Features - News Feature

JUNE 1, 1996

Michael Schumacher at Ferrari


At first glance it may seem that Michael Schumacher is trying to achieve what Alain Prost failed to do at Ferrari in 1990-1991. The challenge is the same: Ferrari has not won a Drivers' World Championship since Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve finished 1-2 in 1979. The last 17 years have been frustrating ones for the men at Maranello - although there are not many who have survived the political battles at Maranello.

At first glance it may seem that Michael Schumacher is trying to achieve what Alain Prost failed to do at Ferrari in 1990-1991. The challenge is the same: Ferrari has not won a Drivers' World Championship since Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve finished 1-2 in 1979. The last 17 years have been frustrating ones for the men at Maranello - although there are not many who have survived the political battles at Maranello.

Since 1979 Formula 1 has undergone a revolution in terms of growth: the big manufacturers and big money has arrived. It is no longer a case of Ferrari taking on and beating the small English teams as happened in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1980s were dominated by McLaren and Williams while Ferrari struggled along winning occasional races. It was, however, the plaything of a great man rather than a commercial enterprise and so, in essence, the lack of success may have been frustrating, but it was not threatening an empire nor damaging an image. It was just Ferrari doing what Ferrari had always done in F1 - wandering from one era to the next, hiring, firing, winning and losing.

In the early days, of course, Ferrari was so much bigger than its rivals that it was bound to win, despite the imperfect management and Enzo Ferrari's whims. Often these provided success but as the old man grew older and stopped going to races, inevitably, it was left more to managers.

Whatever happened, however, there was always Mr Ferrari to answer to. His very existence kept the team going. When he finally died - aged 90 - in August 1988 things changed and in order to understand the similarities and differences between Prost at Ferrari and Schumacher at Ferrari one needs to look at the history of the team since Enzo's death.

In fact, the story has to be traced back to 1969 when the 71-year-old Ferrari decided that he would "retire". He sold 40% of his famous sportscar company to FIAT for $11m. FIAT took over the road car production side of the business but Ferrari retained the racing team and 49% of the company on the understanding that both would become FIAT property when Enzo Ferrari died.

FIAT bosses probably did not expect Enzo to last as long as he did but for 19 years they waited to get complete control of his empire. As soon as Ferrari died the old management broke up very quickly with Ferrari's right hand man for many years Marco Piccinini leaving the team. FIAT managers took over - although Ferrari's son Piero Lardi Ferrari was given a nominal role for a while.

The initial FIAT period was rather confusing with Piergiorgio Cappelli as head of the racing department but in March 1989 - seven months after Ferrari's death - the FIAT management gave the job to its top sporting manager, Cesare Fiorio, the competitions director of Lancia and Alfa Romeo.

The team already had technical director John Barnard working on a radical new car - called the 640 - and Fiorio's first race resulted in a debut win for the 640 in Brazil, with driver Nigel Mansell. The Barnard/Fiorio relationship did not endure very long, however, and within months Barnard had gone to Benetton - unhappy with the way the team was being managed. Fiorio hired Enrique Scalabroni (from Williams) and Steve Nichols (from McLaren). At the same time Fiorio recruited Alain Prost, who was unhappy at McLaren because he was being overshadowed by the young Ayrton Senna. Prost was 35 with three World Championships and 39 Grand Prix wins behind him. Having worked so successfully with McLaren in the 1980s he had high expectations of Ferrari.

Success was not slow in coming - Alain won the second race of 1990 and would add another four victories that year, challenging Senna for the World title, but he became increasingly critical of Fiorio's management style. At the Portuguese GP Nigel Mansell was allowed to win the race, finishing ahead of Senna with Prost third. Fiorio argued - rightly - that if he had stopped Mansell Senna would have gained four points and Prost only two so it was better that Mansell took points from the Brazilian. Prost felt that Mansell did not do enough testing and that he should be treated like a number one driver. He launched a dramatic attack on Fiorio.

"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."

It was brave attack because Fiorio was strong within FIAT having spent his entire working life with the Fiat Group and having been the son of the press officer of Lancia, who was a close associate of the top management. For 20 years Cesare had overseen all Lancia motor sport programmes, winning 18 world titles in sportscar racing and rallying.

FIAT boss Gianni Agnelli publicly supported Prost but Fiorio stayed in control. A public peace was made but the tensions remained. The pair wanted the same thing but ended up fighting over who should control the team. Neither would give way and their philosophies were so different that it was inevitable that one or other would have to go.

In June 1991 with the new Scalabroni car failing, Fiorio was ditched. Prost, it seemed, had won. It did not last for long. Fiorio was replaced by Claudio Lombardi, a disciple of Fiorio for many years at Lancia. It would be only a matter of weeks before Prost and Lombardi were in conflict.

At the same time the technical team was breaking up. Scalabroni suggested that Ferrari would have to have a radically new chassis for 1991, Lombardi was cautious. 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 and, not knowing that Scalabroni was leaving, he found new job at McLaren. When Lombardi realized what was happening it was too late. The team was without an aerodynamic chief and - with windtunnel work concentrated on perfecting special aerodynamic trims to be used in qualifying, to help to win the 1990 title - no work was done on the 1991 car.

A frustrated Prost - who had a contract for 1991 - again began talking to the press. This time he was not allowed to get away with it. Lombardi fired him after the Japanese Grand Prix.

Coincidentally, FIAT was in the process of finding a new man to head the entire Ferrari company. They chose Luca di Montezemolo and within a month the new Ferrari President had shaken-up the race team with Lombardi being pushed into technical management and Montezemolo's old friend Sante Ghedini brought in as sporting director. Harvey Postlethwaite was hired to design chassis and Steve Nichols disappeared off to Sauber.

The 1991 season was already compromised and there would be further disruption when Postlethwaite and aerodynamicist jean-Claude Migeot produced the F92A. It flopped and Montezemolo went after a new chassis designer - John Barnard. He rejoined the team in August 1992 and established a new design centre in England - Ferrari Design and Development at Shalford. In January 1993 Barnard recruited designer George Ryton from Tyrrell and team organizer Nigel Stepney from Lotus. They would be followed later in the year by another ex-Tyrrell designer Mike Coughlan.

The most important new appointment, however, came in July 1993 when Montezemolo hired Jean Todt to replace Ghedini as Ferrari's sporting director. Todt had enjoyed a long and successful career with Peugeot Sport and had a reputation of being a great - but tough - team manager.

"To be successful," said Todt early in his Ferrari reign, "you need a good organisation, a good technical level, good drivers. I think you must always try to get the best and make the best work together. Stability is very important. Is it better to have everything back in Italy or improve the situation we have invested in? I would not hesitate for half a second to say improve what we have. To change will be destabilizing and will destroy everything. We would have to start again."

Todt reorganized everything and went out to hire the men he needed for his structure. He recruited engine wizards Osamu Goto (from McLaren), Stuart Groves (from Cosworth), Gabriele Martini (from Lamborghini) and Gilles Simon and Christophe Marie (from Peugeot) and had them do design studies for a V8, a V10 and a V12 engine. The three were then compared and the V10 was picked as the best compromise.

Todt added Austrian chassis designer Gustav Brunner to the team so that Barnard would be free to work on the following year's car - leaving Brunner to develop the existing model. He set about establishing aerodynamic programmes for each separate programme: one in Britain, the other in Italy. And then he set about hiring Michael Schumacher to drive. The German signed when he was offered so much money he could not refuse. He was 26 and had won two World Championships and 19 Grands Prix.

Although it sounds easy Todt had to fight to retain control of the Ferrari team. Montezemolo appointed another old friend Niki Lauda to be his personal advisor about F1 and Todt and Lauda did not always agree. Montezemolo listened to both but wisely put his weight behind the Sporting Director.

This meant that when Schumacher arrived in the team at the end of 1995 Todt had a structure which had had two years to develop. He was the boss. Schumacher was part of the package. When there were suggestions that Schumacher would have a say in who would be his team mate, Todt made it quite clear to the media that Schumacher was "only" a driver - not a team manager.

This is a role which Schumacher seems happy to accept. He is younger than Prost was when the Frenchman was at Ferrari and does not show any of the ambition that Prost had to become a team owner one day. Perhaps he will develop such goals in the future. The fact is that he is happy to do the best he can, motivate the team with good performances and share the glory. In such situations there is bound to be progress as team members develop respect for one another. There may be changes in the structure at Ferrari but it is clear that when it comes to technical matters, F1 is not about one man these days.

Schumacher quite clearly respects Todt in a way which Prost never could with Fiorio. The structure is in place, the manager is strong and the team is moving forward.

An important test of this came earlier this year when it became clear that the new F310 chassis was not a great success. There was enormous pressure on Ferrari but the team held steady. No-one was fired. There may have been internal stress but this was not made public. Each department worked to improve the situation.

When Prost joined the team it was in disarray with a large corporation having plenty of money to spend but not being organized in spending it. Fiorio's management style was very Italian and he completely failed to handle Prost's needs as a driver. Alain's reaction was to rebel. This weakened - and ultimately broke - Fiorio's status as team manager and with the Ferrari house divided there was no way the team could be successful. It is remarkable that so much was achieved.

The cliche: "united we stand, divided we fall" proved to be correct. Fiorio fell but his replacement - and friend - Lombardi finished off Prost's Ferrari career.

There is a certain irony in the fact that Schumacher is now benefiting from some of the changes which Prost said were necessary - but were only introduced after Alain had left the team.

Will it ultimately be successful? At the moment that is impossible to tell. Some argue that Ferrari will never work because of its Italian mentality which, they argue, is prone to moments of volatility. The greatest strength of the Williams-Renault team is that it has complete stability. Frank Williams and Patrick Head know their jobs and do them professionally and successful. They have a loyal staff - a lot of whom join Williams from outside motor racing. The company policy is not to poach famous name engineers from other teams but rather build up new stars. A man, they reckon, will be more loyal to someone who gives him a chance than to someone who gives him a cheque.

Todt has adopted a different approach. He has bought star drivers and engineers - often at huge cost - in the hope that they will produce a winning package. This has not worked up to now, but there are signs that there may be a lot of success ahead - if Todt can hold it all together...