Olympic ideal

Olympic ideal

Ferrari’s involvement in recent Italian successes at both Winter and Summer Olympic games is testament to the pioneering work carried out by a small, dedicated team of researchers and technicians at Maranello

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

You might wonder what the worlds of ski, bobsleigh, sled, canoeing, yachting, sailing, skating, Paralympic sports, archery, short track and snowboarding have to do with Maranello. Quite a lot, is the short answer. Ferdinando Cannizzo, the head of the victorious racing team that works in association with CONI (the Italian National Olympic Committee) in their hunt for gold medals and
World and European records in all of the above sports, is an esteemed technician, one who has been part of Ferrari for 18 years now. Having won a number of Formula One races
with Michael Schumacher – ‘One of the true greats, his first victory with Ferrari in the rain at
Barcelona in 1996 was unforgettable for me’ – Cannizzo now heads a team of 12, including some
young engineers who spend each and every day experimenting, simulating and studying ways
of creating a faster, more penetrating bobsleigh, or a canoe that sticks to the water better, an oar
that sinks and resurfaces 10, 100, 1,000 times better, or a sled that dances more elegantly around those thrilling curves. As Cannizzo talks with the same excitement about the triumphs of his old friend Schumi, you realise that he has experienced those same winning moments at the Youth Olympic Games at Innsbruck in January 2012, when Patrick Baumgartner and Alessandro Grande snatched bobsleigh gold from the Austrian favourites. Baumgartner and Grande’s bobsleigh was
resplendent in Ferrari red, blessed with Prancing Horse technology and research.

‘Yes, those two youngsters winning gold was a great occasion,’ Cannizzo remembers. ‘We had
worked so hard on the bobsleigh, with limited time too, gathering information from the
technicians, working with them, and a victory came which still excites me now.’
In the workshop where we are talking, two members of Cannizzo’s team are working on a
bobsleigh that will launch the Italian national team, the Azzurri, at the next Winter Games, in
Sochi, Russia, in 2014. There are weights to arrange and balancing to improve. Cannizzo, with
good grace, agrees to pose for our photographer and model for the still-evolving bobsleigh.
Looking around the room, abuzz with activity, I spot a strange-looking contraption. Whatever can
it be? Cannizzo explains: ‘It is an arrow-shooting machine. We created it here in the laboratory. It’s
really useful for the bow, for the bowstrings, to gauge the movement of the athlete, the archer.’
You can feel Cannizzo’s excitement, a man who is still kept very busy working with Ferrari as the
head of KERS for GT cars, where here too the Prancing Horse imposes the law of the survival of
the fittest. However, he is also very much a man of sport, one who celebrated with an almost childlike enthusiasm when a trio of Italian archers Marco Galliazzo, Michele Frangilli and Mauro Nespoli won gold in London in 2012. He did not cry tears of joy this time, as happened
on that day in Barcelona with Schumacher, but he came pretty close. ‘I remember the phone call
from Stefano Domenicali, the way we all partied together inside.’ Cannizzo flew to London to
personally shake the hands of the triumphant archery team, the Italian Robin Hoods who had
used Ferrari technology to take them to the top of the podium, right down to their toes; their posture and the type of shoe they wore was worked on at Maranello. Nothing was left to chance.
Another London triumph for Cannizzo came courtesy of Daniele Molmenti, who won gold inthe kayak slalom. Ferrari had a hand, or rather a head, in it: ‘We worked on the kayak, but also on
the paddle. It is important to study the entry of the blade into the water.’ Solutions were studied to increase efficiency, looking at details: paddle angles, balancing, muscle work and contraction.
All the little things that come together to create that all-important edge. The team at Maranello is a harmonious one, as Cannizzo explains. ‘There is no need to all be the same; what is fundamental in a project like this one is to bring different skills together, to give precedence to areas of strength over ones of weakness, which will inevitably occur.’ In a team of absolute technical excellence, one envied around the world, it is natural that some tensions may occasionally arise.

Cannizzo continues: ‘I never complain about my team, quite the opposite. Arriving as far as here
means that everyone has some outstanding skills. Among my tasks is having to deal with conflicts,
having the humility, the patience, to bring out the best of my colleagues. This is not just rhetoric. It’s something I work on a great deal.’ Cannizzo is not just a mathematician, or an
aerodynamics engineer. He’s a man sensitive to the checks and balances of his small, vital team. A
true man manager.

‘I shouldn’t say this as a mathematics enthusiast, but limiting yourself just to science, to calculation is rather boring. In sport you also have to train your heart. You need to
transmit your passion to others. Not only that, you have to delegate as well. Getting people to work together, colleagues, technicians, is a key element when it comes to achieving your goals.’
Goals. An important, fundamental word, something of a guiding principle for Cannizzo; indeed, something that he has worked to get across to those who work alongside the structure at
Maranello, namely CONI and the various individual sports’ federations. ‘In 2006, when this adventure began, we integrated immediately with CONI, but we had to tackle one issue; to define the final goals with the sports federations we were working with,’ Cannizzo remembers. ‘At times there were distractions; it was hard to communicate the real requirements, the needs, the actual goals. We couldn’t understand if we were on the right path, to be able to monitor any progress in the right way.’ That particular problem has now been tackled and overcome.

We developed a truly innovative technology

‘We developed a truly innovative technology,’ Cannizzo says. An example? Enrico Fabris, who
flew across the ice in his skates. But not only his skates. There was also a suit, especially
manufactured by Ferrari engineers. ‘Special fabrics were adopted for a very symmetrical suit, which is necessary because you always turn in the s me direction. But the left sleeve was made of one fabric, the right one had another shape, and also parts of the chest and lower limbs were different.’ Research, preparation and calculations bring us tothis point, one of excellence, reached after days, and nights, of analysis and reflection. Then there is the work of persuasion. As in
persuading athletes. When you succeed in explaining to someone like Schumacher that ‘on
the straight he had to tilt his head slightly to one side to better exploit the aerodynamic effect
created by the fairing of the car. It was not easy, as that posture was tiresome for him, but when he realised that it gained him precious hundredths of a second, he took it all on board…’ And so the great Schumi agreed to tilt his champion’s head. By chatting both with the athletes and technicians of the various sports, Cannizzo made it clear that certain details would produce winning results. For example, the bobsleigh chapter of the Ferrari story is a fascinating one.

We only know one model: to work with passion, research and to never stop in our development work.

‘We went to the track at Cesena, where the Italian team trained. We sectioned the track; in effect we cut it up, positioning our sensors. This way we were able to understand where the athletes gained time and where they lost it. Thus a close dialogue developed with the bobsleigh team and with the
technicians analysing their performance. Great improvements were made.’ Having studied absolutely everything, from the action of the athletes to the vehicle, and having modified the bobsleigh, with a more homogeneous weight distribution, the Ferrari of the ice track is going in search of medals. Sochi is just around the corner. It only remains to wait to celebrate. And not only in the bobsleigh. The Ferrari-CONI menu is a tasty one. And then it’s straight on to Rio in 2016. And beyond. ‘Here at Ferrari we would really like this experience, our experience, placed at the service
of Italian sport, to leave its mark. We only know one model: to work with passion, research and to
never stop in our development work. Because in sport, those who stop, lose.’

From issue n° 22 September 2013

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