The Italian was initially drafted into Ferrari by parent company Fiat in 1973; quickly becoming both Enzo Ferrari’s right-hand man and the Scuderia’s sporting director. The Prancing Horse had not won the world title since John Surtees had triumphed in 1964, so in that sense Di Montezemolo’s brief was simple: return Ferrari to winning ways.
After looking at the racing team’s working structure, Di Montezemolo quickly realised the value in employing one of the sport’s up and coming racers. Following a failed attempt to sign James Hunt - Di Montezemolo would later describe a meeting between Ferrari and Hunt’s then team manager Lord Hesketh as “like putting the devil and holy water together” - the stylish young businessman pushed the Maranello team to sign the promising young Austrian Niki Lauda. It turned out to be a very fruitful move.
The title eluded Lauda and Ferrari in 1974, but in 1975 everything went perfectly with double championship success secured at home in Monza.
“That was the crowning of a dream that had begun two years earlier, built day by day and the fruits of long days of hard work, evenings spent talking to the drivers, engineers and mechanics and some sleepless nights,” Di Montezemolo told the official Ferrari website .
“It was a wonderful emotion to see the joy of the team and the fans and to feel that, behind those successes, there was also the result of my work.”
Di Montezemolo’s role within Ferrari would change following that season, but he remained involved in the team until 1977 before going on to work successfully in other areas of the Fiat empire.
He’d return to Ferrari in November 1991 as president, not long after successfully managing the organising committee of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.
The Scuderia had lost its way slightly following the death of founder Enzo Ferrari in 1988, so once again Di Montezemolo was tasked with returning Ferrari to the forefront of F1.
In the years that followed the passionate and frequently outspoken Italian was responsible for the most important moves in Ferrari’s recent history - the 1993 signing of Jean Todt to lead the Scuderia and the 1995 capture of double world champion Michael Schumacher.
Aided by the likes of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, Todt and Schumacher drove Ferrari into an era of unparalleled success as Di Montezemolo watched on with pride. In all, five drivers’ championships and six constructors’ crowns were captured during an incredible run between 1999 and 2004, with Schumacher’s triumph in the 2000 drivers’ championship perhaps the most emotional of the lot, coming a full 21 years after the Scuderia’s last success.
Three further titles were added in the post-Schumacher era, but further championship bids have fallen short, despite the best efforts of Fernando Alonso, a driver whom Di Montezemolo has referred to as “the best in the world”.
But even though he’s set to step down from his role as chairman of Ferrari with the Scuderia in a slight dip, Di Montezemolo will always be remembered as one of the most important people in the history of Formula One racing’s most iconic team.
His departing words said it best: “Together with my family, [Ferrari] was, and continues to be, the most important thing in my life”.