Twenty five years ago he entered as an engineering trainee, and this year became Scuderia Team Principal. Here Mattia Binotto takes us through the season's most important moments. Beginning with an office move that never ends...
It was probably the shortest move of his life, distance-wise. From the Technical Director's office, that he occupied until last year, to where he's sitting now it is just some ninety steps, less than a minute's walk. Yet in terms of professional growth, this short stroll means that Mattia Binotto has achieved the most important advance in his career, given that the young engineer who arrived at Maranello as a trainee in 1995 is today Team Principal of the Scuderia Ferrari. “The truth is I haven't even finished the move yet,” he says, laughing behind those Harry Potter-ish round-rimmed spectacles that have become a symbol, so much so that his team had a special pair made for him during the Austin GP, with a frame in the shape of a number five and a zero, to celebrate his fiftieth birthday.
“A lot of my stuff is still back there,” he says. “Excluding the pc, the white board and my biro pens, and pencils, seeing as I can't do without them. There hasn't been time to move everything. Neither physically nor mentally. Because in reality I don't believe this is a role that's more important and neither has it been my big ambition. It's just a different role. It was a natural growth and I have to say thanks to Ferrari for having made me capable of following this path.”
How do you remember the moment of the change?
“It was a bit more sudden than expected. On the seventh of January I had to depart for London and at the airport in Bologna I bought a copy of Gazzetta dello Sport, and its front page carried the news of my appointment. So we had to bring forward the announcement, which wasn't easy, but we were able to handle it alright.”
Compared to before, has the management side become more human and less technical?
“I wouldn't say so, considering that ninety per cent of the Gestione Sportiva is made up of technicians. Now 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.”
Is there any rule that you consider absolutely essential?
“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. 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. And above all in Formula 1 everything must function efficaciously and efficiently. 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.”
The first public outing was on the fifteenth of February, with the presentation of the new single-seater, the SF90.
“I think it was one of the most beautiful of recent years. For me it was very emotional. And it was the debut of our hashtag too, the #essereFerrari which really means a lot to me.” Then came the first Grand Prix, in Australia. “After the Winter testing, which had gone really well, we had a lot of expectations, but instead we ended up having a cold shower. 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.”
Is that why we see you so often looking behind you?
“I couldn't say. But my role is also to make sure that everything is functioning correctly and so keeping an eye on the box is important. But it's true, I am a man of the box and I only need a quick look over at the mechanics to be able to tell what's happening. It's more useful for me to keep an eye on that rather than on the screens.”
Shall we go through the season, picking out the most important moments?
“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 World 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. Fans who showed how much passion they have at the event in Piazza Duomo in Milan for the celebration of the 90 years of the Scuderia, on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix. “An ovation from an unforgettable crowd of red, a demonstration that the legend is alive more than ever.”
And beyond the races?
“I am really happy with how the team spirit has grown. 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.”
Anything instead that you didn't like in 2019?
“The fact that in this Formula 1 the challenge is not just technical and sporting but also political. 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.”
What can we expect in 2020?
“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.”