Schu­macher, Brawn, Byrne and Todt and the era of Fer­rari dom­i­na­tion



From the ashes of dis­as­ter rose an un­stop­pable win­ning force – but what had Fer­rari lost in the trans­for­ma­tion?

these were the blessed mem­bers of For­mula 1’s most ex­clu­sive club, all hav­ing filled their lungs with the heady, rar­efied air as Fer­rari world cham­pi­ons.

Yet, al­most to a man, the oxy­gen turned sour on the in­evitable plum­met­ing de­scent. Back­stab­bing tur­moil, bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment and, yes, even death seemed to fol­low the ap­par­ent anoint­ment of Italian im­mor­tal­ity. This was the na­ture of life at Maranello, and it only made the Scud­e­ria all the more al­lur­ing.

But there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about Jean Todt and Michael Schu­macher’s ver­sion of Fer­rari. This team won… and then kept on win­ning, for years. The team they forged, in har­ness with the clin­i­cal bril­liance of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, were a Fer­rari the like of which we’d never seen. And prob­a­bly never will again.

Ev­ery­thing seemed weighted in their favour: po­lit­i­cally, Fer­rari car­ried more in­flu­ence than other teams, and earned more money as a con­se­quence; cyn­ics liked to claim FIA stood for ‘Fer­rari In­ter­na­tional As­sis­tance’ when rul­ings and penalty ap­peals fell in the Scud­e­ria’s favour. Hell, even Bridge­stone’s tyres were moulded per­fectly to their re­quire­ments. No won­der the wins kept on com­ing.

This wasn’t Enzo’s Fer­rari, all flair and flaw in equal mea­sure; this was a ma­chine, a vi­sion of F1 per­fec­tion de­signed to de­liver the ul­ti­mate re­sult, on re­peat – no mat­ter what. But the era that smashed the record books (and at times al­most throt­tled the life out of F1) took time to cul­ti­vate. Todt was into his sixth sea­son at the helm be­fore Fer­rari claimed a con­struc­tors’ ti­tle, and a sev­enth be­fore Michael fi­nally ended the drought to do what mat­tered most: to suc­ceed Scheckter and join the Fer­rari F1 canon.

It’s easy to for­get now how much pres­sure Todt faced in those early years, when the script ap­peared to re­peat the same old yarn. Af­ter Luca di Mon­teze­molo hired him in 1993, the ini­tial plan called on fa­mil­iar faces. John Barnard’s ge­nius had taken Fer­rari so close to a ti­tle with Alain Prost in 1990, but the ex­per­i­ment to mas­ter­mind glory from Guild­ford fell apart long be­fore Ayr­ton Senna’s kamikaze move at Suzuka’s Turn 1. Fiat pol­i­tics and a lack of trust left the plan in tat­ters, yet within three years, Todt and di Mon­teze­molo were try­ing it again.

Burnt by his ex­pe­ri­ence at Benet­ton, Barnard re­turned for part two of his Fer­rari revo­lu­tion – and you could barely see the seam. FDD (Fer­rari De­sign Depart­ment) re­placed GTO (Guild­ford Tech­ni­cal Of­fice), but it was based in the same Sur­rey town, and once again his am­bi­tion was to be left alone to de­sign. Todt’s job was to pro­tect him from the dis­trac­tions of day-to-day rac­ing.

The svelte, low-drag 412T1 of 1994 cer­tainly of­fered prom­ise. But what had changed? Barnard met with the same old frus­tra­tions: an en­gine depart­ment not play­ing to his tune and the usual pull to fire-fight the lat­est track­side cri­sis. Ger­hard Berger’s win at Hock­en­heim ended a painful four-year drought, but one-off mo­ments play­ing a bit-part to the star­ring role taken by Wil­liams and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, Benet­ton – the team Barnard had just left – wasn’t enough.

In the face of Re­nault V10 dom­i­nance, Fer­rari per­se­vered with their beloved V12 for 1995. The re­ward this time? An­other sin­gle vic­tory, for Jean Alesi in Canada, in the hand­some 412T2. Same old story. Then Todt signed Schu­macher.

Michael’s first ti­tle, in 1994, had been tainted by Senna’s death at Imola, the clumsy clash with Da­mon Hill in Ade­laide, and the per­sis­tent in­sin­u­a­tions that Benet­ton were trac­tion-con­trol aided. But in 1995, the ev­i­dence val­i­dated what was al­ready blind­ingly ob­vi­ous: Schu­macher was in a class of his own.

Has there ever been a time when one driver was so much bet­ter than the rest? Fan­gio had Ascari, then Moss. Clark? Sure, he was head and shoul­ders above the rest in the mid-60s, but at least he had the likes of Sur­tees, Gur­ney, Brab­ham and Hill to con­tend with. Later, Ste­wart had Rindt and Fit­ti­paldi; Lauda had Hunt and An­dretti; Prost and Senna had each other, plus Pi­quet and Mansell.

But mid-90s Schu­macher? Once Senna and Prost were gone, he had brave, valiant Da­mon Hill (usu­ally in a quicker car), sec­ond-tier tal­ents such as Berger and Alesi, a yet-to-ma­ture Mika Häkki­nen… Todt knew this was his man, the only gen­uine game-changer on the grid.

And some­how, de­spite all he had at Benet­ton, Schu­macher needed Fer­rari, too. Wil­liams might have of­fered in­stant ti­tles; Mercedes, with whom he’d ma­tured in sportscars, were be­com­ing a



grow­ing force with Mclaren; but Fer­rari… here was a chance to build some­thing mean­ing­ful. Prost, and ap­par­ently even Senna, had felt the draw of Maranello. Alonso and Vet­tel would sub­se­quently heed the call­ing, too. Schu­macher just couldn’t re­sist – and the re­puted $25m-ayear pay cheque might have helped.

But he knew what he was get­ting into. Todt’s Barnard-era Fer­rari was lit­tle changed from the mis­fir­ing be­he­moth of the 1980s. Un­lock­ing those ti­tles… this was a gam­ble, what­ever the money. Still only 26, Schu­macher was risk­ing his best years on a team out of step with the times.

Still, the new mar­riage started well. Af­ter his first test, at Es­to­ril, Michael pro­claimed he could have won his ’95 ti­tle more eas­ily in the 412T2 than he had in his Benet­ton. Oh, and he was a sec­ond a lap faster than Berger and Alesi. Re­al­ity kicked in dur­ing 1996, though, with Barnard’s markedly unlovely F310. Three wins, in­clud­ing a wet one for the ages in Spain, wasn’t bad – but by join­ing Fer­rari, Schu­macher knew he’d blown any hope of a ti­tle hat-trick. All yours, Da­mon…

In fair­ness, the gam­ble could have paid off in 1997, as Schu­macher bril­liantly kept Fer­rari in the ti­tle hunt against Jac­ques Vil­leneuve’s su­pe­rior Wil­liams. Then all his work was over­shad­owed by an­other hor­ren­dous pro­fes­sional foul… Jerez and that back­fir­ing barge sealed Schu­macher’s arch-vil­lain sta­tus. The FIA stripped him of his sec­ond place in the points, but he kept his five vic­to­ries – a mean­ing­less pun­ish­ment.

That 1997 car, F310B, was Barnard’s Fer­rari swan­song. Todt knew the great ex­per­i­ment was over, that it was time to gal­vanise Maranello. As lone gun Barnard ex­ited stage left, Todt hired the men who’d made Schu­macher. Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne had wit­nessed up close how Michael’s mi­gra­tion to Fer­rari had punc­tured Benet­ton’s bid for fur­ther ti­tles. Nei­ther Alesi nor Berger (trans­fer­ring in the other di­rec­tion) could claim a sin­gle vic­tory in what surely would have been a win­ning car in Schu­macher’s hands in ’96. The tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor and chief de­signer changed course for a life in red.

In 1998, Byrne’s pur­pose­ful F300 would set the tem­plate for the won­drous ma­chines that would fol­low, but Adrian Newey’s first Mclaren, the MP4-13, would de­lay the start of Fer­rari’s win­ning streak. For such a fire­brand tal­ent, Häkki­nen’s rise to great­ness was a sur­pris­ing slow burner, but when he peaked in 1998 and ’99 Schu­macher sud­denly found him­self with a wor­thy ri­val. Over one lap, the Finn was prob­a­bly faster – and with Newey in his cor­ner, he had a de­fin­able edge.

Italy was grow­ing im­pa­tient, and the ten­sion ratch­eted fur­ther when Schu­macher broke his leg at Sil­ver­stone in ’99. Here was an­other ti­tle gone. Or was it? Ed­die Irvine had never of­fered more than solid num­ber-two form, but there was grit be­neath his swag­ger. As Häkki­nen lost fo­cus with­out Schu­macher’s threat, Irvine stepped up – and nearly stole the crown for him­self. How galling for Michael, re­turn­ing af­ter six missed races, to play obe­di­ent tail-gun­ner to Irvine for the first Malaysian GP. Pole (by more than a sec­ond) for Michael tele­graphed how plain weird it would have been had the spiky Ir­ish­man been the one to end two decades of hurt.

As it was, a first con­struc­tors’ ti­tle since 1983 was sal­vaged, helped in no small part by a post-sep­ang tech­ni­cal con­tro­versy. Irvine’s vic­tory, shaped al­most en­tirely by his team­mate, ap­peared lost in parc fermé when his aero­dy­namic ‘barge boards’ (a suit­ably un­gainly term for such ugly ac­cou­trements) were found to be out­side the reg­u­la­tory pa­ram­e­ters. Fer­rari


ap­pealed – and won. How? The gov­ern­ing body found the means of mea­sure­ment, used by their own tech­ni­cal team through­out the sea­son and be­fore, to be un­trust­wor­thy… much like their ver­dict. When Irvine’s chal­lenge ended with a whim­per in Ja­pan and Häkki­nen se­cured his sec­ond ti­tle, F1 sighed with col­lec­tive re­lief.

How much longer would Todt have lasted had Schu­macher, Brawn, Byrne and co failed to fi­nally put the pieces to­gether (quite bril­liantly) in 2000? The su­perteam might have sur­vived, but with­out his pro­tec­tion from Fiat in­ter­fer­ence – not to men­tion the med­dling of Pres­i­dent di Mon­teze­molo, whom Todt al­ways kept at a strict arm’s length – for how long?

As it was, Schu­macher de­feated Häkki­nen at the Suzuka fi­nale with the aid of an­other per­fectly ex­e­cuted Brawn strate­gic mas­ter­class. This was how it would be from now on, as five con­sec­u­tive driv­ers’ ti­tles and 72 GP vic­to­ries at­test. Added to what he’d al­ready achieved at Benet­ton, Schu­macher spent the first years of the new mil­len­nium re-writ­ing F1’s record books.

He didn’t have ev­ery­thing his own way. The com­bi­na­tion of canny Wil­liams, mon­u­men­tal BMW V10 power, elec­tri­fy­ing Juan Pablo Mon­toya and the de­ter­mi­na­tion of brother Ralf put the wind up Schumi and Fer­rari from time to time, while a new threat from Fin­land al­most de­railed the run in 2003 – with the help of a new points sys­tem in­tro­duced di­rectly to soften Fer­rari’s dom­i­na­tion. Had Kimi Räikkö­nen’s sin­gle win for Mclaren proved enough to counter Schu­macher’s six that year, his­tory would surely have re­called a ti­tle in­jus­tice.

Through it all, Schu­macher re­mained a di­vi­sive fig­ure. Aside from the ques­tion­able rac­ing ethics, this was an essen­tially pri­vate man who shielded him­self from his huge global fame by of­fer­ing a mostly one-di­men­sional view of the char­ac­ter be­hind those bois­ter­ous podium jumps. For many, he could do no wrong; for many more, he was eas­ier to ad­mire than to love.

But surely it is Jean Todt who is most re­spon­si­ble for how this Fer­rari F1 team is re­mem­bered. Fore­most, he de­serves enor­mous credit for hir­ing the right peo­ple and cre­at­ing a win­ning cul­ture. What played against him was the blind de­vo­tion he brought to his task. ‘Win at all costs’ has never been so bla­tant: the team or­ders con­tro­ver­sies of Aus­tria 2002 and Indy 2005 were spec­tac­u­lar mis­judge­ments. Todt ap­peared to have to­tal dis­re­gard, bor­der­ing on dis­dain, for the sport and its fans. All that mat­tered was the right re­sult for Fer­rari, and usu­ally for Schu­macher. Rubens Bar­richello al­ways knew his place in this team.

But did Todt care what any­one thought? Prob­a­bly not. And Enzo Fer­rari might well have ap­proved: the founder, af­ter all, was the mas­ter “ag­i­ta­tor of men”. So per­haps Todt’s Fer­rari wasn’t that dif­fer­ent af­ter all. That air of ar­ro­gance, of un­ques­tion­able su­pe­ri­or­ity: Ascari, Fan­gio, Hawthorn, Hill, Sur­tees, Lauda, Scheckter… they’d have un­der­stood.

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