sport news Former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo talks Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna and ...

Enzo Ferrari has been dead these past 32 years so we came to to meet the man who is the living embodiment of the most famous motor racing team the world has known.

Across the desk — just turned 73, trim as a greyhound, wearing a bespoke blazer — sits Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

An Italian aristocrat, born in Bologna, Montezemolo wants to give this rare interview because, on Sunday, Ferrari will compete in their 1,000th race, a unique feat, at the Tuscan Grand Prix in Mugello. And, his family apart, Ferrari is the love of his life. 

Luca di Montezemolo gave a rare interview to Sportsmail on the eve of Ferrari's 1,000th F1 race

Luca di Montezemolo gave a rare interview to Sportsmail on the eve of Ferrari's 1,000th F1 race

The former Ferrari president spoke to Sportsmail's Jonathan McEvoy from his office in Rome

The former Ferrari president spoke to Sportsmail's Jonathan McEvoy from his office in

In two stints, amounting to 29 years, as team manager and later as chairman, Montezemolo led the Scuderia to 19 world titles, and many near misses, to cement their standing as the most successful name in Formula One history.

He enters the room and greets me like a lost son. It is no reflection on my status but simply the Montezemolo way. An expression of the charm for which he is famed. 

He calls his secretary and tells her not to accept any interruptions while we chat. That is not entirely observed because his phone buzzes with a message from the Pope's assistant. And a brief chat with the chief executive of 's largest bank. 

On the sideboard rests the famous picture of Muhammad Ali standing over the prostrate Sonny Liston. It is signed and dedicated to Montezemolo. 'Muhammad didn't really like cars,' he says. 'We talked about his gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in and he told me that Ferrari was a myth — the only car he loved.'

I remind Montezemolo of the tribute Bernie Ecclestone paid him when he left Ferrari forever in 2014, the casualty of a power struggle with the now deceased Sergio Marchionne, a stern, taciturn, bullying presence compared to his own extravagant elan. 

The 73-year-old left the Scuderia in 2014 but still loves the famous Italian team

The 73-year-old left the Scuderia in 2014 but still loves the famous Italian team

Di Montzemolo believes it will take Ferrari two years to get back up to speed in the sport

Di Montzemolo believes it will take Ferrari two years to get back up to speed in the sport

'When I think of Ferrari,' said Ecclestone, 'I think of Enzo Ferrari and of Luca Montezemolo, and nobody else.' Montezemolo closes his eyes at the lustiness of that comment.

These days he runs his Italo trains business, and guides other portfolios such as his family's private equity firm. His fingers are in many pies — he masterminded Italia 90 — and his influence is such that he was long courted for the presidency of .

Sundays are not so kind on his emotions now. For Ferrari go into this weekend's landmark race way off the pace, a pale shadow of past glories, for no want of money. It is a failure of organisation and leadership. Montezemolo warns me he does not want to launch into a polemic about the current state of the team, but he laments that it will take at least two years to turn it around, even with the right people at the helm.

'We were always contesting the championship to the last race, but that has not been the case for a number of seasons now,' he says.

But, first, to the start of it all. That came when Montezemolo was asked on to a radio phone-in as a young, promising rally driver. 'The listeners could ask anything,' he recalls. 'They could use bad language, anything. 

Along with Michael Schumacher, Di Montezemolo visited the Pope at the Vatican in 2005

Along with Michael Schumacher, Di Montezemolo visited the Pope at the Vatican in 2005

Di Montezemolo was key to Ferrari's domination of Formula One in the early 2000s that saw them pick up five straight drivers' championships up until 2004 with Schumacher (above)

Di Montezemolo was key to Ferrari's domination of Formula One in the early 2000s that saw them pick up five straight drivers' championships up until 2004 with Schumacher (above)

'One person said motor racing is for rich people, it is dangerous and bad for the environment. I answered those claims, pointing out people who had come from nowhere to be drivers. Lorenzo Bandini was a mechanic before he drove for Ferrari.

'Now, Enzo always had the radio on at Maranello and he said, "Who is this guy? He is ballsy. I want to meet him".' Montezemolo went in to see the 'Old Man' and, after completing his post-graduate studies at Columbia University in New York, became Enzo's right-hand man, reporting back to his irascible boss — who never flew or even took a lift — on Ferrari's F1 progress. He was 24, a close associate of Gianni Agnelli, and soon appointed team manager.

He analysed everything in minute detail, set up a clear structure of command and brought in his first world champion, a young Austrian called Niki Lauda, to partner Clay Regazzoni for the 1974 season, a blend of youth and experience.

One of the pictures on the wall is of the first win he orchestrated —Lauda at Jarama in Spain that year. Montezemolo is leaping high into the air as he watches the win from the trackside. There followed world titles in 1975 — at Monza, joy of joys — after a 12-year hiatus

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