Features - Interview

MAY 1, 1990

Cesare Fiorio


Cesare Fiorio spends his time during Formula 1 qualifying sessions sitting on the pitwall with his eyes glued to the timing monitors.

Cesare Fiorio spends his time during Formula 1 qualifying sessions sitting on the pitwall with his eyes glued to the timing monitors.

You can tell what is happening by the faces he pulls. If a Ferrari is fast he will punch the air and smile, if they are slow he will frown darkly. At such moments he wears his heart on his sleeve. His passion is obvious.

Those who saw Nigel Mansell win the Brazilian GP of 1989 will remember that first race of Fiorio's tenure of office at Ferrari. His joy was obvious.

We still see glimpses of that passion from time to time. At Monza in September, with one of his Ferraris on pole, Fiorio had a glint of pure power in his eyes. When Ayrton Senna flashed by to take pole for McLaren in the dying seconds of the final session, you could see Cesare crumble. It was actually quite sad.

Two years after his joys in Brazil Fiorio seems less enthusiastic and more guarded. As the boss of Ferrari, it seems, one has to be rather more reserved...

Life at Ferrari is famed for its political stresses and strains. The stories tell of back-stabbing and passing alliances. To survive the job, so goes the theory, you have to be on your toes -- all the time.

Fiorio has held on to the reins of power since the start of 1989 -- despite occasional attempts to unseat him. These, however, he declines to acknowledge.

"I think that there is no intrigue and politics at all," he says disarmingly. He notices the sceptical reaction the comment has caused and adds: "Or rather, it is no different from any other team.

"The only difference is that whatever happens in our team becomes a political fact because you have to answer questions which other teams do not have to answer. They solve their problems between themselves. To us everything that goes on becomes a headline in a newspaper and therefore everything becomes more complicated."

It is a fair point. Ferrari is under closer scrutiny than any other team.

"You don't sleep very comfortably at night," admits Fiorio. "You always have to try to see if you haven't forgotten something. I don't think the pressure will stop me doing this job but if I continue or not doesn't depend on me -- it depends on the management of the Fiat group."

Cesare may be the top dog in the Ferrari race team, but he has to answer to the Ferrari company's boss Piero Fusaro and the top brass in Fiat: Cesare Romiti and Gianni Agnelli.

Fiorio, however, is a second generation Fiat man. His father was a Lancia press officer and Cesare followed in his footsteps, joining the company in 1963. He drove briefly in rallies, but really began to make his mark when he was appointed the head of Lancia's competitions department in 1969.

It was a role he was to retain until 1988. During his Lancia years the company won 18 World titles in racing and rallying. Fiorio, quite simply, was the best. After the death of Enzo Ferrari and the Fiat takeover of the F1 team, it was natural that the company should give the job of running the show to its brightest star.

"My aim was always to come to do this job," he explains. "I had to wait a long time, but now I am satisfied that I have reached what I wanted to do."

It was a goal which was celebrated with some style -- and a massive amount of luck -- in Brazil in 1989. The Ferrari 640 had been so unreliable in qualifying that Nigel Mansell had booked an early afternoon flight home on race day. The car ran without a fault -- much to everyone's amazement -- and as others fell by the wayside Mansell came through to win.

The next few races were disastrous: the cars were unreliable and Gerhard Berger suffered a massive accident at the San Marino GP. Immediately there were pressures.

"Ferrari is a different way of living," explains Fiorio. "I remember I had been with Ferrari for five months and we were not very successful at that time. I took no holiday in the whole summer but, at one point, I went to a summer resort to have dinner in a restaurant. A waiter, who I had never seen in my life before, saw me walking in and said: 'What are you doing here?' I said I wanted something to eat. 'But we are two a seconds a lap behind McLaren,' he said, 'Your cars are always breaking down and you come here on holidays!'

"This is the kind of pressure you get at Ferrari. You have all the many, many, Ferrari fans from all over the world who are looking at you. They are really disappointed if you are not successful -- so you are really pushed hard all the time."

Had he expected that?

"I didn't find any big change from the rest of the sport. First of all because I have been in motorsport for 30 years. Of course I have been involved in rallies for many years but I have been involved in all sorts of motorsport activities from sports-prototypes to touring cars and Formula 3. I have gone through the whole field. F1 was nothing different from the approach point of view. The only difference I found was that coming to Ferrari the interest and the pressure, the public and the media this was something that was..."

For a moment he is lost for words, but you know what he means.

"Whatever we say or state. It is not taken like that. There are different interpretations. Some are more dramatic than reality, some are less dramatic.

"Take the case of Sandro Nannini joining Ferrari in the summer. It has been one of the greatest scandals of the year. In fact there was nothing very strange about it. Benetton told us that if we wanted to have Nannini it was possible. We spoke with Nannini -- we didn't find an agreement. We said: 'Okay, no agreement', he didn't like the conditions we were proposing and we didn't want to follow his demands. That's it. With other teams it would have been finished in five minutes -- with no story, but as it was Ferrari there was a big big story. Incredible!"

These have a charming expression for these scandals -- casinos (itals). And whenever Ferrari is involved in anything there is a casino (itals). The fervent Italian press whip up a storm and no-one is quite sure where the truth ends and the fiction begins.

The signing of Jean Alesi was another casino (itals) -- what was it like in reality?

"The Alesi situation was I think a good example of a very good relationship between the F1 teams," says Fiorio -- not entirely answering the question. "Although we are fighting each other we have a very good relationship with Frank Williams and Ken Tyrrell. We made a commercial agreement and it was very good. We are very good friends. We were very good friends before and we are very good friends now. That's it."

And the supposed conflicts this year between Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell -- notably during the start of the Portuguese GP when the two nearly collided?

"Well I think when you are racing a Formula 1 car with a lot of power mistakes are made," he explains. "That's what happened to Nigel at the start of the Portuguese GP. That was unfortunate because Alain could not stay in front and everything became a big problem. I think it was a very normal race incident. I am sure he didn't want to do something to Alain on purpose.

"Nigel was completely ready to work for the team and give his help to the team."

Prost's reaction at the time was less generous, the Frenchman attacking Fiorio over the lack of planning and coordination. It caused another casino (itals) and, this time, Fiorio was on the receiving end.

"I think he was a bit disappointed because he had lost the possibility of getting more points," says Cesare. "He knew well that Nigel was ready to help if necessary, but sometimes when you come to the end of the race you see you could have taken a big advantage from that race and instead you lose points you get a bit frustrated."

After the Estoril problems, Suzuka provided another casino (itals). Prost and Ayrton Senna collided at the first corner. Ferrari threatened to pull the plug on its F1 operations unless FISA took action.

"Well, Ferrari is part of the FIAT Group," he explains, "and decisions of the FIAT Group are not up to me. I am only running the team, therefore I cannot tell you what the political attitude of the group is to this.

"Of course we were a bit disappointed, not from the Suzuka fact itself, because it was something that might happen in the race, but because of the many accidents that involved our cars this year -- always as the victims. We started at Monaco where Prost was pushed from the back and the good car he had was destroyed.

"Then it was Nigel in Budapest who had the same problem. Then we had this one at Suzuka and then look back to Imola between Mansell and Berger.

"We have always been the victims of these situations and nothing has ever happened from the stewards of the events. We feel that this is not right. We have sent a letter to FISA saying that they should take into consideration that they should control the drivers during a race. Otherwise it is going to become very dangerous."

Fiorio is undoubtedly skilled in the art of making everything seem smooth and calm, but this has been a masterful performance. Certainly not all the problems at Ferrari have been as difficult as some reports would have us believe, but neither were they quite as plain-sailing as Fiorio suggests. When you listen to what he has to say, it seems that it has been a fantastic year for Ferrari. Has it?

"I am happy," he says. "I'm happy because we had a very good season. Although we lost the championship we won six events and have always been in among the leading cars. I think everybody is satisfied with the team and the team work which has been done."

Since his arrival at Ferrari there have been numerous personnel changes. Is the rebuilding process now finished?

"I think it will always be an on-going process," he says. "You never come to the point where you think you have done the best possible. Now especially it is an on-going process because we have taken into the team a number of young engineers who are gaining experience. They are growing up very well but still they must get experience and this I think will take a little more time.

"Ferrari has a great tradition but, of course, in the recent past there have been so many changes in the responsibilities of the management that people were a bit confused. They did not know which way to go. I think the main thing was to give one reference point and then try to work in a modern way with method.

"We have made a group of people in charge of making the car. There are Guido Castelli (overall technical control), Steve Nichols (chassis), Paolo Massai (engines) and Franco Ciampolini (electronics). They each have their own responsibilites in their fields, but they work as a team and this team seems to function well."

The changes in management, policy and technology has pushed up the budgets.

"I don't think there is much difference from the trends that were before," says Fiorio. "The cost of the competition today is dictated by the level of the other teams. You have to match that. If this level is very high you have to invest a lot in research, testing and new ideas. This brings up the costs.

"If we didn't have to face very strong teams our costs would be much less -- but that is the same for the others."

So is Ferrari's racing team value for money for Fiat?

"I think it is valuable as the image of technology, for all the Italian technology and Fiat group technology.

"More than that Ferrari is something that has a worldwide reputation. Whatever circuit we go to -- even in Japan -- the majority of the flags and the hats are for Ferrari."

He has a point.

And what about next year. Will Ferrari finally overturn the McLaren domination?

"This year McLaren has won six events and we have six events," he explains. "It has been very close. We will see who will work better over the winter. Maybe we start with a little advantage, but McLaren is coming with a 12-cylinder engine. We will see.

"We have a very intensive testing programme during the winter to try to start the season in the best possible way."

F1 is ever-changing and today we have moved into a world of what is loosely referred to as "professionalism". They say that the days of larger-than-life racing bosses with their towering rages and colourful characters have been replaced by a new age of inoffensive, corporate technocrats.

When you enounter Fiorio, you realise that you are face to face with this brave new world. It seems somehow jarring, for you expect something different.

Colleagues remember his flair and passion for competition: both as the Lancia boss and as an active powerboat competitor. That side of his life ended in November 1987 when his boat -- Martini Bianco -- broke up in a huge accident off Key West in Florida. The crash left Fiorio in hospital with serious injuries.

Those who have worked with Fiorio point out that he is a formidable motivator, a man who pushes people to give their best -- a natural leader who people want to follow.

And yet, talking with him, it all seems rather distant. He is very polite, very slick, very professional, totally uncontroversial... and rather dull.

It seems a shame that it should come to this...