Features - Interview
JULY 1, 1993
The adventures of Mr Todt
BY JOE SAWARD
After his Peugeot 905s finished 1-2-3 at Le Mans, Peugeot Talbot Sport boss Jean Todt packed his bags and at the French Grand Prix in Magny-Cours "Napoleon" joined the Ferrari Formula 1 team. It was not to be one of the great debuts for an F1 team chief, Jean Alesi retired with engine failure and Gerhard Berger struggled home with an evil-handling car to finish 14th.
"I knew I would have a difficult debut," explains Todt, "but I had hoped for better luck than we had today. We chose to use a lot of new parts, all at the same time, and inevitably that lack of experience cost us dear.
"I thought it would be difficult for me to adapt to F1 quickly but in fact I already feel at home. The atmosphere is good and I am sure that every passing day it will get better.
"From now point on, I will be living with my new team. After the race I am going to Maranello with them and will move into a new house there.
"I am not planning to start telling people what to do. I will be taking notes and starting to learn, but I am taking control when I get to Maranello on Monday.'
It is typical Todt. He marched out of the Peugeot Sport headquarters in Paris's Avenue de la Grande Armee, leaving behind him a solid reputation as a successful player in many forms of racing and rallying. He is much admired, but he is not universally loved - except by members of his teams.
He certainly tough and he is proud of what he has achieved having started with nothing.
His father arrived in France at the age of 17, a Jewish refugee from Poland, and young Jean grew up without many advantages. His passion was for motor sport and, as a headstrong youth, he quit school with no qualifications to follow his dream to be a successful racer.
It is the same toughness which took the Peugeot boss head-to-head with FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre. Mocking Todt's social ambitions Balestre called him the 'Napoleon of the Sands' - a reference to his involvement with Peugeot in Paris-Dakar raids. Todt fired back that he preferred that to being labelled 'the Emperor Bokassa of the Place de la Concorde'. It was typical of the man, who was a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur at 39 and an officier in the same respected order at 46.
When rumours of his move to Ferrari first circulated, Todt denied he had talked to the Italians - you do what you have to do - and it seemed unlikely that he would give up everything at peugeot when it looked that he might go on into the top management of the firm. But Todt saw it differently.
"I had been with Peugeot for 12 years,' he explains, 'and, while I always liked a challenge, when I was contacted by President Montezemolo and offered the position I hadn't even considered moving into F1.
"It was an appealing offer and, once I had thought about it, I was happy to accept. I had several options, including several in F1 and other areas of motorsport, but Ferrari's offer was the most interesting and exciting.
"For me this is a major adventure. It will be a difficult job but Ferrari has top people at all levels: drivers, engineers and mechanics. I am sure that together we will achieve great things and put Ferrari back on course for the successes that it has known in the past and will surely know again.
"Being in charge has been my job for several years already. I see my role like being the conductor of the orchestra: it is not my job to play around with the instruments, just to lead and direct. People who are good at their jobs and at the top of their professions are usually strong characters, they need to listened to and to be loved. Ferrari has men of this level of talent throughout the team. I have already started to make contact with my colleagues on the team. A man who is not prepared to listen to good advice is stupid.
"Ferrari is no more complicated than any other team. It is a team of legend and mythology. I am convinced that it needs stability and once we have that the whole team will be able to relax and it will operate better. It is already on the way back to success - as you can see from the recent results.
"Everything is already under way to get Ferrari back into orbit and on to the right track to start winning races again."
But what does he think about having a race team in Italy and a design team in England. How can that work?
"I don't see any problems. I have visited Ferrari Design and Development (in Godalming). In many ways England is the home of F1 racing. There area where FDD is situated is known as the Silicone Valley of F1. The 40 people in England have a lot to give and so do the 300 others at Maranello."
Going to Ferrari may be a dream for Todt, but he knows to that he will have to deal not only with the team, but also with the sometimes rabid Italian press and also the political turmoil currently upsetting F1. What does he think about that?
"Ferrari is 100% behind anything which will reduce the cost of competing in F1,' he says smoothly. 'It is essential for the survival of the sport and we support FISA's decisions as far as eliminating electronic aids is concerned."
He seems in control now, after just a few hours in the job, but the months ahead will show whether Todt can handle being an F1 new boy at the helm of F1' most famous team. He is optimistic.
"President Montezemolo has given me enormous support," he explains, "and the morning I left Paris for Magny-Cours I was delighted to receive a gift from him - a Ferrari prancing horse emblem engraved with my name and a card wishing me good luck.
"I am sure there are many happy times ahead for us in the future"