Ferrari Asking For More
January 21, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
With drivers Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Eddie Irvine and short-term sub Mika Salo in the cockpit of the red machines since the 1999 season, the team has collected 477 points, 25 wins, 50 podiums, 24 poles, three constructor’s championships and two world championships.
Ferrari is, for lack of a better analogy, the New York Yankees of F-1 racing. Not even open-wheel teamowners Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi can brag about putting up such numbers. And here’s the scary part – the team has no interest in slowing down even as it sees the competition improve rapidly.
“The team is totally motivated,” said Ferrari Sporting Director Jean Todt. “We want to continue winning, just as we have done over the past few years, even though we know it will be very difficult.”
As teams struggle to find the edge over Ferrari, they are limited by technical advances, as the ‘Big Red Machine’ has the top engineers in the sport. But one major difference may be tires. Many of Ferrari's top competitors, including McLaren and Williams, are using Michelin tires. Ferrari has opted to stay with Bridgestones.
“We have to work on tire development for Bridgestone and so we have a lot more kilometers to run, which is why we opted to strengthen the test team,” Todt said. “It's obvious that, as the only top team running on Bridgestone, it will be down to us to chose the right direction to go in. Michelin, on the other hand, will have to make a choice and that could be a problem that Bridgestone will not have to face.
“At the same time, we have no benchmark to compare ourselves with and this could be a negative factor. But it will be an interesting fight for everyone.”
Looking at the 2001 results, it was clear there were three top teams standing out above the fold: Ferrari, McLaren, and Williams. Todt is also wary of teams like Renault, BAR, Jordan and Jaguar, which could have a breakout race any given weekend.
“It is difficult to say right now, because we do not know the performance levels of the new cars,” Todt said. “It might well happen that a team, which was not at the top in 2001, turns out to be a title contender. Last year it was Williams-BMW which made the most progress, and I think this team will stay at the top. One can also expect a lot from other teams, like McLaren-Mercedes. We will have to wait until qualifying in Melbourne to get a clear picture of the pecking order.”
One of the biggest theories outsiders have about F-1 racing is all about the car, and Ferrari is simply the best machine in the business, but as Todt is quick to point out, it doesn’t hurt to have the man many consider to be the greatest driver ever on your team.
“It's great to know that Schumacher is so attached to Ferrari,” he said. “The fact that he is comfortable with the team reinforces the desire for stability, which has allowed us to get these great results over the past few years. More important than that is the motivation. You can have that in Formula One even at the age of 40, but you also need to be in good physical shape. If at 40, Schumacher still had the same will to win and fitness, Ferrari would be happy to keep him on. Barrichello has done a good job for the team. Being Michael's teammate is not easy, and Rubens is one of the ones who has coped with it the best. Rubens gets the same car and the same treatment and we will try and do even better with him in 2002.
“But as usual, it will be the stopwatch which will decide which driver does best. Rubens has the whole season ahead of him to show what he is worth it and I am sure that he will give even more to Ferrari.”
Schumacher, 33, is signed with Ferrari through the 2004 season, but Barrichello’s contract is up following this season. That has left some racing pundits and prognosticators to wonder what the team will do next to stay on top?
Despite the uncertainty of the future for Ferrari, Todt makes one thing clear – Juan Pablo Montoya is not necessarily in it.
“I am immune to all these stories, as I heard so many over the years,” said Todt, referring to the spread of rumors that Ferrari was eyeing the Williams driver. “The important thing is the truth: Montoya is a great driver, with great results in Formula 3000 and in the CART championship. He also had a good first season in Formula One with the Williams. He has a lot of potential, but that does not mean we have been in touch with him. We have never contacted him, either directly or indirectly.
“Who knows what can happen before 2004? None of us knows and I don't like speculating about these things. If I am still working in Formula One, I am sure it will be with Ferrari, if they still want me. In the meantime, we will try to win races and titles.”
After so much success, how does Ferrari stay motivated?
That burning desire for more. More poles, more podiums, more points, more wins. Oh, and more titles, too.