Features - Exclusive Interview
SEPTEMBER 28, 2000
Bobby Rahal: Rahal talks about Jaguar
BY JOE SAWARD
But what about the job itself?
"It is going to be a very public effort, similar to maybe a Ferrari kind of deal. I don't think it is at all like the Benetton situation, for example, although that may change when it is all Renault. With Jaguar the image of one of the major automobile companies in the world is on the line and that cannot be overstated. It is extremely important and you cannot hide when you are in that situation.
"My biggest objective is to get the right people."
And Rahal says he will be looking everywhere to find it.
"I don't know of any series in the world that has a monopoly on intelligence. I don't think that anyone has all the answers and consequently you have to look around. In any series there is great talent, good talent and mediocre talent and usually, when you are trying to build a team, the great talent is ensconsed somewhere else and so you have to look somewhere else."
Rahal says that when he first heard his name being linked with the job at Jaguar, he had not been approached by the Ford Motor Company.
"The first mention of it was when Derek Bell mentioned it on a telecast from one of the F1 races," he says. "No-one had said 'Boo!' to me. And then people started calling up and asking me if it was true and I said: "Well if it is, no-one has told me". Shortly after that someone from Cosworth came up and said: "You know, you really ought to consider that". Obviously when Neil Ressler called me I had to entertain it seriously. There were a lot of decisions, especially for me because it is not like I am moving down the street. I have a family.
"I have a very close relationship with Ford with the CART team and that relationship is very important to me. The team is running very well by itself . There is great management in there and they are doing better every year. I spoke with them about it and then I thought: "Well, I always enjoyed living in Europe and my goal when I started racing was Formula 1."
"I got there but not for any length of time and I always thought that perhaps I was not quite ready to get into F1 at the time. But anyway... I don't think that there is any doubt that when you are offered the chance to run an F1 team and specially one with the potential of this one, how many times is that going to happen? And if you have any ambition or competitive spirit you have to say: 'Yeah, I think I can help. Let's go do it'. And so something that started out as a bit of a lark soon became very serious and was quickly agreed upon."
Rahal will look after all aspects of the team, except the highetst level of negotiations with what he calls "big picture issues" but he will represent the team in all the meetings with other team bosses.
"I know quite a lot of them," he says. "Probably I know more of them than I don't know. When I was racing for Chevron in Formula 2 in Europe in 1979 Eddie Jordan was driving a Chevron Formula 3 car and we hung out a lot at the time. We go way back. I knew Ron Dennis when I was in F2. He was a struggling team owner then. I don't expect to have any problems with that side of things."
Sources at Ford say that one of the reasons that Rahal was picked was because his CART team has worked very closely with Ford in recent years on technical development, notably with the Ford Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn, Michigan.
"I was told by all the Ford fellows that I was using that facility more than anyone else, even the Formula 1 team," says Rahal. "Racing loves to hang its hat on the fact that it is all about advanced technology but people are people. I do not care where you are, there is always "not invented here" syndrome and a lot of "well, that's not the way we do it". The reality is that nobody has all the answers but as this sport becomes more and more technically-based if you do not have these kinds of tools working for you, you are not going to be competitive. Maybe the thing that I have to do is to protect the team from some of the projects. It is very easy for projects to become scientific exercises and for people to forget that we have to go racing next weekend. I think that was the biggest task I had with the CART team. I had to ensure that what we were doing with the Advanced Engineering people was something that would create results in the short term while at the same time understanding that some things do take time and you have to get them started. You cannot wish it to happen. I think the F1 team has to embrace those activities much more."
Rahal is in at Jaguar for three years but in his mind it is going to be a longer relationship.
"It really all depends on my success. I think that if I do a good job I will be here at Jaguar for a long time. My inclination is to be here for a long time but, with the image and reputation of Jaguar on the line, patience is not a virtue any more.
"It is time to create some results."