When Jean Todt walks into the Magny-Cours paddock this Thursday, it will be exactly eleven years to the day that he first donned the red uniform and assumed responsibility for Ferrari's Formula 1 activity. Not only was the '93 French Grand Prix ...
When Jean Todt walks into the Magny-Cours paddock this Thursday, it will be exactly eleven years to the day that he first donned the red uniform and assumed responsibility for Ferrari's Formula 1 activity. Not only was the '93 French Grand Prix Todt's first day at work for the Scuderia, it also represented his first ever professional engagement in F1.
That weekend, he did not interfere with the running of the team, preferring to make copious notes in his ever-present notebook. It took time, but those notes turned into race wins and those wins became championships. Quite an achievement, but perhaps the biggest achievement is that if Jean Todt decided to spend this coming weekend making notes, the current incarnation of Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro is so well organised, so well drilled in its routines and has such strength in depth, that it would still be competitive.
Perhaps that is why the Frenchman seems relaxed about his new responsibility as Managing Director of Ferrari, a role he took on in addition to running the Gestione Sportiva as of 1st June. "I've been the boss of a department and now I'm the manager of a company," is his straightforward view of the change.
"At each divisional level within the company there are some great people, because Ferrari today is not the same as it was when I arrived eleven years ago and things were going badly in Formula 1. Now I have greater responsibility but over things that are going well. We produce around 4500 cars per year, the most beautiful cars in the world, including the Scaglietti that has just come out, the Maranello, the 360, the very successful eight cylinder programme, while the Enzo is just coming to the end of its production run, so overall, things are going well."
"That does not mean that I will not always be looking to make things better still. I think we have some interesting challenges in exploiting the Ferrari brand still further. There is the business development side with licensing and merchandising and running that programme we have Antonello Pericone, the former head of Maserati. The creation of the partners and development sponsorship department means we have a new structure that allows the Gestione Sportiva to concentrate solely on running the cars and the F1 programme."
No matter what Todt achieves in charge of the most famous car company in the world, it is likely that he will be best remembered for his achievements in turning the Scuderia into a winning machine once more after years in the doldrums. Ferrari's current winning streak is something that has never been seen before in the history of F1, but -- and its something he shares with Michael Schumacher -- there appears to be little interest in records for Todt.
"It's true that when one takes time to think about it, a lot of exceptional things have taken place in that time, but as I am always thinking about what is going on at present and what will happen in the future, it prevents one looking at what has gone before," he concedes. "Even the totality of what I have done in motor racing has been exceptional: I have been a rally co-driver, I was the boss of a rally team that I established, then came rally raid, sports cars and now Formula 1. For someone who likes racing, it is fantastic."
"I have been lucky to always have something ahead of me, so without undervaluing what has happened in the past, I am concentrated on the present and the future, with a constant anxiety to ensure things go well. That prevents me from being satisfied with what has gone before." Perversely, Todt prefers to recall the hard times. "It's true there have been some great times but also some very difficult ones," he recalls. "Often when one looks back, one remembers only the great moments but the key moments are the difficult ones. They are the ones that leave their mark."
Looking around at all the major F1 players, it can be hard to imagine that once upon a time they were all young motor sport amateurs and fans and Jean Todt is no stranger to the Magny-Cours circuit. "I remember it a long time ago when it was the Jean Behra circuit and of course I went there often," reminisces the Ferrari boss. "I even raced on the old track and did the Winfield Racing School course there. It reminds me of the past."
"This year there is something special taking place, as in conjunction with the race organisers, the FFSA, we are planning an event with the ICM the medical research institute for brain and spinal chord diseases, in which Michael and I are two of the founding members. It is a project we are very keen on and I am delighted that there is an initiative like this at the French Grand Prix."
The initiative takes the form of a competition open to all spectators, with the main prizes being a ride around the circuit with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello in the role of chauffeurs.
If a Frenchman is in charge of Ferrari, the Magny-Cours crowd will not have much to shout about in terms of supporting home-grown drivers, with only Toyota's Olivier Panis representing the "blue, white and red." "Formula 1 has always been cyclical," is Todt's assessment of the situation.
"But if you consider that there are two car constructors in France, then with one in F1 and the other in the World Rally Championship, it seems well balanced. Take the tyre manufacturers; there are two, one of them is French. Maybe on the driver front there is a shortage, even if one French driver made his mark on a generation and on the sport; that was Alain Prost and you don't find an Alain Prost every day."
So will this weekend's French Grand Prix provide Todt with time for nostalgia, or an opportunity to catch up with old friends? "No," he sighs. "It is one of the most frustrating things that my life is simply a golden prison devoted to my work at Ferrari. And my new responsibilities change nothing in that respect, except that in terms of delegation, I have already begun to look at those around me in order to allow myself a broader overview of the company. The people who will take on extra responsibilities have already been with Ferrari for a long time, thanks to the stability we have created over the past few years."
That stability is one of the team's great strengths that Schumacher and Barrichello will be counting on when they line up on the Magny-Cours grid on Sunday afternoon.