Lombardi studied mechanical engineering at Bologna University before being recruited by the FIAT research center in Turin. He was soon designing engines for Lancia competition machinery and his designs were successful in both the World Rally Championship and in sportscar racing. The success brought promotion and he was project leader for the Lancia Delta rallying program. The different versions of the car won four World Rally Championships between 1987 and 1992 with drivers Juha Kankkunen and Massimo Biasion and a string of six Manufacturers titles.When his boss Cesare Fiorio was switched from Lancia to Ferrari in 1989, Lombardi became head of the department. This lasted until June 1991 when Fiorio was dropped by Ferrari and Lombardi was named sporting director of the Maranello team. Within a few weeks there were problems between him and the team's lead driver Alain Prost - who had played an important role in ousting Fiorio. The battle came to a head after the Japanese GP when Prost was fired. Within a matter of weeks FIAT announced that Luca di Montezemolo had been appointed President of the whole Ferrari company. He decided that Lombardi should become technical director and that the sporting role should be given to Sante Ghedini. In the summer of 1992 Montezemolo recruited John Barnard and Lombardi was moved to be head of the engine department. The following year the team hired Jean Todt as the new sporting director and at the start of 1994 he organized another reshuffle with Paolo Martinelli being put in charge of F1 engine design and Lombardi being moved to become head of the engine department for the Ferrari GT sportscar program.