By Damian Reilly
Williams F1 chief sees changes in former Ferrari boss since move to governing body.
Jean Todt was a difficult character to get along with when he was boss of F1 racing team Ferrari, but has taken “charm lessons” since becoming president of motorsport’s governing body the FIA, Williams F1 team boss Sir Frank Williams told Arabian Business.
“I must try to be a diplomat here. He ran Ferrari for a long time. He was very successful. His methods weren’t methods we would use. But he delivered. He was then a very difficult character, very hard to get on with. Very clever, don’t misunderstand me…. But hard man, hard worker, long career in motorsport.
“Now that he is in the presidential role, I met him recently, I think he has taken some charm lessons. I mean that in the right way. I think he is going to try to be a different character,” Williams said.
Asked if he thought Todt might be naturally inclined to favour Ferrari above the other teams in Formula 1, Williams said: “Well, I imagine everyone is watching out for that, so I think he will be behaving himself. He’ll soon hear from the other teams if we think there is a bias.”
Last month, it was reported that Formula 1 team Williams had signed a deal with Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) to open a technology centre, the first of its kind outside of Europe.
The Williams Technology Centre will initially be tasked with the progression of two Formula One inspired R&D projects with clear commercial goals, including advancements of Williams F1's simulator for competition and road car application.
Williams, who has seen his team slip down the grid from a position of dominance in the 1980’s and 1990’s, was quick to pour scorn on the idea of a return to the sport of retired seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher – which appeared close to becoming a reality last season.
“Not a chance. Well, he thought he was going to. But he forgot what the rules are. He wanted to have a go. One of the areas in which we are trying to save money is reducing the testing, and I think this last season you were allowed to buy 500km or 1000km of testing, which is very insufficient for anybody, even Michael, who hasn’t driven a grand prix car in anger for over five years.
"Because motor racing drivers have neck muscles like everybody else has chest muscles. They have massive necks, all of them. You can’t build that up in one day of testing” he said.
The recent exodus of car manufacturers from the sport is likely to be good news for teams unable to compete with their budgets, such as the independent WilliamsF1 team, he said. He added that the return of engineer Adrian Newey to the WilliamsF1 fold would be enough to push his team back to the front of the grid.
He said: “There is a man who works in F1 at the moment, he works for Red Bull, called Adrian Newey. When it comes to where the air goes round a car, he is a magician. He has a brilliant understanding of aerodynamics. He was with us for about eight years, and then McLaren pinched him for a great deal of money. Now he is getting even richer, but he deserves it, at Red Bull.
“I don’t know when his contract finishes. Everyone is dying to know. But the Red Bull man is spending a great deal of money, his own money, and I think he is happy there, unfortunately...But, for instance, and this will not happen, if Adrian left Red Bull and wanted to come back to us, with Adrian and the other people we’ve got and our budget, we’d probably run to the front of the grid pretty quickly and stay there.”
Asked if he was shocked by what happened during the 2008 Singapore race in which Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed into a wall at over 200mph, allegedly on the orders of Renault team boss Flavio Briatore, Williams said: “I wasn’t shocked, I was very surprised. There are some ruthless people in all of these sports.”
On the subject of who the quickest driver in the sport is, the man who has managed world champions Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell was quick to answer.
“If you said to me: ‘Frank, you’ve got all the money in the world, you’ve got a car you can win in, who would you have driving it?’ Well, Lewis (Hamilton) is a brilliant natural talent and has a very good racing brain. So Lewis or Sebastien Vettel.”
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