When Ferrari reached a competitive nadir in 1992, plans were put in place that would eventually transform it into the most dominant team in Formula 1 history.
This story is an excerpt from RACER magazine’s THE GREAT TEAMS ISSUE, on sale now.
Ferrari Formula 1, 1996-2006
The Schumacher/Brawn/Byrne/Todt Era
The recent departure of erstwhile Ferrari Formula 1 team boss Stefano Domenicali marked the end of an era, for he was the last key member of the “dream team” that achieved so much success with Michael Schumacher. Designer Rory Byrne remains linked to Maranello as a consultant, but otherwise all the major players have gone.
The Scuderia of the first half of the 2000s remains one of the most powerful machines that auto racing has ever seen. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that its huge success grew out of an organization that had hit rock bottom just a few years previously.
The low point was in 1992, when Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli struggled with the ungainly F92A. The Scuderia finished fourth in that year’s World Championship with just 21 points, compared with the 164 of champion Williams. Time for a rethink…
The man charged with turning things around was the Scuderia’s 1970s F1 team manager Luca di Montezemolo, who’d been brought back to the Ferrari fold by Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli in 1991. At the time, the road car division was struggling and addressing that was his main focus.
But given the kudos it bestows on the whole Ferrari brand, the F1 operation was his other key challenge, and in an attempt to recreate an earlier “dream team” he briefly brought back his old pal Niki Lauda in a consultancy role. However, the crucial move was finding a new team principal.
Jean Todt made his name running Peugeot’s rally efforts, and latterly its sports car program. The FIA canned the World Sportscar Championship in ’93, leaving Le Mans as Peugeot’s sole target. Todt was unable to convince the board to pursue a works F1 project, so when Ferrari came calling, he readily accepted. He arrived at Maranello in July ’93, immediately after securing a second Le Mans win for Peugeot.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to jump start the moribund technical department, John Barnard was brought back as technical director after three years away. As with his previous tenure he was allowed to open a “satellite” design office in Surrey, England.
As Todt settled in, the team again finished a distant fourth in the ’93 points. Keen to hire the best driver available, Todt made overtures to Ayrton Senna – as previous Ferrari bosses had also done. Indeed, Montezemolo recently stated that Senna would indeed have ended his F1 career with Ferrari, but any fledgling plans to lure the Brazilian to the Prancing Horse ended on May 1, 1994.
In that ’94 season, Gerhard Berger scored a fortunate win in Germany and Ferrari finished third in the points, albeit some way behind Benetton and Williams.
At that point, some key figures who’d play an important role in the future were already on board, including chief mechanic Nigel Stepney, an ex-Lotus/Benetton man whose brief was to introduce “British” thinking to the shop floor. Sadly, Stepney died in a road traffic accident just days before this issue of RACER went to press.
Always loyal to trusted pals, Todt had also hired former Peugeot engine chief Gilles Simon to work on a new V10, which would be mandatory for the ’96 season.
Additionally, a savvy business graduate called Stefano Domenicali had quickly been moved from the road car dept. to the race team, where he was put in charge of human resources and sponsor liaison.
But in the summer of 1995 Todt made the move that would transform Ferrari’s fortunes…
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