They say that behind every great man there is a great woman. And this common expression may in fact hold true when it comes to the relationship between Enzo Ferrari and his longtime secretary, or right-hand woman―Brenda Vernor.
Few can attest that they knew Enzo Ferrari better, in his daily role of Ferrari founder and helm master, than Vernor.
More than a secretary, the British-born ex-pat was a nurturing force who stood beside “Il Commendatore” (as Enzo Ferrari was called by insiders) through good and bad times, and saw the soft side of the notoriously demanding executive.
In her two-decade career as the legendary motorsports influencer’s secretary and his English voice, she also became a mother-figure, of sorts, taking some of the drivers under her wing.
Today, Vernor resides in Maranello and has not yet driven a Ferrari herself.
The witty octogenarian recalls to GP Traveler her association with Ferrari―the company, and the man―with matter-of-fact restraint, yet obvious nostalgia for the heyday.
How did you get to work for Enzo Ferrari?
I was teaching English in Modena in 1962 when Mike Parkes, the English engineer and driver, was engaged by Ferrari. He was looking for someone to do his personnel correspondence, so I took on the job, working during the evenings when I was free from teaching.
I met my boss through Mike and also his son Piero, a student of mine. Mr. Ferrari always said that one day he would take me on as his secretary, and he did! That was in the 70s.
Your job entailed many technical secretarial and translation duties, but you were also somewhat of a ‘mother hen’ to the team. Tell us more.
My main duty was to translate all the correspondence between all the F1 teams and Ferrari and between Mr. Ferrari and Bernie Ecclestone.
I also looked after the drivers, although it was not officially part of my job. I used to book their travel; find them hotel accommodations; do their fan mail; and even pack and unpack their bags!
Was Il Commendatore an easy boss?
My relationship was a typical one between secretary and boss―though, he did like to tease me sometimes! He had a good sense of humour. He could be moody, but I never had a problem.
Gilles Villeneuve retains a special place in the hearts of Ferrari fans across the globe. What are your personal memories of the champion driver?
Gilles was like a younger brother to me. He was an introvert and, though always polite, he didn’t like all the fuss that was made around him.
One August―seeing as everything is closed in Italy during that period, including hotels―he asked me if I had a bed in my house where he could sleep one night since he had to be in Maranello the following morning for testing.
I cooked him a meal as if he were any other person. He was great fun. He and Jody Scheckter liked to play jokes on me. I miss Gilles enormously.
Are you still in contact with any of the past drivers?
Yes, most of the drivers I dealt with still keep in touch with me, especially if they need something because they know I will never say ‘No’―that is, within limits!
What would Enzo Ferrari think of the present state of Ferrari as, not only a company, but a global brand?
Let’s just say that if he were here today, things would be very, very different!
Do you still follow Formula One?
I like to watch the start, but I find Formula One boring compared to what it used to be. Usually I fall asleep in the hope that I wake up to see the finish!