THE BEST TEAM EVER?
“At that stage, I think Michael was keen to
pursue a relationship with John Barnard.
But after working with him, he concluded
that they didn’t quite see things the same
way. He had a lot of respect for John, but it
wasn’t the way he wanted to do things.
“I was approached just before Monaco
‘ 96, and then I met with Jean at Monaco,
and started to put the deal together. I said
one of the key elements would be to get
Rory on board and Ferrari said, ‘We’ve
already done that!’ I went back to Benetton,
spoke to Rory and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been
approached, and if you do it I’m doing it...’”
Although only 52, Byrne had been on
the verge of retiring for a life of scuba
diving in Thailand, but the challenge of
Ferrari was irresistible. He and Brawn duly
arrived at Maranello at the end of ’ 96, just
as Barnard’s F310B was being completed.
Barnard had briefly overlapped with
Brawn and Byrne at Benetton, and would do
so again at Ferrari. But it was always going to
be a temporary arrangement, and when he
left in early 1997 he gained ownership of
the UK design office. Todt had always hated
the idea of having a British base. It had never
really worked, although it did provide visiting
Italian engineers with a valuable education.
Things began to come together in ’ 97, as
Ross ’n’ Rory settled in and Schumacher’s
tenacity drove everything forward.
Domenicali became team manager and, in
effect, Todt’s right-hand man, while Stepney
was a catalyst for bullet-proof reliability.
Schumacher very nearly won that
year’s World Championship, missing out
after his controversial collision with
Jacques Villeneuve in the Jerez finale.
It was a difficult time, but Todt and
Schumacher stuck together, as they would
the next season, when Ferrari narrowly lost
a straight fight with Mika Hakkinen and
McLaren. The pressure from above on Todt
was huge, but the star driver urged patience.
“Just before I joined in 1996, there was
almost a lynching party for Jean,” says
Brawn. “I think Michael did protect him. He
said the only way this is going to work is if
Jean’s in charge. If Michael hadn’t been
strong, or had changed his opinion, Jean
could have suffered. It was fortunate that
Michael had the resolve to stick by Jean
and make sure that he did stay.”
But for a crash at Silverstone in which he
broke a leg, Schumacher would have taken
the ’ 99 crown. Irvine took up the reins
and came close, while the constructors’
title provided some compensation. The
Jaguar-bound Irvine was then replaced
by Rubens Barrichello for 2000.
Schumacher won the first three races
of 2000, and this time there were no
stumbles. At the fifth attempt, he and
Ferrari finally secured a drivers’ title for
the Prancing Horse for the first time since
1979. It would be followed by four more
in quick succession. In 2002 and ’04, the
team was utterly dominant, winning 15
races in each season (see page 27).
One key factor was the close bond the
team forged with tire company Bridgestone.
They first hooked up in ’ 99, when the
Japanese company was briefly F1’s sole
supplier. A burgeoning relationship paid
dividends when Michelin arrived in 2001
and an intense tire war began. Bridgestone
loved Ferrari and worshipped Schumacher,
so in the days of unregulated testing at
Fiorano and Mugello, the sky was the limit.
Other main customers jumped ship one by
one, eventually leaving mighty Bridgestone
working solely for Ferrari, as well as
“Just before I joined in 1996,
there was almost a lynching
party for Jean [Todt]. I think
Michael did protect him”
(ABOVE) Rubens Barrichello (front, after winning at Monza in 2002) was the
perfect foil for Michael Schumacher, the pair accumulating 58 wins as 2000-’05
teammates. (BELOW) Luca di Montezemolo joins in the celebrations at the 2002
French GP. Schumacher had just clinched the title with six races still to go.
After resigning from
the Ferrari board in
March 2009, Todt
became the FIA
voted in for a
second term in