Bobby Rahal Q&A

Although he was announced as Jaguar Racing's new boss at Indianapolis back in September, Bobby Rahal did not officially start work until Friday December 1. The American took the reins in the morning. By lunchtime the team had announced that technical director Gary Anderson had been replaced by former Ferrari and McLaren designer Steve Nichols! Of course the decision had been in the pipeline for some time, but the timing served to emphasise the arrival of the new regime. Just as Anderson took over a car penned under the stewardship of Alan Jenkins in 1999, so Nichols will now preside over the development of a chassis into which he has had no input. But with designer John Russell and new aerodynamicist Mark Handford he forms a strong team that is intended to put Jaguar back on track. Adam Cooper spoke to Rahal about the latest developments

Bobby Rahal Q&A

"It was interesting to say the least!"

"I think what Steve brings is obviously a lot of experience. I think that it's clear that he's been involved in success throughout his career, in the various roles he's taken. He had a lot of success with Ferrari, a lot of success with McLaren. He certainly helped Sauber early on. He also brings a perspective of what are the ingredients that make a winning team. He's been a part of that and observed a lot of that where's he's been. He's a person that can delegate and can empower the people around him, and I think for those reasons he seemed like a very good choice."

"Well, I think so. He may be quiet, but I think he definitely wants to win, in a very understated way. One way you motivate people is by giving them opportunities and allowing them to fulfil their personal goals and their professional goals. I think Steve certainly agrees with that - I think he buys into that whole situation. He's a guy that can motivate his staff that way."

"He's been on various projects with McLaren. I think '96-97 was his last time on the front line so to speak, and he was part of the turnaround at McLaren from the dismal years of '94-95. He was a member of a group that performed that. So I think there is some relevance to where we are, frankly! He's been involved in longer term R&D projects, but nevertheless he's still very much involved in the sport. It's not like he's been sent off to a desert island somewhere without communication."

"It's also brings a perspective as to what they are thinking about for the future. There's certainly a wealth of information that comes with it as well."

"Gary's on vacation currently. I did not speak with Gary, Neil (Ressler) did, but it's my understanding that it was very professional. No one enjoys these days, they're not fun, on either end of the equation. But I think that Gary and all the involved parties have been very professional."

"I kind of saw it from a distance at the end of the year, but certainly Neil and others saw it throughout. I think there was a need of a change in leadership. Racing has changed quite a bit, and certainly I felt that in engineering we wanted a much more aggressive approach. We wanted engineers who wanted to beat the other engineers. I just felt, and Neil felt, that we needed a new urgency, that I did not necessarily see at the time."

"I think what's been overlooked to some degree is the contribution that John Russell is making. I have a great deal of time for him, and I think he's done a very good job. I look at John, Steve and Mark Handford as being the real core strength of the team now for the future. But you're right. The car for 2001 is designed and is being built as we speak, so there's not much that Steve can influence at this stage of the game. But in how we go testing, how we develop in areas that we do look into during testing, I think Steve can have an influence on that, even in the immediate term. I'm not sure how good we were at testing and developing last year, but we have already started way ahead of where we were. We ran the R1B on Friday, which is considerably ahead of where we've been in the past. The whole idea frankly is first and foremost be ready to go the first race, which has been problematic in the past for the team."

"We have asked the two main race engineers to go on garden leave as well. When you're trying to change the culture, you really have to change the leadership. If you want to instil a new motivation, it really comes down to the leadership having to change. The rank and file follows the example and direction that the leadership gives. We just felt that to get the results that we want, as quickly as we wanted, that we just had to make a wholesale change. And I might add that we have two very good young engineers. One has been on the test team and the other's been on the Michelin programme. One of them has come from Williams. There's a lot of real, keen enthusiasm and motivation on their part. I think it's part of the idea of empowering our people to realise their goals. The long term success of this company is going to be based on us growing a real capable workforce, and not having to go outside all the time. The only way you can grow your workforce is to give them opportunities and let them run with them."

"I think that's the end of it. I spoke to Nigel, but it never really got beyond speaking. We have people within in our team that once again, given the opportunity, can step up to the challenge."

"Absolutely. If I had Adrian today it would be a complete waste of Adrian's talents! We don't have the organisation to be able to handle or work with a talent like that. If you want a very successful company you cannot rely on one person. You have to have strength throughout the company. And then when you have the opportunity to bring in 'superstars', quote unquote, then you can take advantage of the talent that they bring. Right now whether it was Adrian or Ross Brawn, or if Michael Schumacher drove for us... there is no magic bullet, no one thing is going to do it. We've just got to get our house in order first before we start thinking about people of that calibre."

"I don't know if there's ever a good time for change. Certainly there are better times than others, and this is probably about as good a time as there is. If it was mid-season, or the middle of the test season, that would be very bad."

"I'm having a meeting with Pierre Dupasquier down in Jerez this week, having briefly met him in Indianapolis. His reputation precedes him. He's a racer, and he's very competitive. Michelin obviously has a tremendous engineering reputation in the tyre business. I think everybody is trying to soft pedal it and understate the potential, and maybe overstate the downside, but I don't think there's a question that there will be some events where we're quite good, and there may be some events where we're struggling. Long term, there's no doubt in my mind that Michelin has what it takes to win."

"Obviously the learning curve is steep still, but by being here now on a consistent basis I think we'll pick it up. I also have a great deal of support from the people within the team, and in particular within the leadership of the team. As I said, no one person can turn this team around; it's going to be everyone. I think more than anything my role is to set the direction, create the goals, and create the environment to allow people to achieve them."

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