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
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
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 coupé, 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
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
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
"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
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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