Ronnie Kessel doesn’t know of a world beyond racing cards. When he was six months old, his mother used to stroll him around racing tracks where his father, a Formula 1 driver, competed. He was raised in a world of victories, disappointment, amazing cars, ailerons, and an awful lot of asphalt. Ronnie’s mother tongue is the purr of an engine - their sound soothes and comforts him, so much so that when he had trouble sleeping as a child his parents let him fall asleep to the sound of a twelve-cylinder engine running. These were probably the nights when he began to dream of the life he would go on to lead - and indeed, today anyone calling Kessel Auto’s Swiss offices can hear that engine running while they’re on hold waiting to talk to experts. Ronnie’s father founded the Kessel group in 1976, and Ronnie has been running it since his father passed away in 2010. The humble little office in Lugano quickly became a car manufacturer and, later, a famous dealership. It has never stopped expanding or changing over the years, driven by its vision and hopes for the future of cars. Since Ronnie took over the company in his early twenties, the group continued to take on staff and now employs some 120 people. This dealership in Switzerland, selling Ferrari, Maserati and Bentley cars, is a pilgrimage site for vintage car lovers, collectors, and people who love old racing cars.
“Between the ages of eight and 12, I became quite detached from the world of cars, resistant to it if you like. I was scared that my dad would be injured while competing, so much so that when I was given a go kart I didn’t want to use it.” The urge to compete though may not have been encouraged, but was fostered secretly and surfaced years later. “When I was 14 I went to my dad and told him I wanted to race cars.” The only barriers were his age and his body - he was so young (Ronnie was, and still is, the youngest driver in the world to race a Ferrari) that his feet didn’t reach the pedals. So, it took a while before Ronnie could first feel the thrill of putting his foot to the floor, but he was promised that as soon as he could he would be able to race. He went on to pass his test, get his driving license, and took part in his first race when he was 16. He took part in Ferrari Challenge championships behind the wheel of Gran Turismo cars, and had a lot of success.
Since then, he has never left the Gran Turismo world - Sundays spent on the track with shining cars, mechanics and drivers. As is common with professionals who achieve their dreams, Ronnie’s life has been one of sacrifices. His days have always been very busy - when he was a teenager, he didn’t go to parties and only had a few friends (who are still his friends today). He turned his passion for cars into a successful business, in part thanks to his university studies and master’s degree in management. It’s hard to tell at what point business becomes pleasure for him - how can you draw that line when your profession is also your passion? Just look at how he spends his free time - on weekends when he isn’t working, Ronnie goes to the velodrome “without having a team to follow”.
Over the years, between races, track tests, and buying and selling cars, there are still some cars Ronnie hasn’t been able to try out yet. “There are some Ferraris - not to mention other cars - that I haven’t managed to drive because of a lack of time, like the Ferrari 510 BB or Ferrari F50, for instance”.
Managing a company as complex and diverse as the Kessel group takes more than energy and entrepreneurship - you also need to be of a certain disposition. Ronnie inherited more than passion, skills and showrooms from his family; they also gave him a certain approach to life, a temperament, a disposition: “My dad passed on his coldness to me,” says Robbie. “He could take a hard-headed approach to any situation. If you can’t be pragmatic when you have a car coming towards you when you’re driving at 200 km an hour - which does happen - you’ll act from a place of stress instead.” When it comes to Ronnie’s father, coldness meant being direct, and being able to stay strong in the face of adversity. “I remember once there was a fire in our dealership, started by a spark. They called my dad, and when he arrived he looked totally normal, as though nothing had happened. He was ready to start again already.”
The company is still running in 2017 thanks to Loris Kessel’s original drive, which foresaw where the sporting world was headed. “I do a lot of things because I’m passionate about them, but I still draw a lot of motivation from my dad. I know that he would be happy to see me carrying on his business, and that the company is growing.” Whenever the company pops a bottle of fizz to celebrate a milestone, Ronnie looks to the sky when they raise their glasses as a sign of affection and gratitude.