Iím somewhat of a skeptic by nature. Mention UFOs or crop circles and automatically you will earn a somewhat doubting look from my face. Traditionally, the biggest myth of them all has been the re-emergence of Ferrari as a World Championship force.
Despite Prostís valiant effort in 1990 which nearly succeeded in reaching the very top and snatching both world crowns from Senna and McLaren, Ferrari were unable to build on their achievement and collapsed in 1991 finishing 3rd in the constructor with a meager total of 55.5 points, nearly 70 points down on Williams-Renault, who were second place in the championship. Prost suffered the indignity of being fired from Ferrari for his criticism concerning the way the team was run. Ferrari clearly had no desire to hold on to their biggest asset.
In 1992, Ferrari stooped to a new low: 4th place with only a hand full of points, 70 points less than Benetton and only beating Team Lotus by 8. Ferrari were rightly claiming their place as the laughing stock of Formula 1. Despite their huge budget and resources, Ferrari were labeled by some as the "worlds biggest Formula Ford team". A complete lack of technology and professionalism had brought Ferrari to the brink.
In 1993, Ferrari decided if it could not develop the technology, it had better buy it. Over the next two years, ex-Peugeot sporting director Jean Todt, former Ferrari World Champion Niki Lauda, Honda engine genius Osamu Goto, design ace John Banard, and more recently: double World Champion Michael Schumacher, have all been recruited with the aim of bringing Ferrari back to the very top of F1.
Gradually, Ferrariís fortune did change with Gerhard Bergerís win at Hockenheimring in 1994, and Jean Alesiís (lucky) win in 1995. 1996 saw the signing of Michael Schumacher to complete the package that Ferrari have claimed will bring World Championship success in 1997. Ferrari in 1996 have not exactly set the world alight, as examining the record books shows. In 1995, up to Silverstone, Ferrari had 49 points and were 2nd in the Constructors championship, ahead of Williams-Renault. This year Ferrari has 35 total points, and is 3rd.
Ferrariís achilles heel as always has been reliability. The troublesome F310 has not finished a race since Spain, and the only race this year where both Ferraris have managed to finish was Imola. Suprisingly, Ferrari still managed 3 poles. While being encouraging, it is explainable only by the abilities of Michael Schumacher. I still do believe Ferrari is no further on than last year in terms of ability to challenge for the World Championship.
How so you ask? Benetton has been the troubled team this year. A major design flaw leading to a disrupted air flow into the airbox has cost the Renault V10 power and, therefore, the B196 speed. Alesi and Berger have been criticized quite hard for Benettonís pace, but they are not deserving of such attention. Ferrari have largely benefited from the drop in pace of Benetton, and not by any net gain of their own. After all, Ferrariís did make the grid ahead of Williams a couple of times last year, but died off soon in the race.
Unsurprisingly, Ferrari politics have been all too visible. Many calls for Todt to except responsibility for the failures have surfaced. Thes are mostly without merit. Todt seems to have great support from Schumacher who has been quick to defend him in times of trouble. Todt himself said after the latest events: "I feel very sorry for every member of the team because they are all good people, and, I also feel sorry for our fans. But to draw conclusions after these terrible six weeks does not seem right to me. We were competitive in the first few races and I am sure that we will be even more so again for the rest of the season. Only then, at the end of the year we can assess our performance."
Todt does seem sure that Ferrari can sort themselves out. And, I firmly believe his organizational skills have got Ferrari this far. Firing him at this stage of the game would be a mistake. Ferrari needs to look hard and learn from these mistakes, and not retaliate internally. If they are smart enough to realise this, than maybe one day they will make it.
All the attention has not just been on Todt, but also on Schumacher and his immediate plans. Brundle has perhaps put it best: "If he wins, Schumacher has done it. If he fails, itís Ferrariís fault. The $25 million is certainly worth two seasons of lower performance, and at the end of it, he will still be a young man..."