By Ann Bradshaw, England
Autosport-Atlas Special Columnist
In this week's column, Ann Bradshaw reviews the job requirements of becoming an F1 Sporting Director and recalls the good old times in the Italian countryside
I used to think that when I came back in my next life I would like to be a dog. I would do very little all day except have the odd spot of exercise, sleep and eat. Meanwhile my human owner would love, pamper and reward me with a perfect life. However, I have now changed my mind as in the next life I want to be a Formula One Sporting Director - whatever that entails!
A couple of years ago Jaguar Racing gave this title a bad name as there were more Sporting Directors in and out of their premises than there were Football Managers in and out of the worst British Premier League clubs. However, things have changed and thanks to the likes of Red Bull's Christian Horner, Jordan's Trevor Carlin and now BAR's Gil de Ferran, this is a job that is not only high powered but, from an outsider's point of view, seems quite easy!
Just look at the achievements of these three men this year. Starting with the least successful, Trevor Carlin. Trevor has the job of building up the Jordan team into a winner again. The team have won in the past and he has now brought in the first Indian Formula One driver, Narain Karthikeyan, and if you listen to most people this seems to have been a stroke of genius. The driver is good and has taped into a market that is one of the most lucrative that has not been explored. The cars are still not quick, but Rome was not built in a day.
Then you have Christian Horner. He runs the extremely successful Arden International who have a handful of championships from their Formula 3000 days, have the first GP2 series victory and have just won the contract to run Team Great Britain in the A1 Grand Prix championship. I heard mutterings when he was appointed Red Bull Racing's Sporting Director about how he was not the man for the job - although no one could give me a good reason for this. However, he got the cars up into the points, re-ignited the career of David Coulthard and introduced the exuberant Vitantonio Liuzzi to Formula One.
As if that was not enough he then pulls off the coup of the year and does a deal for the team to run Ferrari engines next year. Talk about the right timing for such a deal. His team will not have any 'last year' hand me downs, as in 2006 the teams will have to run new V8 engines and so there will be no 'old' ones to throw in the direction of Milton Keynes.
While these two men have had a few months to make their difference felt, Gil de Ferran's tenure in the job has been a few days, and in those few days we have seen one of the most remarkable about turns in the team's history. The BAR points score was nil going into Imola. Coming out they have ten, just two behind Red Bull, and a very happy driver in Jenson Button - pending the FIA appeal next week.
I watched an interview with Gil trying to explain what his job was, and I can't say I was much wiser as to exactly how you would write up a Sporting Director's job description if you were going to place an ad in the back pages of Autosport. However, I liked his recent comment in the magazine: "My first task is to work with Button and to get to know him better." I reckon as a PR person I could perhaps fulfil that criteria. However, I am sure it has not been as simple as that and I can only applaud my mate Gil, who has done in less than two weeks what the rest of the team could not do in four months - put a smile on Jenson's face and try to banish the memories of the debacle about who he drives for in 2005. Although I do suspect the work done by Geoff Willis and his technical team might also had a part to play in this!
I met Gil in the late eighties when he was driving for Paul Stewart Racing in Formula Vauxhall Lotus. I liked him from the moment I chatted to him in the kitchen of a house he shared with some fellow PSR employees on a Milton Keynes housing estate. He has carved himself a very successful career in the United States and married Angela Buckland, who, while still at school, used to be one of my runners at the British Grand Prix. He has now uprooted his wife, whose family also happens to have founded Motorsport, Motorsport News and LAT Photographic, and she is no doubt trying to come to terms with swapping sunny Florida for a house near Brackley.
On the subject of houses, I reckon I could easily live in the new three story Red Bull complex that is the team's home at Formula One races. I wrote my first story for Atlas F1 after the 2002 Imola Grand Prix and the subject then was the new McLaren structure in the paddock. Ron had set new standards and the days of the simple 'motorhome' were surely numbered. While I just had to watch the cameras given a guided tour of the amazing Red Bull facility by Vitantonio Liuzzi, I was under no illusion that things have moved on even more in the last three years. There was a disco feel to it and even the shower had lights that he explained turned from red to blue. The Italian also proudly explained that there would be parties there and, having seen the way Red Bull is marketed, I cannot doubt that.
Before the first round of our Formula BMW UK Championship race meeting in Donington earlier in April, I would have most probably passed Vitantonio in the street and had no idea who he was. However, I now know who he is and am impressed. He had a weekend off, was coming to the UK and decided he would have a look at a race meeting. He was friendly, funny and genuinely interested in what my youngsters were doing. This coming weekend Mark Webber is coming on a similar private visit. He may be a little more aligned to the series, and his bosses Frank Williams and Mario Theissen from the BMW Williams team may be there, but there is no three lined whip making him come. He wants to see what the up and coming drivers are doing and for those of us working in the lower formulae this is a great bonus.
Anyway, back to Imola, a track I love but sadly will always be remembered for the wrong reasons. I may have had my darkest day in motorsport there, but I have also had some great times. In my years in the sport I have stayed in some grand and not so grand hotels. I still consider La Pergola, in a small village called Fontanelice just up the Firenze road from Imola, as one of the best, despite coming in the not so grand category. This small establishment run by Rosa and her husband Leo was a home from home for me for my annual visits to Imola in the late eighties and early nineties. They had a handful of rooms and a regular clientele for the race that included such motorsport luminaries as Professir Sid Watkins, Nigel Roebuck, Alan Henry and Denis Jenkinson.
The rooms were basic with iron bedsteads and showers that flooded the entire bathroom floor. But we all still kept going back as the ambience was unique and the food to die for. We had a language problem as neither Rosa nor Leo spoke a word of English and between us I don't think there were more than a dozen words of Italian. It was also a bit like being at school as there were refectory type tables in the dining room, and as you came down to dinner each night you just sat down at the first available chair and accepted the food that was put in front of you. There were no menus, but you didn't need one as you knew the pasta was going to be cooked al dente, the wine was going to be from the area and superb and the chef, grandma, would come out of the kitchen so we could all thank her at the end of the meal.
We were a small select group and often the conversation was lively. I still remember crying with laughter as Alan Henry recited whole passages from a book he had just written with a well known motorsport personality. It was a serious book, but Alan's rendition, doing an amazing imitation of the said personality's accent, was side splitting. Strangely though to this day AH cannot remember anything of the evening past the first bottle of wine.
Denis Jenkinson was a much revered motorsport journalist, but could be a tad touchy. I remember evenings when, following a row with one of the other journalists, he would refuse to take part in the proceedings. On these occasions he would bring a copy of a magazine to the table and hold it up in front of his face when not eating, so he did not have to talk to us. The journalists were not the only people he would fall out with. On one memorable occasion the conversation got on to the fact that when he died he wanted to be thrown in a ditch to decompose, and did not want all the fuss of a funeral. A bit of a strange conversation, but I remember taking him to task at some time during the evening and being told in no uncertain tones that I was a fish wife. AH could remember this and still reminds me of it on a regular basis!
Prof Watkins was also an amazing dinner companion. He amused us with stories including those of hospitals stitching up patients after operations with various implements and other objects inside them. Sadly he had to eventually move out of the hotel to one with more user friendly forms of communications. This was before the days of mobiles, and the only telephone in the whole hotel was in reception. However, I did learn a lot listening to him use this to give his colleagues back in London invaluable information on performing brain surgery!
The world has moved on since then. We have all got older and gone in different directions, but having watched the Grand Prix on Sunday I am glad one thing is back - racing. I am sure I am not the only person who literally can't wait to watch Barcelona.