Fascinating F1 Fact:34

In 1903 a Frenchman called René Hanriot, a merchant from Châlons-sur-Marne, aged 35, drove a Clément automobile in the infamous Paris-Madrid road race, which was stopped in Bordeaux after a series of fatal accidents. Hanriot made little impression that day, but in the years that followed he won various big races and finished second in the prestigious Circuit des Ardennes. For a few years he was a regular on the Grand Prix scene, but then aviation came along and he discovered a new passion. He set up his own company to manufacture aeroplanes, based at the Aérodrome de la Champagne at Bétheny, alongside the main road north out of the city of Reims. He also opened a flying school and in 1912 one of the pupils to pass through the school was a 24-year-old Italian by the name of Francesco Baracca. He was a cavalry officer in the 2nd Reggimento Piemonte Cavalleria, one of the most famous units in the Italian army.

Once he had his licence, Baracca went back to Italy and was transferred to the new Battaglione Aviatori. Italy did not enter World War I until April 1915 and at that point Baracca was sent back to Paris, to be trained to fly the new French-built Nieuport 10, a two-seater reconnaissance aircraft. This was not much use as a fighter aircraft and it was not until the Italians received the Nieuport 11 a year later that they could begin to engage with enemy aircraft on the Italian Front.

Baracca was the first Italian to shoot down an enemy plane – a Hansa-Brandenburg flown by an Austrian pilot. More and more victories followed and after his fifth triumph he officially became an ace. The tradition at the time was for the aces to decorate their planes with a crest or an emblem and Baracca chose a black prancing horse on a white background. There are various stories as to why he chose it: the first is that it was the regimental badge of the 2nd Reggimento Piemonte Cavalleria, which makes sense; but there is a second argument that he picked the symbol because he had shot down a German plane, which carried the coat of arms of the city of Stuttgart, a black prancing horse on a yellow background. Perhaps it was both. In May 1917 Baracca took command of the 91st Squadron, which was equipped with new SPAD VIIs. All the planes carried his prancing horse and in the months that followed he became a national hero. By September his total of confirmed victories had risen to 19 and by the start of 1918 it was at 30. It seemed that Baracca was invincible, but then in June 1918 he failed to return from a mission. His body was recovered a few days later when an Italian advance revealed his downed plane. When the war ended, a few months later, he was still Italy’s highest-scoring ace of the war with 34 victories.

Five years later, in June 1923, Count Enrico Baracca, Francesco’s father, was guest of honour for a motor race on the Savio circuit, near Ravenna. This was a fast triangle of public roads south of the city and it was won by a 25-year-old called Enzo Ferrari, driving a factory Alfa Romeo. Baracca presented Ferrari with the trophy and later Enzo visited the family and met Baracca’s mother, Contessa Paolina. She suggested that he use the prancing horse logo on his racing cars. Ferrari was an Alfa Romeo driver at the time and the company had its famous Quadrifoglio – the four-leaf clover badge – on its cars. Scuderia Ferrari was not established until the end of 1930, seven years later, but it was still the Alfa Romeo factory team and it was not until July 1932 that Ferrari put his own version of Baracca’s badge, with a yellow background, on his cars for the Spa 24 Hours. The two Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 MMs were driven to a 1-2 victory by Antonio Brivio/Eugenio Siena and Piero Taruffi/Guido d’Ippolito.

Oddly, the Prancing Horse also features in the Porsche logo, along with the word Stuttgart. It is a little known fact that the Ducati motorcycle company also used the Prancing Horse in the late 1950s and early 1960s because the company’s chief designer Fabio Taglioni came from the village of Lugo, where Baracca was born.

19 thoughts on “Fascinating F1 Fact:34

  1. Amusing to learn that the Ferrari herald of a black prancing horse on a yellow background is actually the emblem of Stuttgart, the city where utter domination of this current era of F1 was cooked and served up.

  2. If every I am a Pub quiz with you on the opposite team I will simply call it quits and buy everyone a drink.

    I have really enjoyed this and commend you on your research, knowledge and your willingness to share…

    Thanks Joe.

  3. A love of history is a great thing to have, especially when you have a love of language to express it with. Wonderful series Mr Saward.

  4. This series could so easily have been a book…….

    Thanks Joe.

    As an Alfista I love the story behind the Alfa badge although a I quite like the Skoda emblem as well.

    1. Aye, I was just thinking how I would enjoy this as a book. Big thanks to Joe for entertaining/educating us during the off season.

  5. Truly fascinating and heartwarming to see the continuing homage to Baracca. I am really enjoying this series of FF.

  6. Totally fascinating account of recent Eurpoean flight and motor racing history.
    My father fought in the trenches and the Somme offensives. He once told me that the Spad was regarded as the creme de la creme of aircraft in the earlier war years, but the Sopwiths and Fokker Triplanes stole all the glory later on.
    One aspect of engineering which lead to the motor racing giants of the 1930s
    was undoubtedly the staggering speed of engineering development in the aircraft industries in that terrible war. Wonderful stuff now….but all born in blood and destruction of thousands of fine young lives.

  7. Fantastic facts indeed. Love this data mining that you do. Great stuff. Proper, old school, fact based journalism. So much F1 ‘chaff’ out there, i want quality not quantity :). These days i only read you, james allen and Motor Sport. Gets me all i need. Maybe i’m getting old…or wise! Just returned from a very busy christmas/work schedule and about to renew my GP+ subscription. Your post amused me this morning when as i glanced at your article my son responded to my wife’s question about the upcoming US presidential events and proclaimed ‘ Baracca Obama!’.

    1. To bring it full-circle, it’s quite probable that he did fly them, even if his official combat planes were Nieuports and SPADs.

      The Hanriot HD1 was much more popular in Belgium and Italy than in its native France (which was standardizing on SPADs!), so French production was mostly rerouted to them. The Italians liked the Hanriot so much they built another 900 – the company that was set up to do the licence production is now Aermacchi.

      Despite being underpowered and under-armed compared to other late war fighters the Hanriot became Italy’s standard fighter by the end of the war. As a senior squadron leader, Baracca may even have been part of that decision!

      There are still a few left, including a flyable example in Peter Jackson’s collection in New Zealand – formerly in the RAF museum Hendon this was restored post-WW2 with the help of a set of Italian (Macchi) Hanriot plans.

      Like others above, I find the interplay between racing and flying in this time period quite fascinating. So many interesting stories, often overlapping!

  8. The unrepentant pedant writes: there was no such place as Châlons-en-Champagne in 1904. Until 1995, the town went by the more prosaic name of Châlons-sur-Marne.

      1. The only reason I know that is that I finished up there once, before the name change, having to catch a train to Paris after the engine of a Schnitzer BMW had lunched itself at 150mph on the A4 (autoroute) nearby.

  9. Fascinating, so much to learn reading your blog, Joe. Furthermore, ‘baraka’ in Arabic means luck, abundance.

    Francesco Baracca (34 times), Enzo Ferrari and of course Porsche enjoyed quite a bit of luck and abundance…

  10. At first it doesn’t make sense that we humans adopt a romantic attitude to tales like Baracca’s which arose out of the bloodshed and horror of war. But when you consider that the average survival rate of contemporary British pilots fighting on the Western front was two months, then he must have been an exceptional person and (probably) a brilliant pilot.

    It seems to be generally agreed in Italy that Enzo chose to use the yellow background because that is the colour associated with the city of Modena where he lived.

    The symbol of the county where I was born, Kent, is also a rampant stallion, name of Invicta. I never quite got around to buying a Kent county supporter’s cricket cap, which would surely have raised the ire in an F1 paddock of some indignant Ferrari johnny. How satisfying to have been able to respond that Kent had been represented by Invicta for several hundred years longer than the upstart Ferrari team had been represented by the prancing horse loaned by Baracca’s family.

  11. Reminds me. The Ferrari Horse Whisperer has been very quiet in recent years.

    I see Paddy Lowe has jumped ship. I doubt if we’ll every discover the reasons for it, unless the 2017 Mercedes car is a camel.

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