Feature: Todt Marks 10 Years at Ferrari

Jean Todt joined Ferrari a decade ago and has never looked back.

Feature: Todt Marks 10 Years at Ferrari

Jean Todt joined Ferrari a decade ago and has never looked back.

The Frenchman does not intend to dwell on the past for some time to come either, despite having plenty to be proud of since he took over as team boss on July 1 1993.

"I don't have a lot of time to look back," Todt said, thinking ahead to Sunday's French Grand Prix at Magny Cours - the circuit where he made his Ferrari debut. "I will leave that for a few years. At the moment we are focused on each race, the Championship and all that."

The Formula One champions lead both title races but were feared by few when Todt took the helm.

Fourth in 1992 with a meagre 21 points, the team that every Italian mechanic and driver dreams of joining had not won a race or been on pole since 1990. They had not won a title for 9 years.

"Crisis is almost the normal state at Ferrari," Alain Prost had declared when he left in 1991.

Austrian Gerhard Berger, signed by Enzo Ferrari in 1986, wondered what he had let himself in for when he returned at the start of 1993. But Todt offered hope.

"After a very short period of time I could see that the guy was going to turn the team around," said Berger in Germany last weekend.

"He had a big talent to calm the whole situation down, to try to get rid of the politics, to give the people confidence and bring the right people into the team. I would say he was the major guy changing around Ferrari, no question."

Great Job

Todt's task was to bring back the glory years and restore order from chaos. A decade on, Ferrari are heading for their fifth constructors' title in a row and Michael Schumacher, on the verge of his 50th Ferrari win, is on course for a record sixth drivers' crown.

"We've done a great job, it's a great team. That's why we are all still together," said Todt, whose contract runs to the end of 2006, along with Schumacher's and those of other key men.

"I felt sometimes that it could not work but never that it was not the job for me.

"I thought at times we will never achieve what we wanted but never that it was not what I wanted to do," said the former rally co-driver, who joined from Peugeot after the French carmaker decided against running an F1 team.

"The harder the challenge, the more rewarding it is and the more you remember when you go behind."

The early years were hard, with no wins in 1993 and just one in both 1994 and 1995.

The Italian press kept their knives sharpened and it was only when Schumacher, twice a World Champion with Benetton, joined at the end of 1995 that matters improved.

Technical director Ross Brawn joined in December 1996 from Benetton with South African designer Rory Byrne. Schumacher had no doubt about Todt's role.

"I think Ferrari, in the past, have been the most political team and everybody feared to be in a position like Jean Todt's, to be a driver for Ferrari, to work even for Ferrari, because you weren't sure how long you would stay there," he said.

"Now you see Jean Todt has been there for 10 years, I am there for seven years and so many other high-level people, mechanics and everybody.

Building Blocks

"We have achieved stability and stability has come from Jean because he has certainly hired the right people, made them stronger and made them happy to stay on and keep on fighting, pushing, keep on being motivated.

"That is an outstanding achievement."

The "Napoleon of the pitlane" has put the building blocks in place and could afford to relax. But he will not. Todt, 57, is one of the most committed of competitors.

"He preceded Michael, Ross and Rory and clearly put that act together," said rival team chief Frank Williams. "And he must take a great deal of credit. He works very, very hard. He takes his role seriously, he just works and thinks and thinks and works."

McLaren's Ron Dennis, who has been in Formula One since the 1960s, gave a mixed verdict.

"The thing that is very easy to notice is how many non-Italians work in the team. I don't mean that as a derogatory remark against Italians," said Dennis.

"It's more that he quickly understood that to be the best you have to have the best of anything, regardless of culture, nationality or, in some instances, money."

Dennis said that Todt had probably the largest budget in Formula One. While he had done a good job with it, "it took him a while to get there.

"I'm not a great believer in the concept of dream teams or anything like that but I am a great believer in competence," added Dennis.

"He has surrounded himself with competence and he has dedicated his life to Ferrari, probably to the detriment of his private life and maybe his other interests."

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