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I kept all of Enzo’s secrets – even when his wife said: Tell me about all his affairs

Ahead of a new film about Ferrari chief, the British secretary he said had ‘best chassis in F1’ tells MoS...

From Graeme Culliford IN MARANELLO, ITALY

HE WAS the most powerful man in Formula 1, with his lust for victory on the track matched only by his passion for women.

Now, as a new film charts the most turbulent chapter in the colourful life of legendary Italian car-maker Enzo Ferrari, the right-hand woman he entrusted to keep the secrets of his many infidelities has offered an intriguing insight into this charismatic, contradictory pioneer.

In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, his Croydon-born secretary, Brenda Vernor, reveals how she was not immune to the glare of his lascivious gaze – as well as his often fiery temper.

Ferrari once told her she ‘had the best chassis in Formula 1’ and she recalls: ‘When you walked out of his office, you could feel his eyes on you behind his dark glasses.

‘He did try to chat me up a bit. He’d compliment me on my legs and once I asked if I could go away on holiday and Enzo said, “Are you going to wear a bikini? If you wear a bikini, you can go.”’

But Brenda – the only woman in the company’s 200-strong workforce – knew all about his mistresses, although she feigned ignorance whenever his wife Laura asked her about it. ‘I pretended I didn’t know anything about his infidelity,’ she says. ‘If I did talk, I would have been in trouble. I didn’t want to get involved.’

Ms Vernor, now 90, escaped to Italy in the 1960s, seeking a more glamorous and exciting life than Croydon could offer.

She started mixing with the fastliving racing drivers, and began a relationship with one of them, the Englishman Mike Parkes.

She knew the Ferrari family as she taught at a private school in Modena attended by Piero Ferrari, Enzo’s illegitimate son with his mistress

Lina Lardi. And when she was

tually hired by Enzo, after Parkes’s death in a car crash, it was because he wanted someone to translate his correspondence into English.

‘I was the only woman among 199 men. Can you imagine that?, she says. ‘They used to call me “rompipalle” – ball-breaker. I was strong because I had three brothers at home and I had to be.’

Even though it wasn’t part of her job, she mucked in by washing drivers’ overalls and answering their fan mail. ‘I did everything for them,’ she says. ‘When I said I was going to write a book about my experiences, they all said, “Christ, if you write everything you know about us, our wives will shoot us!”’

For years, she was known as the keeper of Enzo Ferrari’s secrets, too. She calls him ‘the Old Man’ and says he was a notorious ‘infedele,’ who regularly cheated on his wife.

Speaking to us in her flat in Maranello, the home of Ferrari, Brenda wrinkles her nose when asked about Ferrari’s wife Laura. ‘She used to ask me, “Why are all these women following my husband?” I replied, “Ask him, not me.”

‘I think he found it difficult to live with her and that’s why he had so many women.’

Ferrari was obsessive about building the world’s fastest cars, but he also suffered severe claustrophobia and could not board a plane. His fear of using lifts meant the company’s office was spread across a single floor – and also saved Brenda from his advances.

Once, after driving her home, Enzo asked what floor her flat was on – when she said it was on the ninth, he went cold on any idea he might have had of inviting himself in.

Brenda says she also witnessed the Italian’s huge temper tantrums first-hand. ‘If we had won [a race], he’d be in a good mood,’ she said. ‘If we had lost, close your doors.’ She describes how, during his worst outbursts, he spoke in the Modenese dialect. ‘He’d get angry and go red in the face for ten minutes.’

The new film, called simply Ferrari, stars Adam Driver as the racing pioneer and Penelope Cruz as his wife – a casting decision Brenda wasn’t sure about. ‘Cruz is a good actress, but I don’t think she is right because she has dark hair’, whereas

Laura was blonde and blue-eyed. ‘They probably hoped she would look more Italian,’ Brenda adds.

The movie, out on Boxing Day, shows Ferrari struggling to save his marriage after his affair with mistress Lina Lardi, and the birth of Piero.

Brenda said: ‘I thought the stuff with the Old Man and [Lina] should have been kept out. It was just a bit personal, I didn’t like it. The film was OK but a bit long. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it.’

Enzo died in 1988 at the age of 90, leading to the end of Brenda’s employment. Though she remains close to Piero, now 78, who inherited ten per cent of the prestige car firm.

She recalls Enzo’s last years, saying: ‘He had problems with his kidneys and wouldn’t go to hospital. He had all the doctors and machines at his house in Modena. He was as stubborn as a mule. Even though he’d been ill for a long time, I thought he was going to go on forever.

‘He was a genius and someone who made some of the best cars that have ever been known. We will never see his like again.’

‘He was a genius. We’ll never see his like again’

Israel At War

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2023-12-10T08:00:00.0000000Z

2023-12-10T08:00:00.0000000Z

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