The richest vein of Stefan Johansson’s Formula 1 career covered a short period from 1984 through 1987. At its conclusion, the Swede had raced for Ken Tyrrell, gone head to head with a rookie Ayrton Senna at Toleman, driven for Enzo Ferrari during F1’s most volcanic turbo era, and measured himself against three-time world champion Alain Prost at McLaren.
Tales of attempting to tame more than 1000 hp is an ongoing theme from Johansson’s adventures in F1, and among the other amusing stories offered in Part 2 of his My Racing Life and Career interview series, being summoned to meet Il Commendatore ranks among my favorites.
"It all happened very quickly," the 61-year-old said of getting the call to drive for Ferrari. "The money back then wasn’t staggering anyways, but frankly, had they told me to drive for lunch vouchers, I probably would have done that too, because every driver’s dream is to drive for Ferrari.
"I flew down to Maranello, landed in Bologna, drove to the old factory in Modena, met there secretly in Mr. Ferrari’s old office. It was nothing, just empty basically. It’s totally surreal. It’s like a Feliini move. We walk through the corridor, light coming through he side. There’s photographs of Stirling Moss, [Juan] Fangio, [Giuseppe] Farina. You get goosebumps just thinking about it. We walk into Ferrari’s office, he’s sitting in the back, all you can see is the silhouette and the nose and the whole nine yards."
By the time of his meeting with Ferrari, Johansson’s appetite was raging. Thankfully, he picked up on the subtlety of the lone question that was asked.
"He asked me ‘are you hungry?’"he continued. "As it were, I’d been flying from London and was starving but I kind of knew that’s not what he meant. I said I’d never been more hungry in my life and he laughed and said 'OK, you’re in.'"
Johansson’s next step involved turning five laps in Ferrari’s new 1985 F1 car before going to race in Portugal. With no time to pour a seat of his own, borrowing a spare seat from teammate Michele Alboreto was necessary.
"I had literally blood pouring out of my shoulders at the end of the race because it was so uncomfortable," he said.
Catch the full episode below, and Part 1 as well.