You already know that I attended \"Formula Ferrari,\" a forum organized by the Italian carmaker for the global press last week at its Maranello headquarters to discuss its future. The highlight of that event was a press conference featuring no less than the man himself, Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo.
In case the significance of this is lost on you, imagine that this is like seeing Facebook\'s Mark Zuckerberg in person--if Zuckerberg looked like a dapper 65-year-old doppelganger of Al Pacino. In other words, the Italian executive is a car-industry rock star, the kind of guy for whom Fernando Alonso drops everything when he calls (as we saw after last Sunday\'s Spanish Grand Prix, when Ferrari F1 team principal Stefano Domenicali handed his phone to his star driver because the boss wanted to talk to him).
I had previously seen di Montezemolo in the flesh at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, and had very nearly mustered the guts to approach him for a souvenir photo were it not for his burly bodyguards who gave me a menacing stare when I tried to accost their suave employer.
But last week was an entirely different setting altogether. Ferrari had gathered some 100 journalists from around the world to lay down its plans for the future--including its intent to sell fewer units every year to maintain the value of its cars. Top Gear Philippines was the lone media representative from our market, a fact that put pressure on me to give a good account of myself during the event.
And so, when the floor was opened for questions from the media guests, I felt a burning itch to seize the opportunity to \"talk\" with the Ferrari boss. Which wasn\'t an easy feat considering my paralyzing fear of the spotlight (not to mention the auditorium-type structure we were in, with a huge screen in front that showed a close-up shot of whoever was doing the asking). Di Montezemolo was standing by himself behind a Prancing Horse lectern, and he was to answer every single one of the questions, which I expected to be few and select, seeing that the rather surly moderator looked like he was in a hurry to end the press conference as swiftly as he could.
A few microphones were passed around, and several of my colleagues from the West started throwing their questions--mostly business and product ones. After a while, I summoned the courage to half-raise my hand: One part of me did want to interact with Ferrari\'s head honcho; the other part was hoping I wouldn\'t get noticed by the moderator until the press conference was over.
Fortunately, the moderator didn\'t notice me. Or rather, he refused to notice me, visibly bent on wrapping up the symposium quickly. Unfortunately--just as the moderator had called a journalist for \"the last\" question--Chairman di Montezemolo cut him off and said: \"That guy...he\'s raising his hand.\" Oh, yes, he was pointing at me. To think I was seated in the middle of a crowd. I couldn\'t believe that Ferrari\'s most important man had been eyeing me all along while fielding questions. Either that or he was annoyed that one journalist kept half-raising his hand.
The thing was, I didn\'t have a sensible question. Instead, I wanted to ask a really silly one, because I was simply dying of boredom listening to all those sales numbers and monologues about business sustainability. But what the heck.
After getting handed the microphone, I fired away: \"You said earlier that a Ferrari is like a woman, that you have to desire it. If the LaFerrari were an actual woman, who would she be?\" I was referring, of course, to the new V12 hybrid supercar, of which only 499 units will be made. I wasn\'t sure how di Montezemolo would react to the question. At best, he\'d say the LaFerrari would be the automotive equivalent of Monica Bellucci. At worst, he\'d signal to security personnel to escort me outside.
He had acknowledged some of the previous queries with a flattering \"very good question,\" before launching into an animated soliloquy about his company. I wondered what adjective he\'d use to describe my question. \"Stupid\" seemed appropriate at the moment.
To my relief, he laughed (and so did my fellow journalists) upon hearing my question. I made freaking Luca di Montezemolo laugh. He even corrected me when I said \"Ferrari is like a woman,\" inserting \"good-looking\" into the phrase for good measure.
And then he asked me: \"Is this your first time in Maranello?\"
Uh-oh, the boss was having me kicked out. That laugh was an evil laugh after all.
My trepidation was banished when he continued: \"I\'m an expert in these matters. But I cannot name just one woman. That would be unfair. There are so many beautiful women in the world. And just like with a beautiful woman, when you see the LaFerrari, it will take your breath away. But there\'s a difference. With a beautiful woman, you might get bored after you have dinner with her and discover her flaws. With the LaFerrari, there\'s not a moment you\'ll get bored after you turn on the engine.\"
In other words, Chairman di Montezemolo was saying that the LaFerrari isn\'t just another pretty face--that there\'s so much more to it than just its gorgeous carbon-fiber skin.
With that stupid question, I earned my lunch (and possibly an asterisk on Ferrari\'s media list).
Photos by Vernon B. Sarne