The son of a Modena patternmaker who worked with Ferrari in the late 1930s on the Alfa Romeo 158 project, Mauro Forghieri was brought up in the town before going to Bologna University to study mechanical engineering. He graduated with a doctorate and began teaching but intended to go to California to get a job in the aviation industry. His father suggested to Enzo Ferrari that he hire the youngster and so Mauro took up the offer of a position at Ferrari in 1960.
Less than two years later, at 26, he was put in charge of the entire racing department, following a walkout of almost all of the team's top personnel to form ATS. Forghieri designed both cars and engines for Ferrari beginning with a reworked version of Carlo Chiti's 156. He is best known for the 312 series of cars and for his flat 12 engine. Under his guidance Ferrari won World Drivers' title four times with John Surtees(1964), Niki Lauda (1975 & 1977) Jody Scheckter (1979) and the Constructors' title on seven different occasions.
In June 1981 Ferrari hired British designer Harvey Postlethwaite to work alongside Forghieri and the two produced the Ferrari 126 but in the seasons that followed things went less well and in 1984 Ferrari won only one race. At the start of 1985 the politics within the team reached fever pitch and Forghieri was appointed director of Ferrari's "advanced research office", leaving Postlethwaite in charge of F1 engineering. He remained with Ferrari until May 1987 but then left to become technical director of a new company called Lamborghini Engineering.
The Lamborghini car company had been bought by Lee Iacocca of Chrysler that year and it was decided that the company build an F1 engine to help sell its supercars. Lamborghini Engineering was run by Daniele Audetto - who had worked with Forghieri at Ferrari. Mauro designed a new normally-aspirated V12 engine for the new Grand Prix formula in 1989 and a deal was struck with Gerard Larrousse. The engine was unveiled in April 1988 and run for the first time in the back of a Larrousse at Dijon in December with Philippe Alliot driving. The engine showed potential with Alliot finishing sixth in the Spanish GP and that autumn a deal was struck for Lamborghini Engineering to supply a car and engine to Mexican businessman Fernando Gonzalez Luna in 1991. Lamborghini hired Mario Tolentino to design the car but in June 1990 Luna disappeared with $20m and the team collapsed. Audetto managed to convince Italian financier Carlo Patrucco to take over the program and early in 1991 Forghieri was named technical director of Modena Team. The arrangement was short-lived and Forghieri returned to Lamborghini Engineering to develop the V12 engine.
In 1992 he was asked by Enel to design an electric minivan and at the end of the year he was appointed technical director of Bugatti Automobili where he remained until the end of 1994 when he joined Oral Engineering in Modena.
Forghieri was one of the technical experts involved in the Senna Trial when members of the Williams team were prosecuted for the death of the Brazilian at Imola in 1994.