Features - News Feature

JANUARY 1, 1991

Ivan Capelli on the way to Ferrari


After five seasons with Leyton House, Ivan Capelli is on the verge of finally breaking into a top F1 team, a team for which, perhaps, he can become a race winner.

After five seasons with Leyton House, Ivan Capelli is on the verge of finally breaking into a top F1 team, a team for which, perhaps, he can become a race winner.

It is almost 10 years since Ivan first attracted international attention, racing in the Italian F3 Championship. His was a very obvious talent. In 1985 with national and European F3 titles behind, he arrived in F1 with Tyrrell, finishing fourth in the Australian Grand Prix. In 1986 he went back to F3000 to win the championship and, since then, has driven for Leyton House. In 1988 he showed that, if the car was right, he could match drivers like Senna, Mansell and Prost. But the Leyton House was not consistent and Ivan's career suffered.

Most people had forgotten 1988 when at the 1990 French GP Ivan and Mauricio Gugelmin ran 1-2, Capelli being pipped for victory only in the closing stages of the race by Alain Prost's Ferrari.

There were various offers made for Ivan to move from Leyton House but he stayed loyal to the team, which had given him his break.

Even this year when team owner Akira Akagi was arrested, throwing Leyton House into financial chaos, Ivan was thinking of the team first and foremost -- and not merely as a public relations exercise. Extraordinarily, Ivan actually thinks along these lines...

'Leyton House had some economical problems,' he explains, 'and the Wendlinger situation was the only answer to sort out this problem. The only way to give the team the opportunity to go to Japan and Adelaide and finish the season. There was no choice.

'First of all I was going to drive in both races and then we were going to split the races one each. In the end, because there is a relationship which is four years old between 'Maurice' (Mauricio Gugelmin) and I and because he already had some contracts for new sponsors for next year with the team and also could have problems with sponsors this year if he didn't drive all the races. If everything goes according to plan, he should drive the car again next year. I think of 'Maurice' more as a friend than a team mate and, reading between the lines, the answer was that I had to stop and let him drive. That's what we ended up with.

With Leyton House struggling and Capelli frustrated once again, he had started to look around for a different team.

'I've had a frustrating F1 career so far,' he explains, 'because I was never able to get the opportunity to show how good I am - or how good I think I am. I always had a car which was up and down in performance. It was never consistent. For winning races and fighting for the championship you need a consistent car.

'We always tried to improve the car and we did a lot of hard work at Leyton House but, over the years, we were always missing something, either we had the wrong engine or the wrong aerodyanmics. At the end we were not blame. We all pushed very hard to get results, but unfortunately in F1 that is a very hard thing to do.

'The major problem was the management of the team. While the mechanics, engineers and drivers worked very hard changing the leader so many times and always going off in different directions, with different aims and purposes, meant that, at the end, everyone was confused. That is basically what happened.'

Finally, with the team's future looking increasingly uncertain, Ivan started to look around.

'I talked to Scuderia Italia for a month and we found an agreement,' he says. He is a Scuderia Italia driver for 1992. Or is he?

With Alain Prost's plans for the future uncertain, Ivan's contract with Scuderia Italia was actually made between himself and Ferrari, who will supply Scuderia's engines in 1992. If Prost were to leave Ferrari, Capelli woul be drafted in to replace him. It is, of course, the dream come true for every Italian.

'Sure,' smiles Ivan, 'A Ferrari car is a dream for all the F1 drivers. No, for all the formula drivers around the world, especially so for an Italian. It is soemthing that you day-dream about from when you start. I want to be a Ferrari driver, but driving a car with a Ferrari engine is one step in the right direction.'

Some would say that now is not the time to be joining Ferrari which has been a team in crisis in recent months. Is driving a Ferrari still a dream, even if the Ferrari does not haved a competitive car?

'You don't get many opportunities to join a top team. Usually, you cannot say: I am lucky, I am going to a good team. To be able to do that. You have to work hard but, at the same time, you have to be in the right place at the right moment - with the right kind of experience and the right state of mind. I think you have to struggle to get your portion of good luck.

'After that you have to make an effort to improve what you have. If you have a Ferrari shuttle bus, you cannot win races...'

As Ivan talks you can see the same enthusiasm for winning which he had back in the days when it was easier to achieve. He still loves F1 and still gets excited about it.

'As soon as you realise that the car is good, the excitement comes,' he says. 'When the Leyton House was good on particular circuits, immediately I found I had 100% enthusiasm and confidence to drive the car. But if you start a Grand Prix and you feel the car is understeering, oversteering, no downforce whatever, it is a slow job to get back, even to a starting point.

'You don't even think about the maximum performance that might be possible. You just do what you can do.

'That was the problem.'