Eat your heart out SLR, or should that be Ferrari?,,22750-1762172,00.html
Ferrari's most exclusive club: millionaires need not apply
It's the ultimate joyride, an F1 car of your own - with Schumacher's mechanics on the side, finds Emma Smith of The Sunday Times
F1 Clienti members are buying into the glamorous Formula One world represented by Eddie Irvine, above
Pierre Schroeder has everything money can buy. A currency trader by profession, he grew up in Luxembourg, worked in Paris and New York and, since his recent retirement, divides his time between a flat in Mayfair and the family home in Switzerland. He is 46. Schroeder is also the latest member to be accepted by the most exclusive car club in the world. F1 Clienti is a new brainwave by Ferrari aimed at not just the very wealthy, but the super-rich. Mere millionaires need not apply.
Schroeder certainly fits the bill. He already has five Ferraris in his garage - a 360 Spider, a 575 Maranello, a 550 Barchetta, a 360 Modena and a 360 Challenge Stradale, with a 430 Spider and a Superamerica on order. But in order to gain access to F1 Clienti he had to go one step further and buy the ultimate rich boy's toy - a genuine Formula One race car. Driven in the past by Michael Schumacher, Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello, the 1999 racer cost him a cool 470,000.
"Every modern-day Ferrari driver has driven this car," says Schroeder. "I think I've bought some history. Anyone can buy a fast car if they have enough money, but with this you really become part of the Ferrari family."
F1 Clienti offers its wealthy members the chance to purchase their own Formula One car with a slice of racing history, along with the services of a dedicated Ferrari pit crew. This most exclusive of clubs offers the ultimate in access - entry to the heart of Ferrari's F1 operation and use of the same mechanics as Michael Schumacher.
The club currently boasts about 40 members and this summer Schroeder will be joining the likes of the British property magnate Frank Mountain for a series of F1 Clienti events. Ferrari is not shy about playing up the exclusivity of the new club. "We sell between five and eight F1 cars a year," says Silvia Pini of Ferrari UK. "Owning an F1 car is only for multi-millionaires. Even for millionaires joining F1 Clienti is just a fantasy."
But behind the PR bluster lies a tough commercial reality. In a crowded market place Ferrari is finding it increasingly difficult to retain the exclusive lustre of its once hallowed badge and, just as importantly, the patronage of men like Pierre Schroeder.
In the 1960s, when there were no more than a few hundred Ferraris cosseted in garages around the country, this was not a problem for the Italian car maker. The unmistakable sound and blurred sight of a bright red Ferrari was enough to draw a crowd of wide-eyed, dumbstruck admirers. Ferraris inspired a sort of hushed awe and their owners automatically became members of an elite club that only the very wealthy and well-connected could ever hope to enter.
Today, as any seasoned multi-millionaire knows, if you want to stand out from the crowd it takes more than just any old Ferrari. The car maker is now beginning to grasp that the world of luxury motoring has moved beyond the realm of a small elite of European aristocrats and American millionaires. It now embraces a new generation of Eurotrash playboys, internet billionaires, sports stars, pop stars, film stars and Peter Andre (owner of a 360 Spider).
It's a phenomenon best illustrated by Bentley's recent change of fortune - and clientele. Once synonymous with stiff-upper-lipped upper class Britishness, Bentley's Continental GT coup, launched in 2003, has become a favourite with American gangsta rappers.
"There are more people with more disposable income, so the market for luxury cars has expanded," says Nigel Wonnacott of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
"Between 1995 and 2004, UK sales of specialist sports cars almost doubled, from 37,426 to 73,940. Those who a decade ago might have aspired to own, say, a BMW 3-series or Mercedes C-class are now aspiring to something more exclusive. The true connoisseur is looking for something without brand baggage. You could call it the footballers' wives effect. Those at the top want people to think 'What the hell was that?', not 'That's the car David Beckham drives '."
The demands of an ever growing market - and subsequent loss of exclusivity - can be seen in Ferrari's production figures.
Back in the 1960s it produced between 300 and 700 cars a year. Today that figure has leapt to more than 4,000.
Special editions such as the Enzo, launched in 2003, which had a production run of just 399, and the Superamerica offer that extra tier of exclusivity to prestige-hungry buyers. Yet when Ferrari produced its first Superamericas ("america" denotes its special body, "super" refers to the extra power under the bonnet), the 410 in 1956 and 400 in 1960, each had a production run of fewer than 50. At the same time an increasing number of niche low-production brands such as Bentley, Bugatti and Aston Martin have emerged or re-emerged to challenge Ferrari's claim to be the most exclusive car maker in the world. Hence the car clubs.
This week sees Ferrari capitalising on its unrivalled history and F1 pedigree with the launch of a separate club aimed not at super-rich customers but at those one tier down. Fiorano Ferrari is open to any UK motorist who buys a car from a main dealer. It is named after the company's test track at its headquarters in Maranello, near Modena in northern Italy.
All customers will be granted exclusive access to events such as performance driving days, visits to Ferrari's factory and the chance to meet some of the company's executives, from designers, engineers and test drivers up to the president, Luca di Montezemolo.
"These clubs allow owners to mix with supposedly like-minded people," says Mike Steventon, head of the automotive division at KPMG. "They also offer proof that owners have been relatively successful. With a brand like Ferrari, which is associated with success largely thanks to F1, and which aspires to offer the very best in engineering and automotive technology, there is a sense that these qualities reflect back on the owner."
Pierre Schroeder certainly agrees. For him F1 Clienti is about more than expensive cars. At the F1 workshop alongside the Fiorano track, a dedicated team of Ferrari's technical experts, most of whom have worked with Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, and one or two who worked with this very car during its 1999 F1 season, are focusing their expertise on fitting him into it.
The cramped cockpit is clearly not designed for his expanding corporate-lunch waistline, but after several adjustments and a little old-fashioned pushing Schroeder takes his seat. And in doing so can feel he has joined an illustrious stable of Ferrari drivers from Juan Manuel Fangio, via Alain Prost, to Schumacher.
"When I was growing up Ferrari was like this mythical, awe-inspiring name," says Schroeder. "Today it's a huge global brand, but for me it still has that mystique about it."
The mystique is something that Ferrari is understandably desperate to preserve. The company stresses that despite market pressures it still sets strict limits on the numbers of cars it produces - no more than 500 a year for the UK market. Getting onto the waiting list for a new model is more competitive than ever, But it is the members' clubs that the company hopes more than anything will preserve the desirability and uniqueness of the name.
"This distinguishes Ferrari from other brands," says Al Clarke, head of public relations for Ferrari in the UK. "We are the only company with the history and the heritage to do something on this scale. We have the ability to be intimate with our customers; we can make them feel that extra bit special. In a competitive and crowded market we believe we stand out and we want to reinforce that. A lot of people make fast cars, but there is only one Ferrari."
That much may be true, but the existence of both Fiorano Ferrari and F1 Clienti is proof that carrying the famous prancing horse badge alone may no longer be enough.
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