It has passed into motor sport history that it was at the 1993 French Grand Prix that Jean Todt started his career as head of Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. Today, Todt is Ferrari Managing Director, while still retaining control of the Formula 1 ...
It has passed into motor sport history that it was at the 1993 French Grand Prix that Jean Todt started his career as head of Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. Today, Todt is Ferrari Managing Director, while still retaining control of the Formula 1 team.
The anniversary is still important to the Frenchman, but this year he shares the significance of the event with the fact that the 2006 race marks the one hundredth anniversary of the first race to be given the title "Grand Prix," when a two day event was staged around the town of Le Mans in 1906.
"It is an important year for the French Grand Prix as we celebrate one hundred years of grand prix racing," says Todt about this forthcoming weekend's eleventh round of the World Championship. "There are various events and initiatives taking place to commemorate the event and we are involved with a partnership between the organisers of the French Grand Prix and the ICM (the Institute that researches spinal chord injury and illness.)"
"Michael and I are involved in the lottery draw for a prize of a guitar being donated by Roger Waters, the guitarist with Pink Floyd. That takes place on Friday night when all our colleagues and those of the ICM will be there to explain the work of the ICM, combined with the launch of a charity initiative."
There is little room for sentiment in professional motor sport, which means that Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro will tackle this weekend at Magny-Cours just as they would any other event on the calendar. However, Todt is not immune to its significance. "The French Grand Prix is of course a home race for me," he admits. "But I have many home grands prix as the Italian GP is a national race for me too. However, having said that, I am not really the sort of person for whom anniversaries mean that much, as I do not attach much significance to these rather institutional events."
"But it's true that the French Grand Prix is the first one I attended when I started work for Ferrari in 1993. I had come here from Peugeot, switching from one day to the next to Ferrari. Actually the anniversary, the first of July fell on the Saturday in Indianapolis. The thirteen years should really have been celebrated then, but all the same the French Grand Prix was the day I began work for Ferrari. I still think about it in the same way one remembers an anniversary or a birthday.
"If I had been told back in 1993 that I would still be here today, I would not have believed it. It is the longest I have ever spent in one job. In fact my career consists of being a professional co-driver for fifteen years, from 1966 to 1981, but with a lot of different teams and drivers. Then came my time with PSA, Peugeot-Citroen: from October '81 to 30th June 1993, a period of twelve years and around three months. Since then, it's been thirteen years with Ferrari, the longest period in my career and it's not over yet!"
Asked to pick the best Magny-Cours moment during his time with Ferrari, Jean Todt has no hesitation in selecting the 2002 event. "Michael took the driver's title here, when it was just the eleventh race of the season," he points out. "In a way, that day, that event revolutionised Formula 1, because it led to a new points distribution system and new rules, as we had discouraged all our opponents."
"We took the title at only the eleventh race and a couple of races later we took the Constructors' championship. The 2004 race when we won with Michael running a four pit stop strategy was unique. It was an all-or-nothing plan. It owed a bit to despair and a need to win, whereas 2002 was total domination. To win you have to bring so many elements together and we managed to do it better than the other teams."
While this weekend might well be a home event for Ferrari's managing director, the colours in the grandstands will reflect the fact it is also home soil for the current champions and even for their tyre supplier. "It's true that when Renault is in France or when Renault is with Alonso in Spain, you see more of their T-shirts in the grandstands, more of their flags and more of their blue than our red," admits Todt.
"Ferrari has one major difference when compared to other teams in that it has genuine support on a world wide basis. Whatever our performance level and the results we achieve, we have support in every country in the world. It's true there is an even stronger presence than usual from our "tifosi" in Italy, just as there is in Germany with Michael. So this weekend, our rivals will be more in the spotlight than at other races."
In the past, it was fair to say that "racing at home" could actually bring some practical advantages, in terms of team and driver having a better knowledge of their particular home track. However, this is no longer the case, especially at a circuit like Magny-Cours, which is not used much for testing by any of the teams.
Therefore, this weekend, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and its rivals will be relying more on technical elements rather than expertise. Last week, the Scuderia joined other teams for a test session at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain, with Michael Schumacher joined by long-time test driver Luca Badoer.
The 248 F1 will appear in Magny-Cours sporting some updates on the aerodynamic side: new turning vanes, new bodywork and other minor elements. "The two day test went well," confirms Todt. "But I would not say the new parts can be defined as significant in terms of performance. The last race at Indianapolis went very well for us and helped us to close the gaps in both championships."
"Here in France, I think we will find that, once again, our main rivals will be more competitive and it will be very close between the top teams. As we have seen for most of the season, the final outcome will depend on various factors, but the 'tyre window' (by that I mean at what point in the race and for how long) the tyres will work at their best, is likely to make the most significant contribution to the result. Home race or not, it makes no difference; we at Ferrari will be fighting as hard as usual."