A Genius Named Todt

Atlas F1

A Genius Named Todt

by Nick Raman, Australia

Although blemished by "that" collision in Jerez to decide the 1997 Formula One World Championship, the form of the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team was somewhat overshadowed by the events that handed the title to Jacques Villeneuve. In fact, the Italian team had a superb year, one of the best since Jody Schekter's championship winning year in 1979. A lot of that success could be attributed to the genius of Michael Schumacher. However, the men behind the scenes play enormously important roles: the engine wizard Paolo Martinelli, the new recruits Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, and the chairman Luca Di Montezemolo. One that stands out though, would have to be the talented phlegmatic Frenchman, Jean Todt. Employed by a troubled team in 1993 to improve form as he did with the Peugeot Talbot Sport Rally team in the eighties, Todt was immediately put in the spotlight to perform and start his "restructuring" of the organisation together with other key members of the team.

Five years ago, Ferrari were not looking good. A disastrous 1992 did little to gauge hopes for 1993. When Gerhard Berger returned from a small stint at McLaren, he was not held back when asked about Ferrariís chances, "We are running out of time". Indeed it was. And, when Todt was ushered into the race team mid 1993, he was faced with an enormous task ahead of him -- firstly to rebuild the race teamís structure (employees) and improve the working environment for the drivers. The changes started to roll in for the 1994 season and things started to look up after a shaky start. Gustav Brunner, an ex March designer and technical wizard, worked on the aerodynamics side of the 412T1. By mid season, he had completely revamped the aero package. It all seemed very efficient and composed, money was hardly ever a problem which meant that John Barnard (Chief Designer) could design in his department in Surrey (UK). On the engine side, Claudio Lombardi made significant increases in the V12 with power. By the end of the 1994 season, the new 043 was putting out a whopping 820hp at 15,800rpm. Thanks to Todt, the newly appointed technical department was brought to a new level of determination and ordered structure.

The welcome surprise arrived mid season when Gerhard Berger drove a storming race from pole position to a superb win, the first in almost four years. The team was delighted. In particular, this brought satisfaction to Todt who had only arrived a year before; the fruits of his work were already starting to ripen.

The following year in 1995, yet more talent was introduced into the technical line up with Giorgio Ascanelli, an ex Mclaren engineer, who was to undertake road and track duties with the Italian team. Todt was behind the decision to take on the new recruit. A higher spirit was present when the season began, everybody was feeling as though better things were to come, especially John Barnard, who had penned the 412T2. This chassis was not only beautiful to look at, but effective in performance -- especially important since radical new regulations were instituted by the FIA in order to increase safety.

One win was attained in the 1995 season as Jean Alesi took his first at the Montreal Circuit in June. Alesi, an emotional man, was overwhelmed with the victory and exclaimed afterwards "the tears were hitting my visor!" At the end of 1995, the team had finished an excellent third in the constructors with Berger and Alesi finishing fifth and sixth in the drivers race respectively. A very good season in the context of the Ferrari revival. Even larger things were expected in 1996 when a certain double world champion named Schumacher was employed for a record salary to fill the final brick in a wall that was first built in 1993 when Jean Todt had arrived.

The late arrival of the F310 chassis meant that the 1996 season began on the wrong foot, but the sheer iron character of Michael Schumacher was unshaken and the German went on with his business of winning and by the time of the Spanish Grand Prix; he had annihilated the opposition in rain soaked conditions to take his first win for Ferrari. Another two wins were to come in Belgium and Italy, with the latter making the Italian "Tifosi" go wild. All of this was achieved in a machine that was inferior to the championship winning Williams Renault FW18. Reliability was poor though, with the gearbox constructed from Carbon Fibre causing many headaches among the Ferrari camp.

The season ended with a good feeling and many insiders were predicting bigger and better things for 1997 when the announcement that Philip Morris (Marlboro) would be significantly increasing their involvement with Ferrari which meant a doubtless huge budget to go with the new employees from Benetton, Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn, both brilliant designers and engineers were whisked up to replace John Barnard who was off to Arrows Yamaha for a different direction after being put under pressure from very senior men at Ferrari.

We have yet to see how good the new chassis designed by Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn is in terms of race form, certainly the appearance of the new F300 is absolutely exquisite but whatever the result, you can attribute the Ferrari revival that has been going on for five years to the sheer aptitude of that little Frenchman: Mr. Jean Todt.

Nick Raman
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