Jean Todt: "I was told that Ferrari was an absolutely impossible challenge" – Eurosport – FRANCE (FR)

I believe you met Enzo Ferrari in the sixties. An inevitably striking meeting …

Jean TODT: I have physically met Enzo Ferrari twice in my life. The first time, I think, was around 1968. I had accompanied my friend Jean Guichet to Maranello, with whom I did rallies, and who was a prototype sport driver for Ferrari. That evening, I had dinner with Mike Parkes, Ferrari's technical director. Jean Guichet was an elegant man, a handsome boy, often surrounded by pretty women, and Enzo Ferrari had expressed his astonishment at seeing him accompanied by me, whereas usually he had a perhaps more attractive accompaniment (amused smile).

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My second meeting was, I believe, in the years 1984-1985 when, at the time, I was at Peugeot, in the World Championship with the Peugeot 205. I was asked to write a book retracing this epic, and a preface was needed. And for me, the obvious person to write it was Enzo Ferrari. I had spoken about it with Marco Piccinini, the sporting director of Ferrari in Formula 1, who had spoken about it himself to Enzo Ferrari. He had agreed to receive me, and I had gone to Maranello a second time. There, it was I who was his direct contact and we had lunch on the track in Fiorano. He had made this preface, in which he said he knew Peugeot above all for the quality of its pepper mills.

The third time I went to Maranello was after being appointed boss of Ferrari Sports Management in July 1993. At that time Enzo Ferrari was no longer there. He died in 1988.

Enzo Ferrari in his office in Maranello, 1966

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When Luca di Montezemolo offers you the job, the Scuderia is a fairly unstable team, the press has a harmful role, there is a lot of passion, the tifosi are intrusive … You are not used to dealing with that …

J. T .: My first meeting with Luca di Montezemolo was in August 1992, at his home in his property near Bologna, at his request. He told me about this possibility. For me it was a surprise, an honor also to be considered for this job, also a responsibility. And a question mark because I was in an automotive group where everything was going well for me, and I was questioning this balance, in question. It was not an easy reflection, especially when I was told that it was an absolutely impossible challenge, that it would not work for all the reasons you have just mentioned. Nevertheless, after much thought, both from Ferrari and mine, I believe that around March 1993 we decided to do business.

I had prepared myself for a more chaotic challenge, with a goal of resisting for at least two years. History has made, although there was often debate and moments of doubts and great tensions, that I arrived at Ferrari on July 1, 1993. I had asked to be able to be released from my functions in 2005, and I was convinced that I could stay. And then, in 2008, for me the time was over, they had to find someone else. I was asked to stay another year to help set up the new organization. I left Ferrari on April 1, 2009. It's been a long presence.

In 1994, it is your first victory, after more than four years of waiting for Ferrari… A relief?

J.T .: She works in Hockenheim with Gerhard Berger, a year after my arrival. In 1995, Jean Alesi won in Canada, and it was again our only victory. In 1996, Michael (Schumacher) arrived with Eddie Irvine and we won three Grands Prix. Things are starting to improve, but not up to expectations.

Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) at the German Grand Prix 1994

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Your task is colossal: you are the first foreign director of sports management, which the press does not perceive well … You are obliged to reform deeply by launching gigantic projects: a new wind tunnel, rebuilding an electronic department, launching comparative studies between V8, V10 and V12. It's almost scary …

J.T .: You say we had to redo the Electronics department, no. It was larger: everything had to be redone! There was also no wind tunnel! At the time, we had a few hours in England, and that made things extremely difficult, because each time we had to adapt the wind tunnel to the model (of the car). In Maranello, we had a very small wind tunnel, which we repaired. It was practically necessary to take stock of the situation and then put in place a fundamentally new structure.

What hadn't changed much were the mechanics, the Italian technicians in Maranello. The design part was in England, under the responsibility of John Barnard. There was a big contradiction with what was happening in Maranello with the engine team: the chassis was studied, designed in England. There was too little contact. And often, when there was a responsibility, the engine people said it came from the chassis, and vice versa. All that had to be modified, improved.

When do you think Michael Schumacher is the right driver for you?

J.T .: When I joined Ferrari, we had two drivers under contract, until the end of 1995: Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi. From September-October 1993, I began to see which pilots could in the medium term be likely to come. Not only did the engine and chassis people hand over responsibility to each other, but others said: "We don't have the pilots." So I said we had to try to find a reference driver, so that we don't say it's because of the driver. So the first one I spoke with was Ayrton Senna. He would have been ready to come to Ferrari as early as 1994, but I let him know that was not possible because we had drivers under contract. He didn't want to wait. He went to Williams, and unfortunately it ended in a dramatic way because he killed himself at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola.

As a result, Michael became the benchmark pilot. When I started chatting with him in 1995, he had just been world champion in 1994 and he had a chance to be that year. His choice was not debatable and in August 1995 we made an agreement so that he could join the Scuderia in 1996.

Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) at the 1996 German Grand Prix

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When he arrives, he's already a very mature pilot …

J.T .: It's not really a surprise. We knew he was an extremely complete pilot, extremely hardworking, extremely demanding, a perfectionist, and an obsessive detailer. It was also a responsibility to take someone like him at a time when the team was undergoing restructuring. And we knew that we were not yet able to give him the machine that would allow him to be world champion. But we were on an upward curve and we knew it was going to take time, even though there was a constant and growing impatience.

It was part of this period of reconstruction when we decided to repatriate everything to Maranello, and to close the structure in England. As John Barnard did not want to come to Maranello, I had to find other engineers. This is where I spoke, independently, with two engineers who worked on the same team as Michael (Benetton), Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne. Besides that, we started to strengthen the engine team in Maranello.

When do you realize you have the team you were hoping for?

J.T.: In 1997. We lost the World Drivers' Championship in the last race, with the famous unfortunate collision between Villeneuve-Schumacher. In 1998, we won 5-6 Grands Prix and we were in a fight with Mika Häkkinen until the last race. In 1999, rebel, not with Williams but McLaren. We have a good car but Michael has an accident following a mechanical breakdown in the warm-up lap at Silverstone which means he loses all chance of fighting for the title. Eddie Irvine then becomes the leader of the team. He loses the title in the last race. Michael could have let him pass but he would have lost the title in the number of victories in favor of Mika Häkkinen. Fortunately, we reclaim the world constructors title.

Things got better in 2000 but it was not won. I remember telling the team: we have to win all the Grands Prix, otherwise we won't be world champions! At Suzuka, Michael pocketed the title that Ferrari had not obtained since 1979.

Jean Todt quotI was told that Ferrari was an absolutely - Jean Todt: "I was told that Ferrari was an absolutely impossible challenge" - Eurosport - FRANCE (FR)

Did you still have your little box in your pocket?

J.T .: I still have it! By nature, one can be superstitious and I like to have wood on hand. She did not win or lose championships. When you have ideas running around in your head, you like to touch wood and tell yourself that it will defy bad luck. In absolute terms, that's not it: if we win, it's because we do the work to win. And if we lose, it's because we didn't. There is a reason all the time. To achieve success is to manage to accumulate everything, but it was very difficult in an explosive environment. It took time but the fact that everyone remained united, especially in difficult times, made that little by little we managed to set up this machine which was going to work perfectly.

You pulled off spectacular strategic moves in Hungary in 1998 and France in 2004, adding a stoppage to Michael's strategy. These feats of strength, we had the feeling that only Michael could accomplish them …

J.T .: No, things are simpler than that: it was teamwork, good simulation, good vision, good decisions. It was the time of refueling and it gave a number of additional possibilities to be a little more creative. This creativity, the knowledge of the racing world, the determination of Michael Schumacher, the mechanics, the engineers, everyone together, made us succeed in winning sustainably from 2000 to 2004. In 2005, it was the same team but we didn't win because we didn't make a good car.

In 2004, Ferrari won 11 of the first 12 Grands Prix. We have a feeling of perfection. You too ?

J.T .: Perfection, you never reach it. We can always get closer. I like this saying that "only the mediocre have reached their maximum". It means that there is always room. What was quite extraordinary, difficult to repeat, is that Michael Schumacher was world champion in 2002 (July 21) at Magny-Cours, at the French Grand Prix, and Ferrari two Grands Prix later in Hungary.

Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) at the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix

Credit: Getty Images

How did you see Michael Schumacher evolving at Ferrari?

J.T .: He's probably evolved more in a personal way, as a man. He was someone who was extremely shy, reserved, interested in his team. I think he has achieved a tremendous degree of authority, leadership, professionalism. And then he got interested in other things. He had a vocation to start wanting to give in other fields which were those of motor racing. It took on another dimension.

Patron of the Scuderia, you wanted to do something outside of sport. You carried out this project with the ICM in the company of other eminent personalities in their fields.

J.T .: I hired Michael in two-three other areas outside of Formula 1. I once told him about the Brain and Spinal Cord Institute (ICM), now based at La Salpêtrière. We have 25,000 square meters, a research center, around 700 researchers. We needed private funds and he immediately showed interest in helping us and participating in the promotion of this institute. He is also committed to road safety to be one of our ambassadors. He very quickly spoke of this scourge which kills 1.4 million people per year on the roads, the number 1 cause of death for young people between 5 and 29 years old, which renders approximately 50 million people disabled worldwide.

Ferrari has sometimes threatened to quit Formula 1. As President of the FIA, do you take special care that Scuderia is still in Formula 1 for a long time to come?

J.T .: Ferrari is a legendary name in racing and in the automotive industry, with cars that will keep people dreaming for many years to come. It is the most successful team in Formula 1. They are the only decision makers. It is the prestigious automobile brand most closely linked to motor racing and Formula 1. It's great for Formula 1 to have the participation of a team like Ferrari and it's great for a team like Ferrari to be able to participate in the Formula 1 World Championship.

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