Features - News Feature
MAY 1, 1991
Ferrari - a team in crisis
BY JOE SAWARD
Harsh words indeed. But they do not come from a journalist, nor from a rival team. They come from Alain Prost, lead driver of the world-famous Scuderia Ferrari -- and a man who has embarked on a single-handed campaign to turn Ferrari into an organisation that can beat the hyper-successful McLaren-Honda team.
"The problem," continues Prost, "is that there are one or two people in the team with little F1 experience.
"Ron Dennis (of McLaren) is a leader of men, a catalyser of energies. He is completely respected, and that's what we are missing here."
Prost was pulling no punches in a recent interview with the French magazine Course Auto. His message was clear, he wants the management of the team changed. Most importantly, he wants the team's Sporting Director Cesare Fiorio replaced. Despite having the immense prestige of being a three-time World Champion -- and the man who has won more Grands Prix than any other driver -- Prost is fighting a hard battle for Fiorio is has strong support in the Fiat empire.
At 51 years of age, Fiorio has a spent his entire working life with the Fiat Group. His father was the press officer of Lancia and a close associate of the top management. Fiorio joined Lancia in 1963 and was appointed head of Lancia's competitions department in 1969. For 20 years he oversaw all Lancia programmes, winning 18 world titles in sportscar racing and rallying. In 1989 he was appointed to head Ferrari's racing programme -- and the team won the first race...
Last year saw Ferrari more competiive than for many seasons. The team won six races and Prost was in contention for the world championship until his controversial accident with Ayrton Senna in Suzuka. Even before then, however, Prost has started to voice his opposition to Fiorio in public.
After Prost's team mate in 1990, Nigel Mansell, won the Portuguese Grand Prix, Alain's frustrations boiled over.
"Ferrari does not deserve to be World Champions," he said. "It is a team without directive and without strategy -- against a united and well-structured team like McLaren."
Prost and Fiorio quickly made public peace, but the tensions still existed. Fiorio was unwilling to let the team be directed by its driver. Both began to fight for the ear of Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli.
Over the winter months, everything looked good for Ferrari. At every test Ferrari went quickest. The impression created was one of great optimism. Before Phoenix the team was the firm favourite for the World Championship. In Phoenix the Ferraris were outpaced by McLaren, which introduce a new and untried car. For Ferrari it was disaster.
There is no question that the Ferrrai management was lulled into a false sense of security. The Ferrari 641/2 was the dominant car at the end of last season and there seemed to be indications that the opposition this year would be less of a challenge than normal. McLaren was embarking on the development of the Honda V12 engine and new MP4/6 chassis, while Williams was planning to use a semi-automatic gearbox for the first time. Ferrari logic suggested that both would prove to be unreliable. The Ferrari management thought that with a reliable and efficient car the team would be well-positioned for success. In addition engine development had produced extra power. Everything looked good. Expectations were high.
When you look at the Ferrari challenge on paper it is hard to see how the team can possibly be beaten. The logistics are extraordinary: the team has an astromical budget and impressive resources. There are no fewer than five drivers working on the Grand Prix programme: Prost and Jean Alesi, plus test drivers Gianni Morbidelli, Andrea Montermini and the little-known Dario Benuzzi. The team has two private test tracks at Fiorano and Mugello. Testing and development is going on almost every day. The team has in excess of 300 engineers and technicians, both at Ferrari headquarters in Maranello and at Fiat's research centre in Turin.
So how could it all go wrong?
Some argue that the present car is too old. Others point to inept management.
Is the car too old? The present car is a development of the concept laid down by John Barnard in 1987. It was a three-year programme. This is the fourth year. A year ago Ferrari's technical director Enrique Scalabroni suggested that Ferrari would need a new chassis for 1991 -- a new concept was called for. The management decided it was not necessary and Scalabroni decided to leave the team.
At the same time, the team's aerodynamicist Henri Durand was not a happy man. He did not enjoy a very good working relationship with Scalabroni. He too decided to leave, not knowing that Scalabroni was planning similar action.
When Ferrari management realised what was happening it was too late: both Scalabroni and Durand had quit.
As a result of their departures in June 1990, the team was without an aerodynamic chief throughout the summer. Wind-tunnel testing was concentrating on perfecting special aerodynamic trims to be used in qualifying, to help to win the 1990 title. It was not until late in the autumn that Jean-Claude Migeot joined the team from Tyrrell. The Frenchman needed time to understand the car, by the time he was up to speed it was too late to design a new car. Work is moving ahead now on a new car, which should appear at the French Grand Prix in July, but that is seven races into the season and in a year when all scores count towards the title, it will probably be too late to overtake McLaren -- a few teething problems must be expected...
Some argue that these problems must be blamed on the management, but here are also other charges being laid at the door of the Ferrari managers.
In part this is due to a sense of competition which exists between Maranello and Turin. Successes are fought over and failures are blamed on others. As part of the Fiat Group, ther is pressure on engineers to do the best job possible to continue their careers in the main group. No-one wants to be associated with failure.
The presnt system is certainly complicated. The race team is based at Maranello, but the research and development is carried out at Turin under Amadeo Visconti. Engine work is also being done at Turin under the control of Paolo Massai and Vito Susca. Carbonfibre development is carried out in England, at the GTO establishment, set up by John Barnard. At Maranello chassis work is under the control of American engineer Steve Nichols.
It is no easy job to coordinate these disparate efforts.
"There are now 300 people working on the F1 team," says former Ferrari technical director Harvey Postlethwaite. "When things start to go wrong they go wrong in a big way, with everyone blaming each other. I know I have been there before. The only way I can see the situation working is to make th edevelopment and prototype cars at GTO in Engalnd, run the race team from Maranello and move the engine department to Turin, with someone strong in the middle to coordinate it all."
At present the technical coordination is carried out by Pierguido Castelli. He joined the team two an dhalf years ago from the Fiat Research Centre. He has had little experience of racing. His job is one the line unless he can pull everyone together.
"The thing about Ferrari," says an Italian pressman, well-connected at Ferrari, "is that it knows it is in trouble, If it can sort it all out, the team will work miracles. But it really depends on the reaction of the team. If members all pull together and work with each other it will be fine, but if the present mentality goes on, it will be a big disaster."
Some suggest that Ferrari has always been a team in turmoil. lookin gback through history there are countless cases of engineers and drivers falling out wiht the management, but today there is one important difference. There is no Enzo Ferrari. In the old days, everyone had to answer to the grand old man of Maranello. Since his death and the takeover of Ferrari by Fiat, there has been no big boss. Fiorio is trying to fill that role, but he is not -- and never can be -- Enzo Ferrari. He is merely a many in a corporation.
What is clear is that Prost and Fiorio, while wanting the same thing, are fighting over who should control the team. Neither wishes to give way. In the end it is extremely likely that one or the other will leave the team -- so far apart are their philosophies of how a racing team should be run. Until that problem is sorted out, Ferrari will remain a team in crisis.
A new car later this year may improve fortunes, but to win the championship would be a collosal achievement. Already people are saying that the championship is over: McLaren and Ayrton Senna have won. To beat them would be extraordinary. If any team can work magic, it is Ferrari, but given the present situation, such a thing seems next to impossible.