The True Story Behind the Ferrari Movie Is Filled With Tragedy

In Michael Mann’s Ferrari, Adam Driver takes on the role of Enzo Ferrari, the former race car driver and founder of one of the world’s most recognizable car companies. The movie co-stars Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, and Patrick Dempsey.

Based upon Brock Yates’ 1991 book, Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine, the film explores a particularly tumultuous time in the founder’s life, as he faces personal and professional tragedies. Here’s what you need to know about the true story behind Adam Driver’s latest movie, Ferrari.

Enzo Ferrari’s early life and racing career

Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine

Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine

Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine

Enzo Anselmo Ferrari was born in Modena, Italy, on February 18, 1898. As a young boy, Ferrari fell in love with race car driving after watching a motor car race in Bologna with his father, via Biography. However, Ferrari would face much tragedy as a young man after both his father and his brother died in 1916 from the flu. Ferrari, too, would develop a serious case of the flu, which led to him being honorably discharged from the Italian Army in 1917, Biography noted.

Prior to developing his namesake brand, Ferrari started his career as a race car driver in 1919, joining the Alfa Romeo team the following year, with whom he won multiple Grand Prix races, via Biography. By 1929, Ferrari had founded his own racing team, which he named Scuderia Ferrari, via Brittanica. Despite his team finding much success, Ferrari decided to retire from racing in 1931, though he continued to manage Scuderia Ferrari for a number of years, as well as working for Alfa Romeo, per Brittanica.

Ferrari founded his own company

During an interview with The Times of London, Ferrari shared his passion for driving, saying (via The New York Times), “Racing is a great mania to which one must sacrifice everything, without reticence, without hesitation.”

By 1939, Ferrari had left Alfa Romeo and started his own company, which was initially known as Auto Avio Costruzioni (AAC), and would later be renamed Ferrari SpA, Brittanica reported. The company supplied vehicles to the the Italian military during World War II, alongside building and repairing cars. After a few false starts, Ferrari’s cars soon found success on the race track, particularly following the launch of Formula 1, per Brittanica.

adam driver in ferrari

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The movie Ferrari is set during 1957, which was a particularly difficult year in Enzo’s life. Although his drivers had found success on the race track in Ferrari vehicles, the team also faced multiple tragedies. In 1955, driver Alberto Ascari was killed while driving a Ferrari sports car, and three more drivers—Eugenio Castellotti, Luigi Musso, and Peter Collins—all died while using Ferrari Formula 1 cars between 1957 and 1958, via Brittanica.

The Mille Miglia tragedy changed everything

While racing in the Mille Miglia in 1957, Ferrari driver Alfonso de Portago was involved in a fatal accident after a tire blew out, sending the car flying into the air where it hit a telephone pole, via Vault. In a truly devastating turn of events, the car landed in a crowd of spectators who had gathered to watch the race, killing at least nine people, alongside Portago and his passenger, Edmund Nelson, via Vault and Brittanica.

As a result of the horrific accident, racing on public roads was outlawed by the Italian government, and Ferrari himself was charged with manslaughter, although he was later acquitted, per Brittanica.

Another of Ferrari’s drivers, 50-year-old Piero Taruffi (played by Patrick Dempsey), won the race, forgoing retirement to drive for Enzo, via Vault. In fact, Ferraris accounted for eight of the first ten cars to pass the finish line, proving that the company was at the top of its game in many ways, Vault reported. However, the loss of life that occurred during Portago’s crash undeniably impacted Enzo and everyone at the Ferrari company.

Ferrari had a complicated personal life

Aside from Enzo Ferrari’s career, Michael Mann’s biopic also focuses on the Ferrari founder’s personal life. As well as exploring Enzo’s flailing marriage to wife Laura Ferrari, played by Penélope Cruz, the film also details his romantic relationship with Lina Lardi, played by Shailene Woodley, per Biography.

ferrari movie

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Enzo married Laura Garello in 1923, and the couple’s son, Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari, arrived in 1932, via Brittanica. Dino shared his father’s interest in cars, but he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, which led to his untimely death at the age of 24, per Brittanica. Having been the assumed heir to Ferrari’s empire, Dino’s death was a crushing moment in Enzo’s life. According to Biography, the businessman became somewhat of a recluse following his son’s death.

As noted by Biography, Enzo and Laura’s relationship only worsened following Dino’s death, while Enzo’s affairs also took a tool on the marriage. Enzo and Lardi were reportedly together for decades while he was married, on account of the fact that divorce was illegal in Italy until 1970, via GQ. Even once the law changed, Enzo remained married to wife Laura until her death in 1978, The Guardian noted.

In 1945, Enzo welcomed a son, Piero, with Lardi, although he wasn’t allowed to bear the Ferrari name until after Laura’s death because of the strict divorce laws in Italy at the time, via ABC News. Ultimately, Piero would be named as the heir to the Ferrari dynasty.

Ferrari’s death and company legacy

Enzo Ferrari died on August 14, 1988, at the age of 90. In his later years, Enzo sold a 90% stake in his company to Fiat, via The New York Times. The publication also noted that Piero retained the remaining 10%, while maintaining his role as the company’s vice chairman.

Of his crucial role in the Ferrari empire, Piero told Motor Sport in 2014, “I never saw myself as repeating what my father had done.” He continued, “That would have been impossible. I did not want to be the king, it’s not in my nature.”

The Ferrari movie seems to support Michael Mann’s cinematic recreation of a troubling time in Enzo’s life and career. During a red carpet interview, Piero praised the movie, saying, “It is a nice family story in a difficult moment of life with tragedies but my father was a winner, he succeeded and he realized his dreams.”

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Amy Mackelden is a freelance writer, editor, and disability activist. Her bylines include Harper’s BAZAAR, Nicki Swift, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, ELLE, The Independent, Bustle, Healthline, and HelloGiggles. She co-edited The Emma Press Anthology of Illness, and previously spent all of her money on Kylie Cosmetics.