Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, July 24, 1999

For Ferrari Racing Chief, Winning Is Convincing

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - Jean Todt, the diminutive Frenchman who runs the biggest Italian racing team, has spent his life trying to convince people, which he considers a form of winning.

''I like to convince people,'' Todt said in an interview in Ferrari's motor home before Michael Schumacher's accident knocked the driver from the championship for the next two to three months, ''whether it be to convince a sponsor to come or a driver to race for us. When one likes to win, one likes to convince. To convince is to win.''

If that is so, Todt will have to do a lot of convincing as Formula One enters the second half of its season with the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg on Sunday. Ferrari is two points ahead of McLaren in the constructor's championship but lost its leading driver at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago.

The team has not won a constructor's title since 1983, and its hopes for its first drivers' title since 1979 now lie with Eddie Irvine. The driver from Northern Ireland is second, eight points behind Mika Hakkinen of Finland. Todt hired another Finnish driver, Mika Salo, last week to replace Schumacher. But if Schumacher usually gets the credit for Ferrari's revival, the German passes it on to Todt, the sporting director hired in 1993.

Todt's career in convincing goes back to when as a teenager he had to convince his father, a doctor outside Paris, that he was not going to be a doctor, a lawyer or an architect. His passion was cars, and he told his father he would be ''a great champion.''

He quit business school and at 20 became a co-driver in rallying in 1966. Co-drivers direct the driver by reading out map coordinates and navigation notes, and Todt found he was a good director. But he soon concluded he would not be a great driver. His ambition became to create a racing team at a major automobile manufacturer.

''I decided that the years that I spent as a co-driver in rallying would be my true education,'' he said. ''It was going to teach me about automobiles, and it would allow me to move internationally and to associate with foreign companies such as Ford, BMW and the Japanese.'' He decided beforehand that the education would end by the age of 35. So in 1981 he quit working as a co-driver, and was hired by Peugeot to create a racing department.

''It went very well,'' he said with typical understatement. ''We won everything we raced in.'' In 1982 he created Peugeot Talbot Sport, with a staff of 220, and developed the 205 Turbo, which won the world rally championship in 1985 and 1986. Later his cars won several rally-raids, including the Paris-Dakar race four times.

In 1989, his Peugeot 905 entered the world sports car championship and won that series in 1992, including the Le Mans 24 Hours race.

But for Todt, now 53, racing was never an end in itself. It was management that interested him, and it was time to move on.

''I wanted to make use of the possibilities of a group like Peugeot to progress,'' he said. ''Perhaps I would have liked to become the commercial director of the Groupe PSA. I left because Peugeot didn't allow me to evolve in my career and to profit by the enormous size of the group.''

He had several offers from elsewhere, among them Ferrari.

''To participate in the renewal of a team like Ferrari,'' he said, ''which is a mythical team, and which was not doing very well, for someone who has loved racing since he was a child, and who had never done Formula One there were lots of great sides to it.'' One of them was hiring Schumacher, who often gets the credit for drawing in such people as Ross Brawn, the technical director, or Rory Byrne, the chief designer. Both were with Schumacher at Benetton when he won his titles in 1994 and 1995.

''At the time I came to Ferrari, it was clear it was not only a driver that was missing, it was technical people missing,'' Schumacher said.

He added that Todt ''is 100 percent the reason why we got those people. As a name, Ferrari sounds very nice, but when it comes to employing certain people from another country they have families and everything you really need to persuade people and make them believe it's the right move to do, and make them feel confident. And that's what Jean is so fantastic at doing.''

Todt must now inspire confidence in both the team and Irvine. Irvine's only Formula One victory to date was in Australia last March. But Todt said last week the team would now entirely support his bid for the title. And if anyone is capable of convincing Irvine that he and Ferrari can do it, he is the one.

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