BAR's de Ferran: Button is touched by God 14 Nov 2005
Former IRL and Indy 500 champion Gil de Ferran joined BAR as Sporting Director back in April. Now after seven months at the sharp end of Formula One, he looks back at the steep learning curve he faced and ahead to future successes.
Q: After so much success in the States, why did you decided to move back to Europe and accept a new career in Formula One racing?
Gil de Ferran: For me it wasnt a geographical issue at all. When I retired from driving, I didnt want to retire either from working or from motor sport. I wanted to continue to evolve and develop both as a person and as a professional. It was far more a question of finding the best way to utilise my 20-odd years of motor racing experience; then this superb opportunity came along. I knew if I didnt take up Id probably live to regret it forever. To be honest it feels like a natural career progression and the fact that its in Britain is just a side issue.
Q: What was your biggest challenge when joining BAR Honda?
GdF: I joined the team well after the start of the season and, of course, at what was a very difficult time. Obviously this is a big group of people and its been a huge challenge to get to know everyone and to learn the ropes. It has taken time to understand exactly how everyone operates and how the company ticks. Im still learning all the time; the company keeps evolving, so its a continuous progress.
Q: In what specific areas are you able to make your most significant contributions to the team?
GdF: Its hard to pinpoint one specific area but, often, I bring a different perspective to meetings and conversations - I guess thats because I come from a different background. Whether thats helpful isnt up to me to judge! Its also probably fair to say that I understand some of the situations and psychological aspects relating to the drivers because of my racing background, albeit not in Formula One.
Q: As Sporting Director whats your role between now and the start of the 2006 season?
GdF: Its to work with our team to create a plan from a racing operations stand-point on how were going to win next year.
Q: What are the big differences between IRL and F1?
GdF: Certainly the size of an F1 team is much greater. Penske had just over 100 people; BAR Honda is four or five times bigger. Beyond that its hard for me to make direct comparisons as Im now fulfilling whats a very different role. It feels like a whole world of difference, however when the flag drops they seem remarkably similar.
Q: You have worked closely with Honda in the past. What impact will its purchase of BAR Honda make to the teams future?
GdF: Firstly it underpins the stability of the team going forwards. Secondly Honda is a company that operates in a no-compromise sort of way - they will do everything thats necessary to achieve their objective, which is to win races. In the past theyve always shown a tremendous commitment to win in a wide number of motor sport disciplines and this programme will be no different. There has been some uncertainty over the future of tobacco sponsorship, so from my point of view the two most important aspects of Hondas investment are that it brings stability and a commitment to win.
Q: You played a major role in bringing fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello to the team, what difference will his arrival make to Hondas future success?
GdF: Its very positive for the team. A guy like Rubens brings a wealth of experience from his previous involvement with Ferrari where he was part of one of the most successful teams in Formula One history. You cant unlearn what youve learned so that knowledge is imprinted into his brain and hell bring that with him. Above everything else, of course, he brings his own talent; we all know hes a very fast driver. A team like ours must always aim to have the best possible drivers and Jenson and Rubens fit that bill.
Q: Youve worked closely with Jenson Button over the past seven months. What are your impressions of him, and is he a future world champion?
GdF: Hes a man who has been touched by God! His skill is just remarkable. Hes a driver like few Ive seen before with a fine touch and an amazing feeling for the car. He has a tremendous amount of natural ability and theres no question that he has the raw materials within him to achieve the ultimate success.
Q: From the fans perspective, how do you think next years F1 world championship will differ from 2005?
GdF: The biggest difference will probably be the revised qualifying system and reintroduction of tyre changes during the race.
Q: What are your thoughts on the new qualifying format and will the reintroduction of mid-race tyre changes result in more or less on track action in 2006?
GdF: Time will tell! The one thing I do like about the latest qualifying system is that well actually get to see whos the fastest - at least we will during the first part of these sessions when cars will run with low fuel. Theres a definite attraction to that. As for the pit-stops, tyre companies - and especially Michelin - have a unique ability of adapting to whatever rules are thrown at them, so I have no doubt well be back to the status quo on that front.
Q: Do you believe well still see the same teams at the front in 2006?
GdF: I have no reason to believe either McLaren or Renault wont have another good season. Obviously were hoping that well be further up and it would be foolish to discount Ferrari. Red Bull has just acquired the services of the man whos been involved in the design of numerous winning cars [Adrian Newey], so its only reasonable to assume they will be stronger next year, too.
Q: BAR CEO Nick Fry has targeted wins - plural - in 2006. Is he being realistic?
GdF: I think so. We certainly have two drivers capable of winning races and Im confident the design and race teams are capable not only of producing a good car but also operating it well enough to achieve that objective. Clearly to win, a lot of different things have to come right on the day and thats the big challenge. But I dont get out of bed thinking lets finish second. I didnt have that attitude when I was a driver and I certainly dont have it now. Im here to fight for race wins and championships.