Features - Interview
JUNE 1, 1990
A breath of fresh air: Ivan Capelli
BY JOE SAWARD
In the last five weeks Ivan has become a very hot property after 18 months when his career was in the doldrums. The F1 driver market is working on the domino theory. When a gap appears in the front rank of drivers, a driver jumps up from the second rank and another gap is created. While Ayrton Senna and Jean Alesi hold the keys to the market, listen to paddock whispers and you will hear three names being mentioned as the men likely to move up to grab better drives in 1991: Ivan Capelli, Stefano Modena and Roberto Moreno. Who ends
up where is not decided, but when the market moves, things will quickly fall into place.
For Capelli the recent weeks have seen a remarkable upturn in fortunes. For months Ivan was stuck -- his career stagnated because of the uncompetitiveness of the Leyton House chassis. The bright young hero of 1988 had been forgotten
"There have been one and a half years of problems," explains Ivan. "Basically we had a problem in 1989 because the wind tunnel figures which we had showed that the car was pretty good. We didn't have this at the circuits. We had a car which was critical in aerodynamics.
"We changed a lot from the 1988 car: the gearbox, the engine and the whole monocoque. It was a very big step.
"Looking back we probably shouldn't have made such big steps for a young team which started in 1987. We should have kept something of the 1988 car and then made other steps in 1989."
There were also more personal difficulties. Ivan's mentor Cesare Gariboldi was killed in a road accident and Ivan clearly missed him a great deal.
"As a friend I think the whole team missed Cesare in 1989. He was the connection between the Japanese, the English guys, me and 'Maurice' (Mauricio Gugelmin). Cesare was a very good man. He worked in the shadow of the team, not like a big star. He was following the team, knowing the people, keeping the direction of the team in the right way. When we lost him everybody had to find out what to do.
"I think the organisation within the team was not consistent and the performance of the car was keeping everybody down. Everybody was stressed and upset about this. 'Maurice' and myself particularly because the car was getting worse and worse. I had my first non-qualification in 50 GPs at the Brazilian Grand Prix and this was a very hard shock for me. In Monaco I qualified just by a few tenths. You had to fight to give everything. Really it was not easy."
Such knocks to the confidence of a driver are very important and Ivan began to doubt himself.
"Oh yes, sure. When you have this kind of performance you start to think that you are doing something wrong. That you are missing something in the set-up, that you cannot understand the car and you cannot explain the car to the engineers. You can see that the people around you are having problems and you have big doubts. What you should do is come out of the car and say: 'This is the direction we must take'. Sometimes you do this and then you realise that this new direction is wrong, so you come back and take anothr direction. There is a
big mess and it is difficult to find a starting point again. That is the major problem because you don't have any more starting points. You change too many things on the car: shock absorbers, springs whatever...
"It was frustrating because I am a human being not a robot. I was frustrated. In 1988 I know that I had shown the people that I was good enough and could do it. I could fight against Senna, Mansell Prost. And then, because things seemed not be in good shape, people follow the fashion of a new driver who is coming.
"F1 is a little world that is going around the big world. If you are good you are a big star and everybody is looking at you. If you start to have problems you are losing their interest incredibly.
"That is the reality of life -- the human life. If you are good you are in good shape. If you are not good you lose yourself in millions of people."
Suddenly, however, Leyton House came good with a new aerodynamic package at the French Grand Prix. Capelli and Gugelmin ran 1-2 in the race. Suddenly Ivan was back -- and everyone wanted to be his friend again.
"France was like switching on a light in a darkened room," says Ivan. "For 18 months the room was completely dark and then at Paul Ricard the light was shining.
"But we were just working as we did in all the other races. The comfort was that the performance of the car was there. We built up a good set-up and in the race we shocked everybody by not changing tyres.
"It feels very strange to me. I put in the same effort to not qualify in Mexico as I did to lead the race in France for 44 laps. I know that inside I did 100% in both races. You realise that in F1 there only black and white. You are
there or you are not there.
"Everybody came back and said: 'You did a good race. You made a good qualifying' I knew I was doing this.
"It was very funny and very hard because it showed that the F1 life is like this."
France, however, was not the end of the problems because there were still strains within the team. Personnel were changing and it looked as if team director Ian Phillips would not be returning.
"In Silverstone the atmosphere inside the team was not the right one," says Ivan. "To be a driver thinking of the car and also having to be an arbitrator is difficult. It takes a lot of power from you. I think I had to do it, to keep it all together, to put a little bit of my experience into this situation. I think that Ian is important for the team. He is the most experienced guy in the team in terms of motor racing knowledge. He knows everybody. He has contacts. He knows what is happening outside the team as well as inside."
Capelli held out for Phillips to return and in Hungary Ian was back. It doesn't, however, mean that Ivan will stay with Leyton House in 1991.
"I don't know," he says with alarming honesty. There are certainly options elsewhere. Ivan's name is being talked about in connection with both Ferrari and Williams.
"I had a nice talk with Mr Williams. He can talk Italian and it was easy. I already had a good feeling with Williams from 1988 but because of other problems I didn't work for him."
And other options?
"There are very few teams where I would like to go," he says. "I feel that after four years I need a car to be competitive in 16 races and not just doing the occasional exploit like France and Silverstone. I would like to have a car to be competitive in Phoenix or Monaco or Silverstone or Australia. That is the right way to try to beat the others and achieve the World Championship.
"After four years of experience I think this is the right time to have this and to have my chance to be a winner.
"It's very difficult because I am not the big star of the market at the moment. I am a little star who is going around the big ones. When the big ones find their place probably there will be an answer to these questions."
The 'silly season' can be very stressful for drivers.
"So many people are talking in F1 and the information from the top is white and then, going down through the pits, it becomes grey and then black at the end. People are talking about it and they are putting one sentence more and one sentence more. I think it's stressing because it is more a political job than driving a car but I think it is also one of a nice part of F1, this kind of atmosphere."
In this world there is very little loyalty and yet Ivan is renowned as being loyal. Won't it be hard to leave Leyton House if the opportunity arises?
"There is a point in your life when you have to take your chance. I stayed here in 1989 and 1990. I had an offer from Benetton -- a good offer -- but because I promised Mr Akagi i decided to stay. He had helped me a lot to enter into F1 in 1987 and I stayed because you must give people a chance."
"Watching other driver's careers and watching what is happening now -- how Benetton is going and how Leyton House is going -- it seems to be stupid that I made this decision, but when I go to bed every night I know that I was right. Even if I am not winning races but I have a good atmosphere around me. I think I
gave my chance to Leyton House. I am not saying that I am leaving. If Leyton House give me the possibility to have a very good car next year I can stay here without any problem. I will be very glad to drive for the team again. I know everybody, I know their attitudes and I know the place, but there is a time in your life when you have to grow up and you have to take your chance and choose your direction. You have to become a man. This is what I am feeling now. Wrong or right I have to take my decision and go for it to have a good car for the
In a world where a contract is worth only what it costs to be annulled, Ivan has an unusual view.
Out in the real world such things may be normal, but in F1 they are a breath of fresh air.