SEPTEMBER 30, 2001
Lauda clears the decks to do things his way
NIKI LAUDA clearly believes that he can steer the Jaguar F1 ship into calmer and more tranquil waters after the latest round of blood lettering saw former Chief Executive Officer Bobby Rahal relinquish his post in the run-up to the Belgian Grand Prix.
Brushing aside the annoyingly insincere protestations of an "amicable split" between Rahal and his former masters, one must hope for Jaguar's sake that Lauda can impose some sort of order on a team which is in severe risk of becoming badly demotivated. Niki clearly thinks it's going to be an easier job that running Lauda-air, with its huge unionized workforce in excess of 2000 people, but he's got to remember that he must motivate and carry the factory floor personnel at Milton Keynes with him if he's going to have a hope of long term success.
Yet Niki admits he is an impatient man and one is tempted to wonder whether than impatience might eventually catch him out.
"No, it won't catch me out," he said, "because on the other side I know how long it takes to make a new car. You're dreaming to say it can happen tomorrow."
So have Ford and Jaguar got the patience to see a long-term F1 program through to a successful conclusion? "From this side I do have no problem," he said. "Our real problem is the Ferrari-type teams at the moment. They are so far ahead of all of us. You need a group of better people, more motivated drivers than Michael, and this is what I'm pushing for, although I can't give you any answers."
Niki says he will run the team on a day-to-day basis, at least until the end of the current season. "My decision is that I will stay as team principal," he said. "But for sure I need somebody to assist me running the technical side of the factory. This is in the long run what I'm going to look for. Will try and reorganize for next season. That is the plan."
He is also convinced that his line of responsibility to Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle, boss of Ford's Premier Automotive Group.,
No, I am fully responsible for the entire program," he explained. "The only person I am reporting to is Dr. Reitzle if I think I need to speak to anybody. When I started I asked 'how many people do I speak to? Ten people? It doesn't work.' I asked this as the first thing when I took the job. "
The jury is out on whether Lauda can get the job done. Truth be told, the pressure and the spotlight is on him like never before. His ultimate credibility is on the line.