How to become an instant Ferrari hero

Why Ferrari is more than just a car for the Tifosi (2:30)

Ferrari's fans are some of the most passionate in motorsport and head into 2019 hoping for their first Drivers' Championship since 2007. (2:30)

Last time I looked, Charles Leclerc was 4/1 to win in Australia. That could be generous. The odds against the Monegasque winning his first grand prix for Ferrari might actually be shorter than you think.

Giancarlo Baghetti did it in 1961; Mario Andretti famously made an emotional mark 10 years later and Kimi Raikkonen became an instant favourite in Italy thanks to his win in Melbourne in 2007. But none are likely to equal Nigel Mansell's achievement 30 years ago. He was barely expected to start his first race for Ferrari, never mind finish it. As for winning? Not a chance.

The build-up to the 1989 season and the debut of the Ferrari 640 had been difficult -- and very long. An entire season, in fact. The back story had a theatrical quality that you could only find in Italy -- if only because this Ferrari had been conceived and made in England.

Technical director John Barnard's insistence on going home for lunch each day was part of the reason the Englishman demanded Ferrari set up a satellite design office in Surrey. Enzo Ferrari was not expected to go along with a suggestion the Italian media almost viewed as treasonable, but the fact that he did spoke volumes for Barnard's innovative design brilliance forged with McLaren and, before that, Chaparral and their Indy 500 winner.

Barnard's hatred of valuable sidepod space being lost to a bulky gear linkage led to the thought of semi-automatic transmission. The initial idea was for the driver to operate the shift using buttons on the steering wheel. Then Piero Lardi Ferrari mentioned paddles he'd seen on karts. This was probably the last decent thing Enzo's illegitimate son would do for his technical director.

Barnard's choice of workplace, coupled with autocratic rule made necessary under the circumstances, had predictably not gone down well within certain quarters in Maranello. It was no surprise when the unfamiliar complexity of his first car, the Ferrari 639, meant it was not ready for the 1988 season.

But the delay was even worse than might have been reasonably expected, particularly when time in the Maranello wind tunnel seemed limited to a ridiculous amount. To his initial disbelief -- quickly followed by fury -- Barnard found that the wind tunnel was being occupied by another F1 Ferrari, designed on the fly by a couple of engineers -- with full support from Lardi Ferrari. With nary a hint of narcissism, Enzo wasted little time in dispatching all of the renegades from his F1 team. That did not ease the pressure to have the new car ready, particularly when the Old Man passed away -- but not before he had given genuine and full approval for the appearance of the 639 and its trick transmission.

In the subsequent political vacuum, the knives were out. Vittorio Ghidella, the Ferrari president who did not share, never mind understand, his departed leader's love of racing, wielded the knife with the longest blade. Barnard realised the score when he found Ghidella poking a broom handle into the sidepods and using such profound expertise to extol the merits of a manual gearshift. When the president did not get his way, repeated breakdowns during testing added venom to the scorn being fed to a receptive Italian media.

Mansell had joined the team for 1989 but his enthusiasm for the latest car was put under severe strain when failures during practice in Brazil were topped by the 640 grinding to a halt after just one lap during the warm-up on race morning. Mansell immediately changed his return ticket, truly believing he would be in a position to catch a flight out of Rio de Janiero later that afternoon.

To everyone's surprise, the Ferrari not only raced for several laps but Mansell found himself in the lead, partly through default as others fell by the wayside. Halfway through the 61-lap race, the Ferrari was still comfortably in front. On lap 44, the steering wheel almost came off in the driver's hands.

Mansell managed to get back to the pits, where panic ensued as they rushed around looking for a spare untried steering wheel they never thought they'd need to use. When it wouldn't fit, chief mechanic Joan Villadelprat literally took the wheel into his own hands by thumping it with such force that the radio switch became embedded in his palm.

The entire team was completely amazed when the Ferrari not only managed to move but also selected second gear without a hitch. With the bonus of fresh tyres, Mansell began a charge that saw him back in the lead and on his way to one of the most improbable Ferrari debut victories that not even the most cavalier punter would have put money on.