On the day shown here, Silverstone 1999, Schumacher crashed and broke his legs, but he and Brawn brought an unprecedented era of success to Ferrari.
Photo: Maureen Magee
The possibility of working with Ferrari surfaced in mid-1996. Michael told me at the end of 1995 that he was leaving Benetton to join Ferrari. I was aggrieved about this, more with the team than Michael. He had a problem with Benetton over money and it was not handled properly—he felt he had been misled and deceived. The mystique of Ferrari was very powerful and he saw it as a great challenge to help them back into winning ways again. He certainly found the environment there very different from what he was used to—and he and chief engineer John Barnard just did not gel. Around the middle of that year, 1996, Willy Weber, Michael’s manager, asked me on the telephone to talk with Jean Todt of Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix. By that time our Benetton team was not winning races and, despite promises to the contrary, I was not being given the authority to fix it.
I went to see Jean in the Hôtel de Paris. When I tapped on the door to his room it mysteriously opened, with him hiding behind it so he could not be seen by any interlopers! He was only wearing only his underpants because he was in the middle of changing to go out somewhere. That was a fairly unusual introduction… But we knew each other from his tenure as head of the Peugeot World Sportscar Championship program, and he explained to me that Ferrari would like me to join their operation. Certain options in John Barnard’s contract provided an amicable way to let me come in and the offer was also extremely lucrative. I very much wanted to work with Michael again—I had always been interested in Ferrari per se—so why not? I told Benetton that I was leaving —which caused a kerfuffle. The Benetton family became involved and tried to correct the breaches in my contract. However, I was determined to leave and the contract was ended. At the end of 1996, I joined Ferrari on a three-year contract. John Barnard wanted to continue to operate in the UK, while I would work in Italy. I admire John immensely—but he had tried to work with the design office in the UK and the race team in Italy and it was certainly a difficult arrangement. In the Ferrari road car division, I discovered Aldo Costa, who had been with Minardi. Jean Todt had asked me who else we needed and I had replied, “Rory Byrne for sure.” Six weeks after I made the leap Rory also joined us (from Benetton), which was really great news. With John Barnard buying the Shalford works in England for his own future projects, it was an amicable takeover and we were able to start building a team based solely in Maranello.
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