De Ferran Returns to Indy with F1

As a young racer competing in Europe, Brazilian Gil de Ferran yearned to be a Formula One driver

De Ferran Returns to Indy with F1

He never did make it. Instead he collected two CART championships in America and won the Indy 500 in 2003 before hanging up his helmet.

This weekend he is back at the Brickyard in search of more success -- this time for the U.S. Grand Prix with the same Formula One circus that he wanted so much to join all those years ago.

Now sporting director of Honda-backed BAR, the affable Brazilian got there in the end and even if he did have to wait until his driving days were over he says he has no regrets.

"I did not finish my career with a sense of unfinished business or bitter about anything that happened," he told Reuters in an interview.

"At the end of 2003 when I crossed the finish line, my overwhelming feeling was 'You know, I had a great time.' I finished happy. I was a happy man.

"I moved to England (as a young racer) with the clear objective that I wanted to be a Formula One driver. I ended up on a totally different path. My life took me a completely different way.

"But when I got to the end of the road I looked back and said 'Hey, not too bad.'"

Tough Baptism

Even if Sunday's race is not on the same scale as the Indy 500, the world's largest one-day sporting event with 250,000 permanent seats and a crowd well in excess of that, De Ferran still has his work cut out.

BAR, the revelation of last year when they finished runners-up to champions Ferrari, have yet to score a point with almost half the season behind them.

Along the way they have had their cars disqualified, been accused of cheating, were suspended for two races including the glamour Monaco Grand Prix and have three times suffered double retirements.

De Ferran arrived before the San Marino Grand Prix debacle in April with a brief to oversee the team at race weekends, leaving overall management to Nick Fry and allowing technical director Geoff Willis to focus on engineering and design.

It has been a baptism of fire but he is relishing the task all the same.

"For me this is very much the start of a new phase of my life," he said. "I stopped driving at 35 not because I wanted to go on a 30 or 40-year holiday. I stopped because I wanted to do something else.

"I wanted to find another mountain to climb, I wanted a different challenge in my life and this is a very big challenge and a huge mountain to climb.

"My role as a sporting director is purely to focus on competition and when you are not competing it's hard to do that," he said.

"For the last few weeks just racing and thinking about performance related items has been very difficult. Intellectually, it's been a very challenging time."

Motivational Skills

Although he never raced in Formula One, De Ferran says his experience as a winner and champion has stood him in good stead in his new job.

"What we know Gil can do is to get the best out of the racing team, the race engineers and the drivers by enhancing their teamwork and motivation," said Fry after De Ferran's appointment was announced.

He may not have raced a Formula One car himself but the Brazilian, who is also a qualified engineer and took up television commentating after he retired, knows what it takes to be successful.

"I felt that one of my attributes as a driver was having the ability to focus on exactly what was important and what I wanted to accomplish," he said.

"My mindset in my new position is not that different. Having the ability to cut everything out and down to the essentials that actually improve performance.

"Having that focus, a very strong focus, really helps you when you are going through difficult times," he said.

"A key ingredient of the makeup of a successful driver is knowing which buttons to push that will have the biggest influence on performance and not get caught up with different things.

"Dealing with disappointment is a staple diet of any sportsman ... and learning how to turn the page and deal with it is something I had to do a lot."

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Series Formula 1
Author Alan Baldwin
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