Todt: Ferrari were in worse shape in 1993 than today

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During Ferrari’s 1,000th grand prix last week FIA president Jean Todt shared his recollections of how he joined the team in 1993 – when he says it was in worse shape than it is today.

In 2020, Ferrari is enduring its toughest season for years. Last year it won three races and finished second in the championship last year; today it languishes in sixth place, and was out-scored by seventh-placed AlphaTauri in each of the last three races.

Todt ran Ferrari’s Formula 1 team between 1993 and 2009. When he arrived, the team had endured 10 years without winning a constructors’ championship, and they hadn’t take a driver to the title since 1979.

Their current situation is much the same. It’s been 12 years since Ferrari’s last constructors’ title, and they’re still waiting for a successor to Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 drivers’ championship success.

Nonetheless Todt believes Ferrari is stronger as a team now than it was when he was recruited from Peugeot’s successful sportscar operation to take charge of the Gestione Sportiva 27 years ago.

Gerhard Berger, Niki Lauda, Jean Todt, Ferrari, 1993
Todt with 1993 Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger and team consultant Niki Lauda
“I have a good understanding about the situation,” said Todt during the Tuscan Grand Prix weekend. “I saw some reports, people keep saying it’s the same [but] it’s a completely different situation than the one I found when I arrived in July ’93.

“Honestly, I wish I would have found the situation of today. My life would have been much easier.”

Ferrari has the right management in place to bring the team back to the front, Todt believes.

“Now it’s a very strong organisation, very well settled,” he said. “Probably some parts of the puzzle are not at the level they need to be where they are expecting to be. And, in a way, honestly, where Formula 1 needs them to be.”

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This year is likely to see Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton extend the six-year run of titles for the team and its drivers. Their success reminds Todt of his title run with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari – six constructors and five drivers’ trophies – and said the sport needs the team competing at the front again.

Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Magny-Cours, 2004
Hamilton’s dominance today is like Schumacher’s says Todt
“The win of [Pierre] Gasly was a succession of miracles,” said Todt, reflecting on the previous race. “But notwithstanding that he will be the memorable winner of the Monza 2020 Formula 1 Grand Prix.

“In a way you only remember seeing [winners] which are very special. Today when Hamilton is winning, it’s not very special the way you are used to.

“With Michael I remember people telling me ‘we don’t watch TV, we are so fed up, it’s always the same’. We like something new, we all like something a bit different. So clearly it’s what we would love to have for Formula 1.”

Todt had overseen Peugeot’s successful world sportscar championship programme, which led to back-to-back Le Mans 24 Hours victories in 1992 and 1993, when Ferrari sought his services. At the time he expected he would “end my career at Peugeot”, having also run their successful rally programme.

“But I like to progress,” he explained. “So in ’92 I considered that [after] rallying success, cross-country success, sportscar success, I wanted to taste something different in the group. But no more motor racing.

“They asked me, what do you think we should do after sportscars? If we can put together good money, I think the ultimate challenge is Formula 1. They said okay, you can work on the programme.”

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Peugeot decided against a full Formula 1 programme, choosing instead to enter as an engine supplier to McLaren in 1994. Todt, however, had an other offers, one of which came from Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo by way of Formula 1 ringleader Bernie Ecclestone.

Jean Todt, Bernie Ecclestone, 2004
Ecclestone introduced Ferrari to Todt…
“I did not want to be anymore involved in motor racing,” Todt recalled, “but running Formula 1 in Ferrari is something you cannot resist.”

Todt knew Ecclestone through the aborted Procar series, originally intended to place Formula 1 engines in road car bodies, which Ecclestone had developed with Alfa Romeo.

The F1 boss had previously facilitated discussions between Todt and Jean-Marie Balestre, the president of FISA, which was the FIA’s sporting arm at the time. Todt and Balestre had been at odds over FISA’s decision to ban the Group B rally class at the height of Peugeot’s success in the category.

“Bernie was leading the sportscar project with silhouette cars,” said Todt. “I got to know him, we were interested with Peugeot in this programme.

Ecclestone “likes to introduce” people, Todt noted, and in 1992 set up a meeting between Todt and the Ferrari president. “He called me, he said ‘you should call Montezemolo and meet him, he’s waiting for your phone call’.”

Todt’s choice of car for his first meeting with Montezemolo in July 1992 did not make a good impression, he recalls.

“Of course I could not see him in the factory. He asked me early August, sixth or seventh, to go and visit him in his house in Bologna.

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“I was spending a few days in Saint Tropez, I had a friend who loaned me a Mercedes coupe. I went there. He said that when he saw me arrive in a Mercedes he thought I wasn’t the right guy for the job!”

Michael Schumacher, Jean Todt, Circuit de Catalunya, 1996
…but not Schumacher
Hiring Todt required the consent of Gianni Agnelli, the president of Fiat, which owned Ferrari. The deal was eventually agreed the following year.

“The first meeting was in July and we finally agreed in March ’93,” said Todt. “So Bernie was the one to introduce.”

Under Todt, Ferrari soon began winning races again. By 1996, with the arrival of Schumacher, they were on the road back to championship success.

But Todt was quick to point that while Ecclestone played a role in his own arrival at the team, the same wasn’t true in the case of Schumacher’s three years later. Todt got Schumacher’s name on a Ferrari contract in 1995, while he was driving for Benetton, the team run by Ecclestone’s friend Flavio Briatore.

“When Bernie says that he was the one to introduce Schumacher to Ferrari, it’s completely untrue,” said Todt. “I remember we said we must not tell Bernie because he will spread it everywhere.

“The day before announcing that Michael had signed – he did not know we were talking with him – I told him ‘Bernie, tomorrow we are going to announce Michael’.”

With that hiring, Ferrari was on the way to achieving the incredible successes of the Schumacher years, setting the benchmark which today’s team is struggling to measure itself against.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “Todt: Ferrari were in worse shape in 1993 than today”

  1. Great story. My only complain is it just too short.

    1. Yes @ruliemaulana I was ready to keep reading too.

      1. I also want to say a big Thank You for the story. Very interesting!

    2. @ruliemaulana Same. Fascinating. I still have no clue how Todt managed to be so successful and accomplish such a massive turnaround at Ferrari (or even just to be hired), although Ecclestone has said in an interview that part of the reason is that they let Schumacher practically run the team.

      1. Well he imported the Benetton team didn’t he @balue. Add money, Mosley, their own test track, Bridgestone – job done! And it was perfect until Montezemolo just had to introduce another fast driver into the equation.

  2. I’m finding I’m not missing Ferrari at the front. I like watching them against McLaren and Renault and those naughty Pink Panthers :)

    I think it’ll be good for them as well, to rediscover some humility. Then they will be back I’m sure, and more likeable.

  3. Ferrari has the right management in place to bring the team back to the front, Todt believes.

    That’s a political correct frase.
    But lokking at the organisational chaos at Ferrari not really true.
    The recent management changes are only for the show. Nothing really changed or will change.

    1. How can anything change when the fundamental problem is cultural, and everyone in the organisation belongs to the same culture?

      1. The blame culture that produced knee-jerk and safe solutions, without people daring to innovate or think long term, will take time to turn around, and won’t be easy when this is also the MO of the Italian media.

    2. The Michael (@keepfightingmichael)
      19th September 2020, 16:36

      He definitely knows more about Ferrari than any of us here combined. So, I’m going to believe him.

  4. Ferrari haven’t got the right leadership.

    Todt and Brawn would not have behaved as Binotto before and now he is the team principal. The team Todt was part of worked together cooperatively, no leaks of threatened replacement, no whinging about others in the team, they got on with it.

    None of the key team at the time were internal appointments except the Chairman Montezemelo who protected them from the insane politics. Now promotions are internal and the new Chairman said he wants anall-Italian team. But all the successful teams take talent from wherever it comes. An Austrian leading a German team based in the UK and staffed largely by Brits, a British team funded by Arabs and lead by an American and a German, an Austrian/Thai team led by a Brit and based in Milton Keynes (of all places) and so on. And in those teams there are an enormous variety of nationalities.

    Ferrari are in danger of becoming a motorised museum.

    1. Witan, that “Austrian/Thai” team is really just that in name only, given they were buying out an existing team in the UK (the old Jaguar Racing team, which itself was the old Stewart team).

      Besides, there are foreign nationals working at Ferrari in senior roles within the team – their head of aerodynamics, David Sanchez, is a Frenchman who formally worked for McLaren (and, as an aside, is one of a line of foreign nationals to hold that post, with Dirk de Beer and James Allison having come before him), and their sporting director, Laurent Mekies, is also French.

      A number of British staff are also present amongst their performance engineering team too – Jock Clear heads that team, and Damian Brayshaw, up until fairly recently, was also a senior member of that team – which does seem to run counter to the idea that they only want to recruit Italian nationals.

      1. The ownership of Red Bull is as I said and is analogous to the ownership of Mercedes: both ownerships make policy while the professionals run the team.

        The Ferrari President has said he wants a fully Italian team.

        The people you mention do not form a core team as Todt, Brawn, Byrne et al did. They held the Borgia culture at bay. Binotto cannot as he is part of it and got to his position by using it. Nor can any of those other senior people whether Italian or not create that core praetorian team as they need a sympathetic principal who understands the need for it, so there is no sign of the solidarity of that earlier managing group being recreated.

    2. Yes, Dieter touched on this diversity as a recipe for previous success in a recent piece here.

  5. In 1993 they could just spend their way out of trouble though… so the comparison is largely meaningless.

    With regulations being as they are, it’s going to be a long, long time before they’re competitive again.

    1. The Michael (@keepfightingmichael)
      19th September 2020, 16:38

      The only thing the SF1000 really lacks is the power. The chassis was built for a more powerful engine and since the engine doesn’t fall under the budget cap, I’m willing to bet my money that they’ll be back by 2022.

    2. I’m not sure overspending was the key reason why Ferrari solved its problems at the time, it definitely helped but it was definitely not the only factor. If money is what it all took, then why didn’t Toyota succeed in F1?

  6. They were awful then but at a time when Williams was on the rise if not the head of the class.
    Today they are still awful and Williams is gone.
    The misfortune of some becomes the fortune of others.
    Its but part of the cycle of success and not much success like for most who challenge F1.
    The one thing I believe is that Ferrari will return to the top of the heap one day.
    Maybe it’ll be another generation Drivers whose names aren’t know yet who will see that day.

  7. They were awful then but at a time when Williams was on the rise if not the head of the class.
    Today they are still awful and Williams is gone.
    The misfortune of some becomes the fortune of others.
    Its but part of the cycle of success and not much success like for most who challenge F1.
    The one thing I believe is that Ferrari will return to the top of the heap one day.
    Maybe it’ll be another generation Drivers whose names aren’t know yet who will see that day.

  8. This is really an issue of engine regs allowing Mercedes to dominate since 2014, with this year being the result of a settlement with the FIA. Take a hit in 2020 and keep your 2019 wins.

    In 1993 and 1996 when Schumacher arrived Ferrari were shambolic.

    1. David Bondo, are you still insisting that the sport should manipulate the rules to grant Verstappen the WDC that you believe he is entitled to?

      1. I just want to see the rules and regulations changed to nullify Mercedes advantage in the same way the FIA did after Ferrari had an advantage in 2001 and 2002, and then after the 2004.

        Mercedes has had a big advantage since 2014-2020 and soon to be 2014-21 unless wholesale changes are made.

        Bad for the sport.

        Verstappen, Leclerc beat Hamilton all day in equal equipment.

        1. David Bondo, Ferrari was given that advantage in 2001 and 2002 by the FIA introducing rule changes which targeted Ferrari’s rivals (such as the ban on beryllium alloys that hit Mercedes – a very specific ban given that Mercedes was the only manufacturer using beryllium alloys in that period).

          You’re being extremely selective in your claims by only wanting to present a singular narrative that only Ferrari was targeted by rule changes in that period, when in reality there were also a number of rule changes which hindered their rivals or helped Ferrari in that same timeframe.

          The way you are behaving does suggest that it is not out of a sense of altruism that you want “to nullify Mercedes advantage” – indeed, it seems you’d be rather strongly defending said advantage if it was Verstappen who was benefiting from such an advantage.

          1. Beryllium was banned on safety grounds and rightfully so.

          2. David Bondo, the justification at the time to ban the use of beryllium alloys was more on cost grounds than safety, though the alternative alloys that Mercedes and others ended up using were more expensive than the beryllium alloys they had been using. The FIA had initially argued on safety, but later switched to arguing on cost grounds when it accepted that the main risk was if someone was machining a beryllium alloy, which was a risk that could be managed.

            Furthermore, that ban came in after a period in which Ferrari had been aggressively lobbying the FIA to ban beryllium alloys, at a time when it was known Ferrari were unable to produce an engine which could match the bore to stroke ratio of Mercedes and felt they were losing ground to them in terms of engine performance – which was why the FIA’s justification was met with scepticism.

            After all, at the time it was noted that the FIA hadn’t shown any concerns about the use of beryllium-aluminium alloys for other components, particularly in the braking system of cars – there were a number of teams who were happily using aluminium-beryllium alloy brake calipers at the time (including Ferrari), but apparently manufacturing those components was not considered to be a health hazard.

          3. Beryllium is highly toxic. Breathing in fumes or dust leads to lethal disease.

            The FIA was correct in banning it.

        2. David if you are thinking that there are going to be wholesale changes for next year (your comment ‘2014-2021 unless wholesale changes are made’) then that is very strange since we already know little is changing for next year other than floor work to aim at approximately a 10% reduction in downforce due to the issues with the tires, and otherwise the real wholesale changes are coming for 2022.

    2. In the last few years, Mercedes’ advantage is just as much (if not, more so) due to their superior chassis, as it is due to the PU. At the start of this PU era, yes, the top places were dominated by Mercedes-powered cars. Now, not so much. Is the Mercedes PU still the best? Yes, probably, but it clearly isn’t as far ahead as it once was – see: Racing Point & Williams.

      1. Mercedes can run more downforce because of their superior engine.

        1. You do appear to be ignoring the fact that other teams use the same PU. Look, I can apply your argument to them too: Racing Point and Williams can run more downforce because of their superior PU. So why aren’t these guys lining up in positions 3 to 6 every race, and occasionally beating Mercedes, if the Mercedes PU is so superior to all others and the reason for Mercedes’ dominance? It’s because the Mercedes chassis is the best on the grid, by far. I think this is a mistake that several teams are making – they just think “oh, that Mercedes PU is just so good; if our PU was better we’d be competing with them properly”, and missing the fact that actually, it’s their chassis that is the problem – just look at McLaren, for example – they had the Honda PU and blamed everything on that, then got the Renault PU and – shock – it wasn’t the PU that was the problem!

          1. They aren’t getting the works engine.

          2. Yes, they are. There are strict rules on this, and they were toughened up a couple of years ago when there were suspicions that customer teams were not getting access to all engine “modes” that the works teams had access to. The engines that Mercedes supply to customer teams must be the same spec as the works team gets, including all available maps/modes/settings etc.

  9. So if they are in a better position now than 1993, it should take them less than 7-8 years to refind their form. And less than 5-6 to be competitive. Not very comforting.

    Also, when Todt says that he wishes that he found himself in the situation Ferrari is in today rather than the one Ferrari was in in 93… I’d be curious to know how tight the regs were at the time versus now. How much more wiggle room was there for engine development or test time or money to throw at problems. I dare say it is much more difficult now to make up a gap than it was then. I maybe wrong, but that’s how it seems anyway.

    1. The Michael (@keepfightingmichael)
      19th September 2020, 16:45

      Not everything in F1 has to be cyclical, you know. Elkann has been one of the most lenient, if not the most lenient Ferrari boss of all time. He is willing to accept and enforce the reorganisation unlike, say, Montezemolo or Marchionne. That in itself makes Ferrari a much better place to be at now than it was in 1993. They simply don’t have to get through that kind of trouble anymore.

      They already have Rory Bryne working on the 2022 car so it is almost a given that the chassis would be one of the best. They also have one of the best drivers on the grid in Charles Leclerc. They just need to get the engine power back, which they will by 2022.

  10. So in fact Ferrrari’s last indisputably LEGAL win would be Kimi Austin 2018.
    All of 2019 being under grave suspicion of shenanigans that the FIA and the team have sworn to keep secret….

  11. How was 93 worst than 2020 for Ferrari? Sure, they had some podiums and good moments, but currently their 6th and closer to being pasted by toro rosso than overtaking Renault vs 4th in 93 3 podiums, 2 with Alesi in Monaco and Monza, and one in hungary with Senna’s former teammate at Mclaren, Berger. Plus, they had some embarrasing performances at Monza and Spa.

    1. Ferrari were incapable of being competitive in 1993.

      Ferrari in 2020 are not competitive, but obviously some kind of deal has been for 2020 in exchange for keeping their 2019 wins.

      Something along the lines of make sure you don’t win a race in 2020 and we’ll let you keep your 2019 results.

  12. Back then when Ferrari weren’t called noobs just because Jean Todt rebuilt them.
    Now Ferrari are noobs.

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