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OTD Lite: 1988 – Jean-Louis Schlesser rescues Formula One
Frank Williams remains one the most respected men in Formula One. A quiet introspective man who has never complained whenever Ron Dennis stole sponsors or engine suppliers from him – yet the 1988 Italian Grand Prix must have raised a wry smile.
Regular Williams driver Nigel Mansell had been sidelined with ill health so Williams test driver Jean-Louis Schlesser was called in to race for the weekend. His only appearance in Formula One had been in 1983 when he failed to qualify for the French GP but had raced in the unofficial Race of Champions – qualifying 13th out of 13 and finishing 6th. Hardly stellar, yet as a Grp C Mercedes driver won races and titles.
On this day he started his F1 debut from 22nd on the grid. Two laps from the end of the race his name would go into legend. Entering the Retifilio chicane, JLS attempted to make room for race leader Senna but got his braking wrong as the Brazilian went to pass him. He spun the Mclaren out of the lead, bringing about the team’s only non win of the year and Ferrari scored an unimagined 1-2 at what was the first Italian GP after the death of Enzo Ferrari.
Of course, the tifosi went into raptures, Murray Walker reached octaves that hurt the hearing and Dennis moaned about “the man who ruined his life and the perfect record of 1988″
Montezemolo – Who needs enemies with friends like this
“I’d like to thank Montezemolo for everything he has achieved over the last twenty three years – a period of great success and satisfaction.. We have always been friends and the recent situation has been exaggerated by the press but we have always got along.” So began yesterdays extraction of the axe buried firmly between Il Padrino’s shoulders.
Over the weekend LdM had once again made the point of staying with the Prancing Horse for the remainder of his three year term – having denied his leaving several weeks ago. Yet within hours he was describing the behind-the-scenes movements as “Ferrari becoming American.” An acidic reference to the bosses of Fiat being John Elkann and Sergio Marchionne.
His final point possibly demonstrated best of all why both his F1 and business rivals felt he had been losing focus over the last few years in what he considered his personal fiefdom.
“Sergio is right. We need to make investments in F1 and not diminish our commitments. We have to bridge the gap and increase investment in the coming years as Mercedes has invested a lot more and we can’t afford not to match it. We should have invested more already this year.” he remarked – his rhetoric suggesting that FIAT had withdrawn the necessary funds that Ferrari always took for granted.
Marchionne does not suffer fools – period. His sense of casual dress in regards business smothers a ruthless but brilliant visionary who has transformed an ailing, practically bankrupt company into one of the big five players in the motoring sector. Ferrari too will be transformed with an expansion of their manufacturing limits and a push to return the team to F1 glory as success sells the brand.
The Ferrari Family Car
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Rosberg pressure ‘too big’ at Monza – Wolff (GMM)
As the conspiracy theorists circle over Nico Rosberg, a more credible theory has been put forward by the German newsmagazine Focus — pressure. After Monza – still amid the heat of the championship leader’s clash with Lewis Hamilton at Spa – many fans, pundits and rivals suspected Rosberg made deliberate ‘mistakes’ last Sunday to gift his teammate the Italian grand prix win. “Two mistakes in the same place?” wondered safety car driver Bernd Maylander this week. “It’s not normal.”
But former team owner and boss turned British TV pundit Eddie Jordan says he thinks Mercedes’ mismanagement of the Spa crash put undue pressure on Rosberg. “They accused Nico publicly and left the public to devour him,” he is quoted by Focus. “No wonder he was not at his best in Monza.”
Indeed, on the podium after Monza, and for the second race running, Rosberg was loudly booed by the fans standing below him. “I hope that with time they forgive and forget. I have apologised, I can’t really do anything more than that,” Rosberg said. He admitted to Germany’s Sport Bild that what transpired at Spa, and in the intervening days as Mercedes bosses internally punished him, had been on his mind as he entered the Monza weekend.
“Of course, the responsibility was fresh in my mind,” said Rosberg, recalling his now controversial ‘mistakes’ that allowed Hamilton to win on Sunday. “So I was probably more aware than usual,” he added, referring then to his preparation for the impending duel with Hamilton during the race. Even Mercedes’ team chief Toto Wolff now acknowledges: “Perhaps the pressure on Nico was too big, but I am sure that he will fight back, just as he has always done.”
Now Montezemolo exit rocks crisis-struck Ferrari (GMM)
Despite securing $35 million as he walks away, Luca di Montezemolo had a tear in his eye on Wednesday as he said farewell to Ferrari. Although he was president, and although his presence at Maranello dates back decades, the 67-year-old is just the latest head to roll amid Ferrari’s spiralling crisis. “Our common desire to see Ferrari express its true potential on the track led us to some misunderstandings,” admitted Fiat chairman Sergio Marchionne, Montezemolo’s successor.
Charismatic and controversial, Montezemolo has secured a EUR 27 million parting fee, including a pledge he will not work for a Fiat rival until 2017. He admitted on Wednesday that it is possible he will go on to run the Italian airline Alitalia. In his wake, he leaves the Ferrari team run by a F1 newcomer, Marco Mattiacci, and a lead driver in Fernando Alonso who in the space of a single day lost not only Montezemolo but also another crucial ally, the late Emilio Botin.
But Montezemolo and Marchionne on Wednesday singled out Ferrari’s turbo V6 engine as the biggest problem to solve. “It is absolutely clear that we have an engine problem,” said Marchionne. Montezemolo concurred: “We underestimated the importance of the new engine system.” But with McLaren calling loudly, might this week’s alarming news be the final straw for an increasingly frustrated Alonso?
“He has been very loyal to Ferrari, staying through the difficult times,” rival Daniel Ricciardo told Austrian Servus TV this week.”This is obviously a decision that Fernando has to make himself, but he has been very patient with them,” he added.
Toni Vilander, however, a close friend of Alonso’s current teammate Kimi Raikkonen, thinks Wednesday’s news would not have been a shock to the red-clad pair. “I believe they were aware of the issue for some time,” he told the Finnish broadcaster MTV3. “I don’t think it’s going to affect their situation an awful lot.” But others see Ferrari’s spiralling situation as endemic of the current regime at Maranello. “I believe that the structure that they had in the past with Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, Nigel Stepney and the rest of them is very, very different to what we see now,” said Caterham team advisor Colin Kolles.
Montezemolo’s exit is another big blow, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone admitted. “His leaving is for me the same as Mr Enzo (Ferrari) dying,” he said. “He has become Ferrari. You see him, you see Ferrari.” Former FIA president Max Mosley, however, never quite saw eye-to-eye with Montezemolo, and he thinks Wednesday might now be a turning point for the fabled team. “In truth, Ferrari have never been quite the same since Jean left,” he told Reuters. “If they want to win races again they need to find another outstanding manager.”
One thing, however, was left undoubtedly clear on Wednesday — Ferrari itself is going nowhere. “Montezemolo explained to me that we are bound by contracts with Ecclestone to stay in F1 at least until 2020,” Marchionne told Italian reporters, “but for me it should be much longer. If it was up to me it would be 120 years.”