Italian journalist close to Scuderia Ferrari Leo Turrini talks about the Maranello team’s current situation and shares with us memories from the past, in a long interview for liberoquotidiano.it:
“I was born in Sassuolo, a few kilometers from Maranello. A neighbour was a mechanic for Ferrari’s racing department. “He travelled the world. Every Monday I was at his house, you couldn’t see anything on TV. Racing was the fairy tale of my childhood”. Leo Turrini, Sky commentator and author for quotidiano.net, is the person most qualified to get to the bottom of Maranello’s problems. He is the dean of Formula 1 journalists. A bishop whose memories are engraved in time.
Where does one’s mind go in Silverstone days?
“As of July 2018. Vettel wins. And he beats the Mercedes at home. It is in fact Sergio Marchionne’s last victory, already in agony, without us knowing. In those days, no one would have dreamed of saying his horizontal system was wrong. But that system could only be interpreted by him, having created a direct, albeit telematic, line with the engineers at Maranello”.
Marchionne said: ‘We don’t need external engineers, we don’t need technical stars.’
“Recent events deny it. If you need to take the good one away from the competition to win, you have to do it. Montezemolo did that when he took Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, Jean Todt. Marchionne’s approach to racing was his general, abrupt and hasty, aimed at getting results right away. In 2016 he fired James Allison, technical director, today in Mercedes with the same job. In 2017, in full fight for the title, he removed Lorenzo Sassi, head of the power unit project, today in Mercedes as well. Apart from that, his departure was a complex and not a light affair”.
Can you explain it better?
“He was in love with the Prancing Horse. It was a personal obsession. The last time I saw him, a few months before he fell ill, he told me that at the end of 2018 his contract as manager of the FCA would expire, and that he would only be president of Ferrari. He was looking for a house in Maranello. When they failed, they made a serious mistake, which they still pay for today. Binotto, new team principal, did not appoint a technical director”.
What do you think of Binotto?
“He’s overwhelmed by a heap of responsibilities. The qualities are clear, and he legitimately has great aspirations. He has seen the best and the worst in Maranello, since they haven’t won a title in 13 years. He would do better to decentralize his technical skills even more”.
He said: “Ferrari’s DNA is racing. And the desire to try again”.
“Those in charge must be aware that they can lose, but also that they have to try and win. From this point of view, I consider John Elkann to be an absent president with no passion for racing. See Baku ’19. At the last moment Charles Leclerc was pitted to take on the softest rubber and set the fastest lap in extremis. It was done, but it means very little if used on a losing car. At the end of the race, Elkann said he was happy with Leclerc’s fastest lap. After finishing a minute behind Mercedes. If you push yourself to say something like that in public, it means you don’t understand what Ferrari is.”
To win, Gianni Agnelli gave eveything to Montezemolo.
“In his nephew, I don’t see this sensibility. Ferrari would need the president of Juventus, Andrea Agnelli. As a young man, he worked in F1. He has passion. In football, he showed his skills. He would be able to make an important turnaround”.
The less powerful power unit is a sobering story.
“The inspectors, on Ferrari’s performance from Belgium ’19 onwards, had nothing to say. Only later did it turn out that some technical solutions bypassed the regulations. In F1, whoever manages to interpret the grey areas wins. There is nothing strange in what Ferrari has done. Surely it was some mole who got the exact documentation to the inspectors’.
Isn’t it that when other do it, it seems the FIA closes their eyes?
“Of course it’s all coincidence. I don’t even remember an FIA decision unfavourable to Mercedes. It’s a fact. Their performance today is superior to any other car. If this is because the interpretations of the rules was better understood in Stuttgart, bravo! (he smiles, ed). Mercedes engines have certainly been improved as well. The Williams, from the back of the grid, is now close to Ferrari performance. The leap forward of the Racing Point is curious, and Renault is convinced that they could not have given birth to a copy of the Mercedes 2019 simply by looking at a photo. Another famous engineer comes to mind, Giulio Andreotti, who said: ‘It’s a sin to think badly, but almost always…’.
Apart from malice and a car, what is still missing for Charles Leclerc?
“Carletto has an extraordinary natural talent, he’s ready to win. The lack of experience is normal. He has the instinct for speed and the ability to manage risk. The only concern should be morale, especially if, even next year, he finds himself in a bad car”.
Doesn’t Verstappen run the same risk with that Red Bull?
“He’s good, but he’s never had a car that would make him fight for the title. One of the biggest disappointments this year, I think, is Red Bull, which at the tests in Barcelona thought it was even ahead of the Mercedes. They certainly bet on Max. Taking Vettel back home would be tantamount to saying: let’s have some fun and see what happens”.
Could the prospect of Aston Martin be a good exit for Vettel?
“You have to see which teams are willing to offer a salary to match his prestige and a car that is really competitive. He’s a clever boy. He hasn’t managed to become Schumacher’s heir despite having his poster hanging in his room as a child. He made mistakes and failed, not winning the world championship. But he’s given Ferrari a lot, in years that weren’t easy. I have great respect for what he has done”.
What do you think about Sainz’s Ferrari signing?
“The moment they decided to bet on Carletto, a home-built leader, it made no sense for them to go looking for a top driver. They took a solid and reliable one.”
Could Bottas at least aspire to become the Barrichello of the situation?
“I think he already is. Solid, but without the paste of the champ, which makes you competitive on an extreme level, and which Nico Rosberg certainly had. In fact, from the feat of becoming world champion, Nico came out of it due to exhausted pressure, preferring to retire. That remains a problem for Hamilton. It’s as if Schumacher had lost the world championship against his teammate.
What is your first memory from Imola?
“In 1985 I went for the first time as a journalist, it was the San Marino GP, and I had the joy to see Niki Lauda driving his last year in F1 for McLaren. An Italian driver, poor Elio De Angelis, won. It was the last time he won a race. And this happened because Mansell and Prost were disqualified due to irregularities with the weight. I always have in my memory that extraordinary dimension of popular festivity, with Imola gathering, in just 3 days, more than 200,000 people. It was a wonderful, it gave an idea of the optimism of Italy at that time. A life in color. The conviction that the best was yet to come. As a country, we had not yet fallen into the anguished resignation that we have had for 20 years now”.
Imola cost Senna his life.
“In 1984, on his debut with Toleman, he couldn’t qualify, because there were more than 26 cars. A scar. It’s no coincidence that, at Imola, from ’85 to ’91, all the poles were his, even if with different cars. This gives a sense of how bad fate can be. Senna adored Imola. He liked Emilian women, the kitchen. He went to what he considered his home. I’m happy for Imola. And this return. I hope that in November there’ll be a chance to let some people in.”
What did you love about Niki Lauda?
“He was revolutionary. He modernized F1. He was the first to introduce the concept of athletic preparation, and the correct diet, with an overcoming of the old idea that drivers only party with oysters and champagne and good nights. The driving sensitivity and control ability of the car were special. Like him only Prost, Schumacher, Senna. In 1976, when he returned to Fiorano, 40 days after the Nürburgring fire, I was there as a local ‘chronicler’. I saw the open burns, the blood running under his gauze, the desire to run again”.
Lauda was Hamilton’s mentor?
“Yes. In his post career, he was instrumental in Mercedes’ investment in F1. “It was Niki who convinced Hamilton to come to the team. In 2012, Mercedes was a fifth row car. Everyone thought Hamilton was kicking his career.”
In late ’93 Prost retires. His place in Williams is taken by Senna.
“For years they hadn’t spoken to each other. One night in January ’94, Senna was in Paris, for the kick off in Brazil-France. He called Prost to invite him to dinner after the game. Prost always said it was one of the best nights of his life. As he was no longer a competitor, Senna’s sensitivity also emerged towards his former rival. At Senna’s funeral in Brazil, his family wanted Prost to hold the coffin”.
A memory of them on the track?
“Late ’80s. French Grand Prix. In qualifying, Prost set the fastest time. He goes back into the pits and says, “I don’t lap anymore, nobody beats this time. Senna was yet to come out. It was just enough. But he was like that. And that gave a sense of perfection and the limit that Prost had.”
Senna was only afraid of Nigel Mansell, known as the Lion.
“He was unpredictable. A warrior with great instinct. He could have won more than one world championship. During a Grand Prix, Riccardo Patrese was convinced that the race would be his, and instead during qualifying Mansell went back on track and lowered the time by almost half a second. In the Williams garage, Patrese gave him a big kick in the… “What are you doing!” said Mansell. “I wanted to check if you had three, because there’s no way you could have done that time there.”
What kind of person is Michael Schumacher?
“I don’t know. Nobody knows. He never wanted to indulge himself, not even for coffee. When they pointed it out to him, he mockingly said that if he had to indulge in coffee with everybody, he’d have to drink 400 a day. That’s too much. In ’94, after Senna’s death, he was the only driver to bet on. The more everyone was looking for him, the more ‘personal’ detachment he created was immense”.
A driver who failed to become champion?
“Stirling Moss. Enzo Ferrari always said he was the best. Even better than Fangio. To be more recent, I’d say Gilles Villeneuve. The last motor racing hero finished with him. One of daring, of danger, of 3-wheeled racing, of stress. I think that destiny denied him the world championship which in 1982 he would surely have won”.
If you had been a driver, in what era would you have wanted to race?
“Between ’75 and ’85. Lauda was there, Villeneuve arrived. I would have made it in time to have Senna and Prost on track. There were impressive technical solutions. Like the Tyrrell 6 on wheels. And a more human context. The cars were less perfect than today, they even broke down. And the driver still counted for something.”