Vodafone profits will put a smile on Jean Todt's face

AS he peruses the financial press this week, Ferrari sporting director Jean Todt will have a quiet smile of satisfaction on his face. Last Friday the British mobile phone company Vodafone announced that it would be sponsoring Ferrari's F1 efforts from the start of 2002.

Today (Tuesday) Vodafone announced that their annual profits to March 2001 had increased to 4.3 billion pounds. Admittedly, this figure was some way behind investment analysts' predictions, but it should ensure that no shareholders are too uncomfortable about their company's decision to back such a high profile international sport.

For Todt, it will simply enable him to continue ploughing his own very committed furrow at Ferrari where his absolute commitment to the team's stability and success transcends any criticism or sniping from outside the Maranello fortress.

It is that motivation which, late last year, persuaded him to stay on with Ferrari until the end of 2004.

"I originally thought that I would end my career with Ferrari at the end of 2001," he says " I'm not trying to be superficial. I like to keep an eye on everything. I like to make people in a comfortable position to work.

"Working in F1 requests a lot of yourself. But sometimes you wonder if it's still worth doing that, particularly if you are no longer 25 or 30. You know. Saying that, it's rational thinking. When you are in front of a commitment, you say, OK, you're still motivated? The question is are you ready to go on?

"I'm not a mercenary. I had 15 years as a (rally) co-driver, 12 years at Peugeot and now eight years at Ferrari, so I haven't had a career which breaks every two years.

"Then I have put in place a very strong team at Ferrari, very strong people. I rely on them and - it may be presumptuous - but I think they rely on me as well. So there would have been a lot of effects if I had gone, so I decided to go along until the end of 2004.

"So I will quite soon try to build for the future. I want to be proud once I am away from Ferrari that it is a strong team. I want to be in a position to secure Ferrari's future."

Todt knows that he received much criticism from some sections of the media over the way in which he ordered Rubens Barrichello to drop behind Michael Schumacher in the recent Austrian Grand Prix. Yet he dismisses those critics with the straightforward explanation that he is dealing in harsh reality, not idealism.

" My dream would have been to see Rubens winning in front of David and Michael," he said. "If it could not happen, then in this case David was in front, Rubens was behind, Michael was just right behind. I don't see a difference for a driver to finish second or to finish third.

"They work for a team. If you take Michael result over one year and Rubens' result over one year, we feel - maybe wrongly - that Michael has more chances to win the Championship.

"So, in this case, why to give away two points? What happens if at the end of the season we lose the championship by those two points?

"We did not trouble Rubens. He is a great guy. He is working for Ferrari. I am working for Ferrari. And he is well paid by Ferrari, he has a good team, a good team, a good service, so I don't think we have done something we could not have done."

So what would have happened if Rubens and Michael had, in fact, been running first and second in Austria?

He pauses. " I will tell you," he says thoughtfully. "I don't know. I don't know. I don't have an easy job. I have to sort problems every day, so I don't find myself problems I don't have to solve. What if? It did not happen.

"Let's say, I mean, between first, second and third it has no meaning. Between first and second it has a lot of meaning. So I don't know."

Todt admits that he remains an intense motorsport fan "but I have to consider things in a pragmatic way. I can be a fan outside my job, but when I am doing my job I must be committed to it for my company. I don't belong to myself. A lot of things I have to do because I believe I have to do them for my company. And for the people around me as well."

He also makes no bones about admitting that Ferrari F1 customer teams Sauber and Prost have to tow the Maranello political line - in key circumstances - as part of their deal for the engines. And in that particular connection, he has no time for those who are sceptical of such arrangements.

"Why didn't the others supply them an engine?" he asks. "Prost was crying to get a Mercedes engine. He couldn't get. They would have asked him to follow them, to be the B-team and all that. He would have been happy to accept.

"But they (McLaren-Mercedes) did not want to spread their energy or change their present focus. But we accepted such a commitment, we accepted the danger. In the last race (Austria) there were six Ferrari-engined cars finishing in the top nine or ten. I think it's a good result.

"Let me try to find the right answer. They cannot do something against what we think should be the direction. If we are talking about changing to 2-liter V8 engines, for example, they cannot do it against us. On some other things on costs, for example, I would never ask them something because they pay for engines. It depends on which part of the game we are talking about. For some things they have to follow us, for some others it's up to them."

That said, he believes that the British press and many F1 teams are paranoid about Ferrari and don't always give it the respect or recognition it deserves.

" But I like that," he grins. "It means Ferrari is strong. If Ferrari was not strong, they would feel compassion. Ferrari is a strong, well organized team, the only one making chassis and engine in-house.

"I respect a lot the English teams, although I don't see the color of the flag, but I respect strong competitors. I don't understand why they don't respect Ferrari, because I think Ferrari has to be respected that's my opinion. But if they don't that's their problem. I don't care.

"What I care about the most is what is happening inside Ferrari. People stay with the team because it has a good atmosphere inside."

Jean Todt is an ascetic, intense and focused character. He is not outgoing and warm to those he does not know well. In that respect, he can be very difficult to read. Yet that probably doesn't worry him in the slightest. Enzo Ferrari would certainly of approved of the defensive, confident and self-contained way he runs the team.

And that is probably good enough for Todt.

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