Former IRL and Indy 500 champion Gil de Ferran joined B.A.R Honda as Sporting Director back in April. Now, after seven months at the sharp end of Formula One, he looks back at the steep learning curve he faced and ahead to future ...
Former IRL and Indy 500 champion Gil de Ferran joined B.A.R Honda as Sporting Director back in April. Now, after seven months at the sharp end of Formula One, he looks back at the steep learning curve he faced and ahead to future successes.
Q: After so much success in the States, why did you decided to move back to Europe and accept a new career in Formula One?
Gil de Ferran: For me it wasn't a geographical issue at all. When I retired from driving, I didn't want to retire either from working or from motor sport. I wanted to continue to evolve and develop both as a person and as a professional. It was far more a question of finding the best way to utilise my 20-odd years of motor racing experience; then this superb opportunity came along. I knew if I didn't take up I'd probably live to regret it forever. To be honest it feels like a natural career progression and the fact that it's in Britain is just a side issue.
Q: What was your biggest challenge when joining B.A.R Honda?
GdF: I joined the team well after the start of the season and, of course, at what was a very difficult time. Obviously this is a big group of people and it's been a huge challenge to get to know everyone and to learn the ropes. It has taken time to understand exactly how everyone operates and how the company ticks. I'm still learning all the time; the company keeps evolving, so it's a continuous progress.
Q: In what specific areas are you able to make your most significant contributions to the team?
GdF: It's hard to pinpoint one specific area but, often, I bring a different perspective to meetings and conversations -- I guess that's because I come from a different background. Whether that's helpful isn't up to me to judge! It's also probably fair to say that I understand some of the situations and psychological aspects relating to the drivers because of my racing background, albeit not in Formula One.
Q: As Sporting Director what's your role between now and the start of the 2006 season?
GdF: It's to work with our team to create a plan from a racing operations stand-point on how we're going to win next year.
Q: What are the big differences between IRL and F1?
GdF: Certainly the size of an F1 team is much greater. Penske had just over 100 people; B.A.R Honda is four or five times bigger. Beyond that it's hard for me to make direct comparisons as I'm now fulfilling what's a very different role. It feels like a whole world of difference, however when the flag drops they seem remarkably similar."
Q: You have worked closely with Honda in the past. What impact will its purchase of B.A.R Honda make to the team's future?
GdF: Firstly it underpins the stability of the team going forwards. Secondly Honda is a company that operates in a no-compromise sort of way -- they will do everything that's necessary to achieve their objective, which is to win races.
In the past they've always shown a tremendous commitment to win in a wide number of motor sport disciplines and this programme will be no different. There has been some uncertainty over the future of tobacco sponsorship, so from my point of view the two most important aspects of Honda's investment are that it brings stability and a commitment to win.
Q: With your former team Penske switching back to Honda engines for next year's IRL championship, do you expect it to provide stiffer opposition to current champions Andretti Green Racing?
GdF: Penske is always a major championship contender. Honda engines have certainly proved to be the class of the field for the last couple of years, and more often than not over the past decade. So, if you put two and two together, for sure Penske will be an even stronger challenger in 2006.
Q: You played a major role in bringing fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello to the team, what difference will his arrival make to Honda's future success?
GdF: It's very positive for the team. A guy like Rubens brings a wealth of experience from his previous involvement with Ferrari where he was part of one of the most successful teams in Formula One history. You can't unlearn what you've learned so that knowledge is imprinted into his brain and he'll bring that with him.
Above everything else, of course, he brings his own talent; we all know he's a very fast driver. A team like ours must always aim to have the best possible drivers and Jenson and Rubens fit that bill.
Q: You've worked closely with Jenson Button over the past seven months. What are your impressions of him, and is he a future world champion?
GdF: He's a man who has been touched by God! His skill is just remarkable. He's a driver like few I've seen before with a fine touch and an amazing feeling for the car. He has a tremendous amount of natural ability and there's no question that he has the raw materials within him to achieve the ultimate success.
Q: From the fans perspective, how do you think next year's F1 world championship will differ from 2005?
GdF: The biggest difference will probably be the revised qualifying system and reintroduction of tyre changes during the race."
Q: What are your thoughts on the new qualifying format and will the reintroduction of mid-race tyre changes result in more or less on track action in 2006?
GdF: Time will tell! The one thing I do like about the latest qualifying system is that we'll actually get to see who's the fastest -- at least we will during the first part of these sessions when cars will run with low fuel. There's a definite attraction to that. As for the pit-stops, tyre companies -- and especially Michelin -- have a unique ability of adapting to whatever rules are thrown at them, so I have no doubt we'll be back to the status quo on that front.
Q: Do you believe we'll still see the same teams at the front in 2006?
GdF: I have no reason to believe either McLaren or Renault won't have another good season. Obviously we're hoping that we'll be further up and it would be foolish to discount Ferrari. Red Bull has just acquired the services of the man who's been involved in the design of numerous winning cars [Adrian Newey], so it's only reasonable to assume they will be stronger next year, too.
Q: Nick Fry has targeted wins -- plural -- in 2006. Is he being realistic?
GdF: I think so. We certainly have two drivers capable of winning races and I'm confident the design and race teams are capable not only of producing a good car but also operating it well enough to achieve that objective. Clearly to win, a lot of different things have to come right on the day and that's the big challenge. But I don't get out of bed thinking 'lets finish second'. I didn't have that attitude when I was a driver and I certainly don't have it now. I'm here to fight for race wins and championships.