Organising the Italia ’90 World Cup is one thing, but to return the glory days to Ferrari would truly be an Olympian feat. Luca di Montezemolo is now in sight of achieving that objective for the second time.
Chief engineer when the Prancing Horse dug itself out of a slump over 20 years ago, commencing a run that would culminate in two World Championships for Niki Lauda, Montezemolo is now the President leading the quest for Ferrari’s first title in 15 long seasons.
“Everybody is always asking, ‘When will you win the World Championship?” he laughs. “That is our final objective, and we are making progress every day, but I still think we have only done 70 per cent of our work. Now we need the last 30 per cent, which is of course the most difficult.”
Difficult maybe, but, with his men leading the Constructors’ series four races into the championship, not impossible.
Gerhard Berger still remembers the sinking feeling the day he first tested for the team upon returning there from McLaren in 1993: “It was a complete disaster, and l was really shocked when I ran in Estoril. We were seven seconds off the pace!”
At that stage you only required two Ferrari personnel to get three different opinions, and Berger says Montezemolo has been instrumental in facilitating the revival. “It was clear that the strategy from the beginning was to change the personnel part of the team, to get into a consistent way of working and, fortunately, have less politics. The appointment of Jean Todt was in many ways the key to it. We have always had a few good people, but collecting them together has always been impossible because of the political reasons. Todt is able to deal with it. He is quite straightforward.”
With the correct technical structure in place, the team also looks to have the right car in the shape of John Barnard’s 412 T2, which is a significant improvement upon its high-nosed predecessor.
Last year Ferrari struggled on two fronts, trying to extract performance from its V12 engine at the same time as improving its reliability. The result was a string of race performances as disappointing as the qualifying sessions had been promising Twelve months on, with the team sensing it has a genuine chance of honours, some of the showmanship has disappeared. That Jean Alesi’s engine failure in Barcelona registered the team’s first retirement of 1995 suggests it no longer has to gamble on running in such marginal fashion.
With Berger third in all but one race to date, and only that solitary failure robbing his team-mate of a trio of runner-up spots Williams and Benetton are right to look over their shoulders.
“We have made progress, because we were quick in Barcelona on a kind of circuit that isn’t too good for our engine, but there is no reason to dream,” warns the Austrian “At the moment we can be quick in qualifying but we are still struggling in the race. I still believe we need another two months to be very competitive. I know what’s coming, and from Canada onwards we should be level with the top guys.”
“If we can win three or four races this year, then I would be happy,” suggests Lauda. “We need to prove that we are climbing the hill.”
“It’s a year of improvement for sure,” agrees Todt, “but I’m not able to tell you whether this is the year…”