[an error occurred while processing this directive]
|You know you're a winner when the other guy wants to change the rules - after the game has started. As directore of the Ferrari Formula One racing team, Jean Todt has retuned the once ailing automotive legend to glory, winning and unprecedented fifteen victories this season. Todt's superstar Michael Schumacher became the first driver to finish every race on the podium - and the Ferrari team scored as many points as the ten other teams combined. Schumacher and his codriver, Rubens Barrichello, are the most succesful partnership in the history of Formula One. Their success has been so overwhelming that Ferrari suggested that Todt add weight to his cars in order to slow them down.
Formula One racing is as much about purity in design and engineering as it is about guts and endurance. Todt commands a team of seven hundred fifty, from software designers to race engineers. The sophistication of this endeavor matches even the technological dazzle of a space shuttle launch. He is a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, the equivalent of a knight, in his native France and a national hero in Italy. But despite his almost superhuman perfectionism, it's undeniable that Todt also has a certain joie de vivre.
PH: So, it's been quite a year for you. The Ferrari team broke all kinds of records.
JT: Yes, but sometimes I have a hard time thinking about the success because I'm entirely focused on what will happen rather than what has happened. There's always some new problem to worry about. When I see people I've known for a long time and they express their admiration... then, everything's all right, it's good. But just as quickly my mind switches to the next race, and I'm right back into the anxiety. For me, it's a way of life I go from one obstacle to another. Sometimes I jump it, sometimes I fail, but I always look forward.
PH: Despite the incredible planning that goes into a Formula One race, there are so many things that can happen as the race unfolds. How have you succeeded in mastering this indeterminancy?
JT: There's more to it than the engine or aerodynamics. It's a combination of a great many things. We're a big organization of about 750 people, so we have that many people trying to raise the bar. We produce the final result together. Still, I feel like we haven't gone as far as we can. There's always more to achieve. Which is good the day you realize there's no room for improvement, you retire. Ultimately, success is always about human beings. In Formula One racing, you need money to succeed, but money alone won't do it. You must have the right people and you must get them working together. As the managing director, I'm sometimes a friend, a doctor, or even a fireman. You have to stay close to all the problems.
PH: In other words, you spend much more time worrying about people than the equipment or the computers.
JT: Of course. Today we're working at an incredible level of technological sophistication. But these huge advances are all because of people. The most important, the most complex, the most fascinating machine is the human being.
PH: Speaking of fascinating human machines, how did your relationship with Michael Schumacher evolve?
JT: Michael was already very talented when we took him on in 1996. He was a world champion two times over. At that time, everybody said he would never come to Ferrari because it wasn't a good team. He was working for Benetton in Germany, and they had been world champions two years in a row. But Ferrari is something special. Everybody in this business has dreamed about driving a Ferrari, and Michael enjoys a challenge. He and I have created a fantastic relationship, a real friendship. There's mutual respect and admiration.
PH: For somebody who doesn't know racing, what makes Michael so good?
JT: Again, it's a combination. He's very professional and very talented. And he's curious he wants to know everything that's going on.
PH: That's what a friend of mine told me. He said, "Before the race and after the race, he's always talking to the engineers and the mechanics, asking them about everything."
JT: Also, he knows that his body has to be extremely fit. He recognizes that it's not enough to just be talented. Michael's also a very straightforward, honest person. He's humble and even shy, but strangers don't always perceive that.
PH: How does he feel about being considered a superstar?
JT: In a way, he doesn't like it. He's a very normal person. Michael's not spoiled, which is fantastic, because sometimes success spoils people. He is very close to his children. When he's at home, he takes his daughter to school.
PH: I think the audience appreciates that kind of everyday humanity.
JT: The best people the most successful they remain normal.
PH: What are some of the technical elements that have made the Ferrari Formula One cars the fastest in recent years?
JT: It's a combination of the chassis, the aerodynamics, and the engine. At our facility in Italy, we have a wind tunnel, which, incidentally, was designed by Renzo Piano. It's beautiful. We work on aerodynamics in the wind tunnel one hundred and forty hours a week. Through this work we've been able to achieve fantastic improvements in the efficiency of the aerodynamic downdraft. Our research is really the pinnacle of motor-racing science it's closer to aerospace technology.
PH: What kinds of materials are used in the engines?
JT: We work closely with Alcoa, the American aluminum corporation, to develop very sophisticated alloys. But we always monitor costs there can be a ten-fold price difference between one kind of aluminum and another.
PH: Okay, so what do you do when you're not thinking or worrying about Formula One?
JT: I don't have a lot of time to relax, but when I can, I'm actually happy to do nothing. People hardly believe it.
PH: But you do go out to dinner and see people when you can.
JT: Sure, I like spending time with old friends. But I don't so much like social events. They feel very artificial. At those kind of events I try to protect myself a bit. Someone who doesn't know me might think I'm arrogant or presumptuous. But I don't really care. What matters to me is being with people I love and respect. Fortunately, in my professional and private life, I've managed to surround myself with people I like. I'm very interested in contemporary art, but that doesn't mean I want to go to a gallery with strangers. I want to meet the artists who make it.
PH: What prompts you to seek out artists? After all, you have more than enough to do every day.
JT: I wouldn't think of taking a piece of art from somebody I don't know. I want the artist to explain it. I want to discuss it and understand it. So I'm more comfortable getting pieces from the few artists I know. I enjoy learning. In the same way, I'm also lucky enough to have some very close friends who are doctors.
PH: Your father was a physician.
JT: Yes, he was. I'm working on a medical foundation in Paris that deals with brain and spinal cord conditions. Medicine is very far behind in developing treatments for these kinds of illnesses. It's something I really want to be more involved with, because often we just think about ourselves, about success, about making money. We don't think enough about others.
PH: What led you to automobile racing? In the U.S., if your father is a Jewish doctor, and he says, "My son is becoming a race car driver," it's like, "Oh my God, what happened?"
JT: I tell you, it was exactly like that. My father was a Jew born in Poland. He was very clever, but things were difficult, so he immigrated to France when he was seventeen, all alone, with no money. He wasn't interested in money only in curing people. He was a fantastic person with a big heart. He wanted me to become a doctor, architect, or lawyer. Nobody pushed me to become a driver, I just felt inspired to race.
PH: You started off in long-distance rally racing.
JT: I started as a co-driver, and I was very successful doing that. I did 30,000-kilometer rallies in South America, which were great experiences. One month, we did a thousand kilometers a day around South America in Bolivia, in Peru, all over. I also raced in Africa and China. But one day, I said, ?Okay, I'm going to give up being a driver.? And I decided I wanted to manage a racing team. I was thirty-five when I arrived at Peugeot to be their managing director. We started from scratch and we ended up being very successful. We won everything long-distance rallies like Paris-Dakar and sports car races like Le Mans.
PH: When did you arrive at Ferrari?
JT: In July '93. The company was at a low point then. Formula One was a disaster. It was difficult for me to leave France and go to Italy, where Ferrari is a kind of national treasure. The fans and the media all immediately wanted to get rid of me.
PH: So you weren't initially accepted in Italy.
JT: Honestly? People thought, okay, they hired a French guy it'll last a year. I took a lot of punches from the press. But I was determined I set a goal, and eventually I achieved it. It's been ten years since I started, and people have forgotten how difficult it was. They thought Ferrari would never succeed. Now they say we're too successful.
PH: Formula One has expanded into Asia in the last decade.
JT: Yeah, there have been races in Japan for many years, but now we have races in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. In 2004, we'll have one in China. We're also talking about doing an event in Korea. Racing will be everywhere. It's a new world.
PH: Do you have a favorite race course?
JT: I think Spa, in Belgium, is the best. It's a very natural circuit with a lot of uphill and downhill.
PH: What about the Grand Prix in Monaco? Is that insane?
JT: Monaco is fantastic, because it's once a year, and the course winds through the streets. The best-looking girls are watching from the sidelines. It's almost more of a social event than a race.
PH: But it looks really dangerous.
JT: Actually, it's not a very fast circuit, and car safety has improved a lot recently. But it is very difficult to overtake another driver almost impossible.
PH: What is the fastest circut?
JT: Monza in Italy. It's next door to Ferrari's hometown in Maranello. The atmosphere in Monza is just unbelievable. You have a crowd of 200,000 people crying for Ferrari.
PH: The tour comes to the U.S. once a year with a race in Indianapolis. Plenty of people attend around 80,000. But Formula One is still almost completely unknown in this country. Very few people follow it.
JT: Honestly, I don't know why. Everywhere else in the world, the two biggest sports are soccer and Formula One racing. I think the United States of America is just a different planet.