Crossing the great divide from the garage to the pit-wall, from the technical department to the team principal’s office would be intimidating at the best of times… but at Ferrari, surely, when one considers the team’s recent history it is something of a poisoned chalice.
An engineer through and through, many were surprised at Mattia Binotto’s appointment as team principal at Maranello, a largely political role at the most political of F1 teams.
It was a baptism of fire, for other than a car lacking downforce, Binotto inherited a team that still struggles with strategy, not to mention the almost impossible task of managing two of the most talked about drivers on the grid.
At the end of a ‘challenging’ first season at the helm, the Italian admits that the political side to his new role came as a surprise.
“The challenge is not just technical and sporting but also political,” he tells Daniele Bresciani in an interview for the official Ferrari magazine. “We can’t let our guard down on that front, knowing that it’s not enough to have a competitive car and great drivers.
“I hadn’t expected that that aspect would mean so much effort,” he admits.
Asked if his role is more human and less technical than before, he replies: “I wouldn’t say so, considering that ninety per cent of the Gestione Sportiva is made up of technicians.
“My new role covers also the other ten per cent: communications, marketing, sponsorship, legal. Just as there have been other areas added, in which perhaps I’m less qualified. You could say that, whereas before, as Technical Director, I was used to just spending, now as Team Principal I have to think about making savings or even creating earnings.
“Something that comes partly from my engineering studies and from having grown up in Switzerland, I’m convinced that it’s important to have rigorous procedures,” he adds. “It’s what helps me to manage a structure as large as ours.
“On the one hand it’s true that you have to look after relations with individuals. The human, emotional side is fundamental, but on the other hand it is a complex machine that has to work perfectly.
“Above all, in Formula 1 everything must function efficaciously and efficiently,” he continues. “To be clear, the problem is not how to develop something with 1,000 horsepower, but to do so before the others do, so it’s precisely having efficient processes that enables you to be quicker at developing things.”
Having shown strong pace in pre-season testing, in Melbourne it was back to earth with a bump.
“After the winter testing, which had gone really well, we had a lot of expectations, but instead we ended up having a cold shower,” he admits. “Apart from that, it was for me my first race ‘on the pit wall’ after 25 years of competition.
“When I was still a motoring engineer I used to say to myself ‘sooner or later you’ll stop attending races and the one thing that you’ll later think that you have missed out on will be not having done a race ‘al muretto’ – on the pit wall. Instead I made my debut there, in a position from which you have a completely different perspective compared to the box.”
Asked to select the important moments from his first year at the helm, he says: “After the disappointment in Australia I’d pick the Bahrain GP, with a victory that was in the bag but that then went up in smoke because of problems of reliability. And Canada, with Sebastian who won but then got penalised.
“They are examples of how the first part of the season was really uphill. But then after the Summer break came the victories at Spa, Monza and Singapore, which partly made up for those early disappointments.
“Even though they weren’t enough for us to win the title, in our mind – that which nourishes the legend of the Prancing Horse – I believe they really were special moments for the fans as well as for us.
“I am really happy with how the team spirit has grown,” he concludes. “We are very united, compact, including the drivers, despite what some people insinuate.
“An example? On the Tuesday following the incident they were involved in at the Brazil Grand Prix, my phone rang and on the display I saw the names of Seb and Charles, together. They’d been in touch with each other, they’d cleared things up, and they called me together for a three-way call.
“It wasn’t just a gesture, and it really showed an impressive united spirit. And anyway, regarding Brazil, it’s better that such an episode happens now, it will help us to understand each other better for next year.”
Looking ahead to the new season…
“I believe that the level of competition has never been so high. We have all the requisites needed to do well but nothing is taken for granted because our adversaries are, like us, also strengthening themselves in order to improve.
“To our advantage there’s the support of our exceptional tifosi and the power of that legend that we want at all costs to continue to nourish. #essereFerrari is also an important part of that.”