Exclusive Q&A with Ferrari's Stefano Domenicali 27 Oct 2012
For someone with arguably the most pressurised job in the paddock, Stefano Domenicali is surprisingly calm. And should the championship again slip through his fingers, the Ferrari team principal knows that the pressure will go up yet another notch. For now Domenicali is unflustered. He points out that without those unfortunate retirements at Spa and Suzuka, Fernando Alonso would still be leading the standings - a position he wants to return to before leaving New Delhi for the seasons final three rounds...
Q: Stefano, to many Ferrari is the embodiment of Formula One racing, but you have now been chasing the drivers title for five years and the constructors for four. Have you any explanation for that?
Stefano Domenicali: Well, in one, yes I do because things always happen for a reason. It is obvious that after such a long time where you have been so successful it is statistically impossible to carry on such an enormous flow for life. This is something that you have to accept. That is one side. Secondly, there have evolved big competitors around us which havent been there years ago - and we have to accept that. It is now part of the game. And thirdly, after those fantastic years that I have been lucky to be part of since 1999, when we won almost everything, you have to build up the basis again - to create a new group that is hopefully able to deliver the same thing as we did in the past.
Dont forget, things have changed dramatically in the last couple of years. We won the constructors championship in 2008 but lost the drivers title with Felipe (Massa), which was very unlucky for many reasons. Then in 2010 we lost the title for nothing in the last race - and this was an important lesson because otherwise we seemed to be competitive.
But do not underestimate the changes that have taken place in the last five years. First of all, the limitation of the budget - that forces big teams to change mentality. Secondly, the change of testing. We used to do a lot of testing - something in the range of 90, 000 kilometres. Maybe too much, I agree, but now we have a situation that is the opposite. What I want to say is that now you have to change the mentality and the way that you prepare the work at home. You have to invest in simulators, you have to invest in sections that do the reliability stuff. That sounds somewhat easy, but it is not as it means completely changing the way that you organize work at home. These are - simply speaking - the main reasons for the fact that unfortunately we have not won a title since 2008.
What adds to the situation is that in recent years aerodynamics have become fundamental and it is clear that in this respect some other teams have done a better job than us. It is clear that we have to overcome this situation, but I would also say that from a political point of view I would not like to see a Formula One that is only about aerodynamics. As a manufacturer this is not what we would like to see for the future of Formula One.
Q: When you say the way work at home is organized has to change, could it be that Ferrari is still too big to be managed effectively under these new circumstances?
SD: No, I would not say so. Because in sheer dimensions, the other top competitors are even bigger than us. Dont forget we are building in the same premises engine, gearbox and chassis. Some other competitors are managing only the chassis side of it. Some others - like Mercedes - are doing the car in three different locations. So we - in terms of the management - are definitely not the biggest. That has to be very clear.
Q: Fernando Alonso had a 44-point lead some weeks ago and is now six points behind. What is the plan of action for the remaining races and how difficult is it to hold your nerve?
SD: Well, here you need to be rational. In these past four races we didnt finish two because weve been pushed off in the first corners. Realistically speaking, the others did four races and we did only two. Under normal conditions we would still be leading the drivers championship with Fernando. No doubt thats a question of numbers. That fact must not be swept under the carpet. (laughs) It is obvious that Red Bull have made a step in performance and has improved that car. They have done a better job in this phase of the championship than us. Thats a fact and we need to react. There are still four races to go and it is a great challenge ahead of us. When looking back to the beginning of the year, no-one would have predicted at the first test in Jerez that we would be in a position to fight for the championship, so we have to be cool headed and rational when we do an analysis of the situation. Back then in my view McLaren had the best car and had a fantastic start, only to fall into a period of difficulties - to surface again in Belgium and Singapore. Remember, Vettel won there because Hamilton had a reliability issue. But Hamilton and McLaren was by far the fastest car in Singapore. Now we are here to fight for the lead.
Q: Your chief designer Nick Tombazis has promised an aggressive approach to the car development in this late phase of the championship. What does that mean?
SD: I am a pragmatic man, so instead of saying something, we need to do something. And the only thing that we have to do is to try to improve the car at each of the four remaining races with a little development that will give an added value to the performance of Fernando as a driver. That is not easy if you are pushing around at the limits and sometimes it is not possible. But this is the approach that we are living here - the team and the drivers together!
Q: According to most experts, in Fernando Alonso you have the best driver. He joined Ferrari to become world champion again, but the team have not yet delivered. How do you prevent him from losing faith?
SD: Well, of course we need to make sure that he is progressing the number of titles with us. As I said before, 2010 was very unfortunate as we could have done it already - so lets try it this year! It is absolutely possible. Then when you start once again - and have everything in place - a flow might well start again. Then with the flow we go. (laughs)
Q: You just announced another year with Felipe Massa. Can you explain?
SD: In a few words, he had a difficult season last year and he had a difficult start to this season, but the considerations we took were basically related to the fact that after the summer break he bounced back incredibly. He was the second top scorer after Vettel. We also believe that now he knows how to manage the car. In terms of equilibrium of the team, he knows the balance and the atmosphere of it. The team has stayed with him in the most difficult time and Im sure that he will repay the trust that weve been showing to him.
Q: The bets were running high that Ferrari youngster Sergio Perez would join the team for 2013, but now he is off to McLaren
SD: Ha, in that respect I would love to be a journalist. If you read all what was written in the past about that issue if you got it so wrong in any other business youd get fired right away. But thats part of the game. (laughs) Lets be serious - if you make a driver decision you look very closely at every aspect of the potential that a driver has. Perez has great potential. He is a good driver - otherwise he wouldnt have been with us. In this respect I would say that it was the right choice for him to go to McLaren - and we wish him all the luck.
Q: So this is the end of his life as a Ferrari youngster?
SD: At the moment I would assume so. But in life you never know.
Q: Luca di Montezemolo once said that if Ferrari win they are heroes and if Ferrari disappoint they are idiots. How is it oscillating between these two extremes?
SD: My personal approach is that I feel neither a hero nor an idiot. I consider myself a normal guy who is trying to do the maximum for this fantastic team, this fantastic company, and this fantastic brand. Lets be frank: everybody would love to sit in this chair (points at his chair), but no one knows how hot it is! Believe me, it is very, very hot.
Q: Can you give three reasons why it is fantastic to be Ferrari team principal - and three downsides?
SD: First, it is fantastic because everyone wants to be in that position. Secondly, Ferrari is the number-one company in the world -it is unique. And thirdly, it is an incredible challenge and it connects you with top industries in the world. That makes the day for me. The downsides: in Italy on Monday after a race the country is full of teachers who knew exactly what you should have done. My position is the top prey for that. (laughs) The pressure is massive - you cannot imagine how massive. And then you have no private life with your family and that personally for me is very tough.
Q: There have been rumours all along of a preliminary contract between Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel for 2014. If you had to choose between signing Vettel or Adrian Newey, who would you go for?
SD: I tell you in the next interview. (laughs)
For tickets and travel to 2012 FORMULA 1 races, click here.
For FORMULA 1 and F1 team merchandise, click here.