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Personality Profile ? Jean Todt PDF Print E-mail

Jean Todt
An extract from an interview with Ferrari team boss Jean Todt, conducted in Hong Kong immediately following the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in September 2004.

In recent years, the Ferrari team has dominated Formula One to such an extraordinary extent that critics have accused them of ruining the sport.  Much of the credit – or blame – is given to Michael Schumacher, undoubtedly one of the greatest drivers ever to sit in a racing car.  But a successful racing team is a large, complex, highly technical and massively expensive operation.  A team like Ferrari is essentially a multi-million corporation whose capabilities are put to the test in public every two weeks.
Put simply, Ferrari wins so often because it has created an extraordinary team.  The man largely responsible for that is diminutive Frenchman, Jean Todt.  His organisational brilliance is such that he was recently appointed head of the entire company.  Yet apart from cameo appearances in the TV coverage of Formula One, he stays largely out of the public eye.  Jeff Heselwood was lucky enough to be granted a rare interview with the enigmatic Mr Todt when he passed through Hong Kong shortly after the Shanghai Grand Prix.

Michael Schumacher & Jean Todt

Michael Schumacher, of course, had a torrid Chinese Grand Prix, spinning in Saturday qualifying and electing to start from the pit lane, only to spin again in the race. The world champion was to finish a distant 12th, while Barrichello went on to score his second consecutive win.  So what went wrong?

“Nothing went wrong,” says Jean Todt impassively. “We won the race. The team is Ferrari,” asserts Todt. “It is not Michael Schumacher’s team.  Michael works for the good of Ferrari.”

Luca di Montezemolo & Jean Todt with Michael Schumacher

Formula One is undergoing a number of changes, intended to slow the cars and also to cut costs.  One of the more controversial proposals is a switch to 2.4 litre V8 engines.  Asked about this, Todt is surprisingly dismissive: “It has not been decided yet, but Ferrari will abide by the regulations whatever they are.”  And does Ferrari have a V8 on the dynamometer yet?  “The only V8 engines Ferrari has at present are for road cars,” he explains.  Which leads nicely onto his new position as overall manager of Ferrari.
Does this mean he will spend less time at races and more time at Maranello?

“I will continue to attend every Grand Prix, but inevitably, more company activity means I have to delegate more.  It is my responsibility to secure the future of the company.”

Ferrari currently produces about 4,500 cars annually.  Exclusivity is everything when you are marketing a name as magical as Ferrari, so will Todt increase the numbers to make the company even more profitable?

“We may increase volumes slightly,” he admits.  “But we will always remain below 5,000 a year.”

Returning to the subject of motor racing, Todt was asked about sister company Maserati and its recent return to racing in the FIA GT Championship: “It is company policy to go racing and the MC12 is testimony to our commitment to GT racing.”

Jean Todt has gone on record as saying that he “admires” Kimi Räikkönen.  Is he lining up the talented Finn to replace Schumacher at the end of 2006 when Michael’s contract comes to an end?

“Räikkönen is only one of the best drivers,” claims Todt.  “Just like Alonso, Massa, Fisichella and Button.  And there is no certainty Michael will retire either.”

Schumacher will be nearly 38 then, has two young children and more money than he could ever spend.  Why would he continue?

“Michael already has plenty of money and his children are even younger now.  Why should he retire if he still enjoys what he is doing and is still competitive?”
The 2004 season is over and 2005 looms large.  Can Ferrari maintain its dominant position or are the cracks beginning to appear in this super team?

“You ask some strange questions,” says the aloof Jean Todt.

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© 2019 Jeff Heselwood. All rights reserved.
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