Enzo Ferrari's motorsport vision is still alive and well after more than 80 years since it was first founded.
Motorsports are useful to manufacturers in a few different ways. They can serve as a crucible for the testing of new technologies or as a marketing tool to strengthen an automaker’s image. But some automakers take this opportunity much more seriously than others, and chief among them is Ferrari. Ferrari takes racing so seriously that even during periods when it isn't on top it still manages to preserve a motorsport image. Ferrari is unusual in that its racing team is actually older than the carmaker of the same name.
Scuderia Ferrari was founded in 1929 by Enzo Ferrari in order to race cars built by Alfa Romeo. The team also predates the existence of Formula 1, although this is now primarily where its energy is directed. It still has more F1 championship wins than any other team in history, with McLaren as the only other team which even comes close. At its peak, it had more than 40 drivers, and would become the official Alfa Romeo racing team. Just prior to WWII, Alfa Romeo was confiscated by the fascist government, and Enzo Ferrari began considering to manufacture his own cars.
The first Ferrari-badged cars would appear in 1947, and the first GT car in 1949. Formula 1 would get its start in 1950, and Ferrari would win a pair of World Championships in 1952 and 1953 with driver Alberto Ascari at the wheel. Interestingly, this was the last time Ferrari won a championship with an Italian driver. The Fifties were generally quite good for Ferrari, both in F1 and at Le Mans, but the early Sixties were really Ferrari’s time to shine, with its prototype cars bringing home overall wins for six consecutive years from 1960 to 1965, a streak which has only ever been beaten by Porsche.
It would be famously dethroned by Ford, never to take an overall win at Le Mans again, but that doesn’t mean it would never dominate a motorsport again. By 1999, McLaren had become the most successful F1 team ever, and Ferrari hadn’t taken a world championship in 20 years. But the German driver Michael Schumacher would change everything. He took five consecutive championships from 2000 to 2004, breaking Juan Manuel Fangio’s record from the Fifties. Those wins also put Ferrari’s record up over McLaren’s and made Schumacher the most successful driver in F1 history, a record which still stands today.
In the 2002 season, Schumacher had the championship clinched after the 11th of 17 races, and won by the biggest points margin the sport had ever seen. That is, until Vettel’s 2011 season. Of course, what makes Ferrari so great is how much of its motorsport expertise makes it to its road cars. It was these homologation efforts which first made that combination of letters that is "GTO" so very special to every gearhead in the world. Today, Ferrari doesn’t build homologation sports cars, but that doesn’t mean it doesn't sell track-ready but street-legal cars. At the moment, it sells the 458 Challenge, which is the spiritual successor to the F430 Scuderia.
These make for both serious track day cars as well as cars for privateer teams in motorsports. Ferrari is still quite a presence in F1 as well. Red Bull might currently be on top, but Ferrari is very much in the running. It is even possible that we will see a return to dominance from Ferrari as early as the 2013 season. In all, Ferrari is probably the single name most connected to motorsport. That isn’t necessarily because it was always the most successful, but it is definitely the manufacturer with the strongest heritage and the most direct link between racing and its road cars.