Few race cars have left such a legacy as the Maserati MC12. For a long time in the 2000s the Italian machine was the fastest, the prettiest and the most successful car on track. 14 years have gone by since the MC12 came storming onto the racing scene, leaving a trial of success in its wake.
Maserati’s resurgence as a sports car manufacturer came on the back of Ferrari’s acquisition of its former grand prix rival in 1999. Under control of Ferrari and with all its resources at its disposal, Maserati announced a fleet of new cars with the MC12 to be the flagship in motorsports.
Assigned as lead development driver for the MC12 was long-time Ferrari test driver Andrea Bertolini, who would go on to become the most successful Maserati MC12 racer in history.
“It was an intense process,” Bertolini remembers the long year tinkering and trialling with the Maserati development team and AF Corse, the later Ferrari works GT squad that was called in to assist in testing.
“We methodically worked with a prototype from the beginning of 2003 until September 2004 to develop the tyres and finally make our race debut.
“The team was made up of high-level personnel and a great test crew with whom we completed a lot of work on the track, clocking in a lot of miles to the point where we were testing up to ten days a month.”
These were the heydays of Ferrari in Formula 1: the Scuderia reigned supreme in the World Championship. In between dominating the sport, Michael Schumacher joined forces with Bertolini to develop the new GT1.
“I had the fortune to work with Michael on the MC12 as he also tested the car,” Bertolini says.
“Michael is my reference, I learnt a lot from him. He taught me to pay attention to the details and the method of developing a car.
“Working with him during that Formula 1 period gave me all the know-how that I have and used in the years following to develop other projects in both GT racing and the A1GP car.”
Schumacher wasn’t the only big gun brought out for testing. In May of 2004, Alain Prost came to Maranello to visit his old friend Jean Todt. The former Ferrari driver and Formula 1 World Champion expected coffee, but ended up testing the Maserati MC12.
“It was really nice to work with Alain, he is a very nice guy. I had two really good top teachers.”
After the extensive testing program led by Maserati head of competition and former Formula 1 engineer Giorgio Ascanelli came to an end, it was time to go racing. Maserati brought the MC12 out for competition halfway through the 2004 season, stylishly choosing Imola for the car’s baptism.
All eyes were on the Maserati when it lined up on the grid, starting in eighth and twelfth position. The sound of the 6-litre V12 engine screamed through the pittoresque town of Imola for hours until it suddenly stopped and was replaced by cheers and applause. The two AF Corse-run Maserati MC12s finished second and third in their maiden race.
Maserati never looked back: six teams’ and drivers’ titles in the FIA GT Championship followed in seven seasons of competition, many of them won with Bertolini piloting. As Maserati’s go-to man, Bertolini accumulated four championship titles for himself.
“Each of the four titles were nice,” the now 44-year-old Italian reflects.
“The first title, in 2006, is the one that I remember the best: it was after the disappointment in 2003 with Ferrari and after 2005 when I lost the title in Bahrain during the last race due to a reliability issue. The victory of the first title was a relief.
“After that, everything was fantastic, also the last one, even though we knew that it was the last season of the MC12.”
As beloved the Maserati MC12 was, controversy always surrounded the car’s eligibility as a GT1. While that was resolved with the FIA early on, the ACO stood its ground: the Maserati MC12 would never compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“It was really sad. For both us and the fans it would’ve been a lot of fun. Le Mans would have been an ideal race for the MC12, but honestly, there’s not much we can say about our exclusion.”
Bertolini would eventually go on to race at Le Mans with Ferrari, winning the GTE-Am class in 2015. The Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 and the succeeding 488, however, are a far cry from the pure rawness of the MC12, built in a different world.
“The Ferrari 488 is a great car, with a great balance and good downforce.
“It’s a car from a different era compared to the MC12, as we are talking about a car that is almost 14 years old. The GT1s were really fast and sophisticated machines, much more physically demanding compared to nowadays’ cars.
“The evolution of GT machinery has gone towards the optimisation of every detail, even regarding the driver’s comfort and I believe that the 488 is one of the best cars in every aspect.”
Maserati called it quits after the 2010 season, going out with a bang as Michael Bartels’ Vitaphone Racing took one final title. The Italians left behind a legacy and an unforgettable adventure for Bertolini.
“I have a lot of good memories,” he says, “and they are all linked to the people with whom I was fortunate enough to work with. Memories of the victories and the team… It’s a mix of everything.
“They were seven wonderful years of my life, I cannot pin it down to one episode.”
One man, however, does get a special mention: Michael Bartels. It was with this man and with his team that Bertolini scored the majority of his victories in the FIA GT Championship.
“Working and racing with Michael was fun. He took perfect care of everything in the Vitaphone team, it all ran perfectly. The driver line-up and the whole team was a perfect mix—maybe it’s because Germans and Italians work well together!”
Although the Modenese marque is now gone from top-tier motorsports, the people involved in the Maserati MC12 project are not. Many of them now race with Ferrari through the Competizioni GT arm and works team AF Corse where Bertolini has found renewed success at the highest level.
“The Maserati group was a great team,” Bertolini says, “but I also want to stress that because of director Antonello Coletta, today’s Ferrari Competizioni GT is also a fantastic, ideal place to work at.
“When I returned to Ferrari in 2012, I immediately felt at home.
“At Maserati, Mika Salo and I were the only factory drivers. Now it is different: we are with nine drivers and we work very well together. We are perfectly integrated into the team and the racing department where our contribution is valued. Coletta, technical director Ferdinando Cannizzo and the rest of the team motivates us strongly.
“Antonello Coletta knows how to work with drivers: when he was young he was a successful go-kart racing driver himself. He knows what it means to be a race car driver.
“Every day I enjoy spending time together with the team and improve the performance of the cars.”
Daniele Paglino contributed to this report.