Bob Bondurant – Interview and Profile Page Five
SCD: When did you get the phone call from John Surtees about joining Ferrari?
BB: Well we were at Monza for the F1 race and testing the week before, and I was there and had been promised tests with a couple of teams. Honda was there, and if they didn’t have any problems they would give me a test drive, and Cooper had promised the same thing. Jack Brabham was there and said if he had time he’d put me in a car. Well, Surtees was out there in a Ferrari testing and he asked me what I was doing there? He said, “No, the factory did not call you? The Old Man wants you down there at the factory, he wants to talk with you.” So the Goodyear guys lent me their car and I drove on down and I got there and the gates were opened and the guard stopped me and asked me who I was and who did I want to see? I said, “Bob Bondurant,” and he said, “Bondurant and the Cobra, come on in.” I got to know all the Ferrari mechanics in ’64 and ’65, we all got along great. I am a people person. So that was great. But Mr. Ferrari was not there, and everyone said they’d let me know when he was coming. John thought he was there. So I was given a tour through the entire factory by the team manager, Mauro Forghieri. I saw everything. The foundry, the race engines, the street engines, building and assembly of the cars and engines and everything. I literally saw the whole place. The race engines were in the race shop, and no one gets to see that. When Enzo arrived he did not show me that, he just showed me the cars. So I was kind of laughing under my breath, “Ha I’ve already seen that.” Cool. Enzo was very, very proud of Formula Uno. I told him “I want to race Formula Uno, when will you let me know?” And he said, “One week, two weeks, when I decide.” I said, “OK, Bondurant, shut your mouth, ha,” and went back up to Monza. I did not have a ride. I was trying to get a test ride with any of the F1 teams.
SCD: Can you tell us more about meeting Mr. Ferrari for the first time?
BB: That was fantastic. I think I told you about checking into the hotel and then for an hour sitting in the restaurant across the street with David Piper. Then Surtees called and said, “Mr. Ferrari is here now, would you like to come now?” I said, “Well we just ordered dinner and it’s an all you can eat.” He said, “Well, Enzo wants to see you now!” Dinner arrived just minutes after he said that and we scarfed it down fast. We had a Ferrari, so we drove out to the factory. The gates were closed, of course. The gates magically opened and we drove on in and parked. Ferrari’s right hand man met me at the window and said, “Bondurant, you must come with me, and David Piper you must stay here in the car.” So he had to sit there for almost an hour, and I didn’t know what else to do. I walked up to the office, it was a very long narrow hallway, and off to the right of Enzo is the memorial to Dino, Ferrari’s son, where a candle burns 24 hours a day. Then you walk forward and there is a huge desk and it has six floodlights shining down on it and this is in the evening. We shook hands and I sat down and John Surtees did translation for me. I just felt neat meeting Enzo Ferrari in person for the first time. I mean hardly anyone gets to do that, especially Americans. I felt, “Wow!” He didn’t ask me anything about racing. He asked if I was married. I said no, divorced. He asked if I had any children, and I said one. He asked if I would like to come live in Italy? I said if I was driving a Formula Uno. “But you must drive a sports car before you can drive a Formula Uno.” That’s fine. I said I have been doing a lot of test driving with the Ford GT40s in ’64 and ’65 when I was home. I said Ford is going to have more horsepower next year. They are liable to beat you. “Ford will never beat me!!” He said, pounding his hand on the desk. I said, “OK, I am just letting you know, so you can be prepared maybe you need more horsepower in your cars.” That was the last part of that conversation. He said I would love to have you here, I know you are very quick because you just beat us and no one had ever done that before. I said, “Yes, that was the whole mission, to beat you in the World Manufacturers Championship. No one has ever done that.” He said, “Yes, I know all that.” I said, “OK, time to stop talking to you about that.” He was very pleasant and just asked me chit-chat conversations, nothing strong, then he said I would like to show you the racing garage. I said I would love to see that. I kept pushing Formula Uno in our conversation whenever I could. I said I would really like to race F1. So then we went to the garage and he showed me all the photos of people. The way he did it he was very proud. Formula Uno is over here. The cars are very beautiful and very fast. I never asked him if he would let me drive, I just said be sure to let me know.
SCD: Was the Ferrari your first F1 drive?
BB: Yes it was, and the amazing thing about that is I went back up to Monza and got a ride in a Lotus F3 car and ended up winning the race. I kept waiting for a phone call from Ferrari. One week went by, two weeks went by and I thought I pushed too hard. Then two days later I got a call from Ferrari to come back to the factory and be fitted for my F1 ride. That was incredible. I was so excited I was beside myself. So I flew over and got fitted for my ride. It was a Dino F1 car, they only had a couple of those.
SCD: Why did the seat become available?
BB: Surtees had had a big accident at Mosport and broken his leg. I don’t know why they didn’t give me a V12, but the V8 was really strong, too. In my first F1 race, at Watkins Glen, I started out 13th and worked my way up to sixth. I had goggles with elastic bands that I’d had for two or three years, and when it started raining the elastic in the goggles stretched and the goggles blew down. I thought, “What a horrible time for that to happen. My first F1 and in a Ferrari.” But I had another pair of goggles in my helmet bag in the pits. I didn’t know if I could speak Italian very well yet, so what am I going to do? If I leaned out the side of the car, the goggles would blow off and it would be very difficult to see. I had to pull them back up and put them on with my forefinger and go the rest of the race like that. I put my knee against the wheel and shifted with my right hand. I still ended up ninth. I got behind someone and he kept blocking me, and I could not get by, but it felt so great and the car was fantastic. When I drove the Ferrari, my whole mental picture of that chassis and car was super strong. I had driven Lotuses that were fragile, but I just drove the Ferrari and had confidence in it. I had never driven one before. When I flew over to get fitted for the car I just drove it around the factory in first gear. You are just sitting there and thinking: “I am really sitting in a F1 Ferrari at the F1 factory!” So I raced it at Watkins Glen, and the first few laps I am getting used to the car. Everything worked, it handled well, braked good. I got quicker and quicker and felt comfortable with the car. I qualified 13th and got a really good start. I did practice starts in everything I drove. I passed two or three cars and I was doing really well. They didn’t give me any pit signals so I didn’t know I was up to 6th place until after the race in the rain. The V12s had more power, but you couldn’t use it in the rain. I had a V8 that didn’t have as much. Everyone else was using V8s at that time. I finished 9th. Graham Hill was 1st, Gurney was 2nd, Jack Brabham was 3rd, and Bandini was 4th, Pedro Rodriguez was 5th, Rindt was 6th, and Ginther was 7th, Jo Bonnier was 8th—he was the guy who kept blocking me—and I was 9th. Richard Attwood was 10th, Jo Siffert 11th, Moises Solano was 12th. Jackie Stewart had suspension problems.
SCD: Did they ever say why they gave you a V8 rather than a V12?
BB: I never questioned it. I was so happy to be driving a Ferrari. I guessed that it was my first time in an F1 car and they probably did not think I would win. I qualified ahead of Pedro and he was in a V12.
SCD: F1 cars, not a lot of torque but a lot of revs?
BB: The cars are super light. You do not have the torque the V8 has, but you are running higher rpm.
SCD: Did you have to make a change in the way you drove?
BB: No, I had driven F3 then F2 then F1s so I was ready. The V8 had more torque than the V12. Five-speed transmission. When I was racing here I drove Old Yeller and that had a lot of torque. With the Cobras we were racing the Daytona Coupes against the Ferrari GTOs, again V12s, so our advantage is we had more torque and more initial acceleration so that helped a lot. None of us could beat the Ferrari until we raced against them and that was at Le Mans, and I thought Wow! They were very quick. We ended up, I believe, one lap ahead of the GTOs at Le Mans, and then we had the oil cooler break and we had to bypass it and bring down the rpm a little bit. We were going slow around and looking in the rear view mirror like a hawk to see if anything red was coming up.