be good. How does having an F1 car help take care of my soul?” Well, Tinkerbell, I’m not thinking of your soul in particular, I’m thinking the souls, and soul, of Italy.
We Americans have an estranged relationship with international sport. We are geographically isolated, and we don’t like to think of ourselves as having any “rivals”. We like to be above the international fray as often as we can. We play our sports against other Americans only…except at the Olympics. There, for a few weeks every few years, Americans can briefly feel what national pride actually is. Of course, the broadcasters who know nothing of pride in any form do their best to convince us that we should be proud of our athletes because they have overcome challenges and handicaps, the fact is we can be proud of an American athlete simply for being American – that’s Patriotism.
Not so the Europeans. Europeans are, to say the least, enthusiastic about international sports. They spar against their neighbors constantly, and in doing so attempt live out what we Americans call “the spirit of the games” every four years – peaceful co-existence through neither war nor assimilation, but common interest and real national pride. It can also be explained it in a more cynical way – you’d rather not go to war against your competitors and fans.
This brings us to Formula One Racing. This is European sport at its finest. International events occur around the world, hosting teams from a variety of the developed nations (and even some surprise competitors)…but not usually the United States. We prefer to keep our racing championship at home. For the nations which do compete, and for many of their citizens, the team – Ferrari in Italy, Renault in France, BMW/Williams and Mercedes/Mclaren for Germany , BAR for England, Jordan from Ireland, Toyota from Japan, along with Saudis, Australians, Belgians, Brazilians and host of others – Are a real source of national pride.
I remember well my first international race. Although I was employed in competition in North America as a low-level technician, we got to compete in a truly international environment. Having been raised in a sort of dreary disdain for all thing European as inferior to ourselves, I was astounded at the technical wizardry of these people and also the simple cohesion of having national pride. For an American, who had never known anyone but other Americans, it was a revelation (and a joyous one!) to see that national character still existed! The Italians really did shout at each other all the time and wave their hands at each other…and everything they had really was painted red. The Germans really did do everything with clipped precision…and everything they had was painted silver. The British really did drink tea…the Australians really were friendly…the Japanese really did all get together in a bunch to solve a problem.
For many of these nations, the extreme effort and expense and technical proficiency required to compete in Formula One auto racing makes it something akin to a space program. The cars are made of pressed graphite fibers, the nuts and bolts are titanium or beryllium alloy. They are designed in virtual space using Fluid Dynamics software…tested in wind tunnels…they’re totally cool. They’re also akin to a fighter jet in complexity. They also only last for one year. During the winter months, the pace of technological development is so intense, that by Spring, last year’s winning car would do well to finish mid pack, if not at the end of the line.
The crowds at these races are huge and diverse. The Ferrari team fans, the Tifosi, are probably the most dedicated. At Imola, Italy, the team’s home race, they turn out by the hundreds of thousands…and if the Ferrari team wins, they flood the race course in a sea of red flags and red-painted faces.
So, I hope that by now, anyone can see that to many Italians, a champion Ferrari race car represents Italian national pride – the best of Italy – and confirms Italy as a nation strong in education and technology, dedication and hard work.
What’s it worth? Well, the entire program has a budget of about $100million annually. It’s not government money, in the main. It’s paid for by advertising and television revenues and any shortfall is made up by the Ferrari company. They produce no more than ten or twelve running copies of a particular car design, so I suppose you could say they cost about $10million. The 1/5 scale models are usually wind-tunnel testing models which are sometimes finished out into full scale models. A good guess of the collection value of a piece like that would be mid 5 to possibly 6 figures.
But, the value of the car is in its symbolism to Italians. Maybe we Americans don’t have a good grasp on what pride means to some of these other nations, but just because we don’t doesn’t mean that we should be callous to their feelings and intentions. The Ferrari company, representative of the entire Italian people, has presented Holy Mother Church with a premier symbol of peaceful Italian national pride. One or two of the full-size cars will remain in the Ferrari factory museum. The driver will probably be given one for his private collection. The models may be displayed in various museums in Europe…but one belongs to the Pope. In its own way, it is as symbolic of the pride Italians have felt at being the home of great technology and culture as the Colesseum. They gave it to the Church. Think for a moment what this means. They gave it to the Church. Anyone who has been despondent over the state of Italian Catholicism should smile today…the Tifosi have another connection to Holy Mother Church.
So, go ahead, dreary, navel-gazing Americans. Call for the Pope to sell his car to some wealthy industrialist to show off to his buddies to send a symbolic drop into the charitable bucket. I, the Pope, and the Tifosi will happily ignore you. We Americans keep our symbols of national pride in glass cases at government museums where no man may pray. The Italians gave the Ferrari to the Pope, heck yeah he should keep it!.
Viva Scuderia Ferrari!