INDIANAPOLIS — Here’s the thing about racing: Once it’s clear you’ve got the goods — which for a driver means being reliably fast, and winning in multiple disciplines — the sport will tolerate an awful lot.
You can stop shaving, wear your sponsor cap backward, cultivate a look. You can snarl at cameras, blow off beat writers and badmouth your pit crew.
You can be so self-absorbed that you become the human equivalent of the oozlum bird of Australian folklore, which flies in ever-decreasing concentric circles until — whoosh — it disappears up its own backside.
What you can’t do is anything that is outright stupid. You can act dumb, talk dumb, walk dumb, maybe even be dumb, but don’t you dare do something so ingloriously stupid that the whole world winces.
Which brings us to the strange case of Santino Ferrucci, and his spectacular leap from a high rung on the racing ladder. Years from now, when smart people teach aspiring drivers how things should and shouldn’t be done, the second half of the course will focus on Ferrucci’s summer of 2018.
A brief refresher: Ferrucci, now 20, was the Connecticut lad who in 2016 parlayed a stellar karting record and a pair of British F-3 wins into a reserve driver’s role with Gene Haas’ Formula One team. In 2017, he began supplementing that duty by driving for Italy’s Trident Racing in the FIA Formula 2 series.
This past July, Ferrucci turned up at the Silverstone Circuit, where F-2 was on the undercard for the British Grand Prix. You might say he had a troubled weekend. In its wake, he was banned for four races, fired by his team and dropped by his manager, all because he did a few stupid things.
To be fair, you could question the boy’s choices, but you sure couldn’t fault his execution. He did stupid right.
First, Santino and his Trident teammate, India’s Arjun Maini, had a couple of lively battles, each claiming to have been run off the track by the other. Fair enough; with visions of F-1 sugarplums dancing in their heads, F-2 drivers play for keeps. But on the cool-down lap, Ferrucci inelegantly nosed his Dallara into Maini’s, breaking his own front wing.
Ah, but there’s more: Earlier, as Ferrucci drove to the grid, an official noticed he looked more like Michael Jackson than Michael Schumacher. He was wearing just one glove, and his bare hand cradled a cellphone. Texting? Browsing Instagram?
Curious about all of this, the stewards invited Ferrucci to a sit-down, but the driver never showed. He later claimed he’d been delayed by a random post-race drug test. (Go ahead, cynic, insert your “random” jokes here.) Then he hurriedly packed his gear, hoping to catch a flight back to the States, where a “family medical issue” awaited.
Ferrucci said he only learned of the summons as he was leaving the circuit. But rather than dashing to the stewards’ room to explain his hurry, he emailed his team — thank God for that mobile device, right? — and requested his message be forwarded to the proper authorities.
In the end, those authorities imposed the four-race ban and levied two fines: 60,000 euros for the extracurricular contact with Maini and 6,000 more for that bizarre business with the glove and the phone. In U.S. greenbacks, that’s more than $76,000.
And just when you thought the story couldn’t get any weirder, a tweet from Trident admonished “Santino Ferrucci and his father” for “unsportsmanlike and above all uncivilized behavior” toward Maini and his family.
Because “uncivilized” is an adjective not often found in race-team communiqués, this raised eyebrows. The internet buzzed with gossip that the Ferruccis, padre e figlio, had mocked the Mainis with cartoonish Indian accents.
What seemed odd was that Santino issued no denials because this looked like the kind of accusation an innocent driver with international ambitions would want to refute.
If there’s any truth to “Accentgate,” we are looking at a level of stupidity unforeseen in modern racing. Formula One is the most cosmopolitan of motorsports and the most diverse. Its teams, its sponsors and its fan base are global. You can’t get into that club by playing the Ugly American and anyone with a gnat’s intelligence would understand that.
Is it possible that a driver might be talented enough to handle an F-1 car, but not smart enough to deserve the privilege?
Ferrucci issued a statement in which he apologized for his “extremely poor judgment.” But he blew everything with one line: “I have no excuse other than the fact that I am a 20-year-old Italian American with a deep passion for motorsports, which is a very emotional sport.”
His clumsy rationalization lacked hyphens and also a sense of history. For more than 50 years, an Italian-American named Mario Andretti has shown that deep passion and decent behavior are not mutually exclusive.
Within days of Ferrucci’s self-immolation, Trident terminated his contract. So, according to reports, did GP Sports Management, run by the esteemed Julian Jakobi, who helped steer the affairs of Ayrton Senna. Ferrucci’s Twitter profile no longer references his role with Haas.
Life has a way of handing out second chances and Santino Ferrucci was no doubt looking for his as he strolled the IndyCar paddock at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, three weeks after the Silverstone debacle.
Let’s hope that when it comes — if it comes — repentance comes before redemption.