De Ferran on Derrick Walker and finding the “balance”

Leave a comment

This is the second in a series of posts stemming from a Tuesday interview with Gil de Ferran. The first one, which focuses on his 2003 Indianapolis 500 win, can be found here. Be sure to check back tomorrow for a new installment.

IndyCar has been praised in recent days following its appointment of longtime team manager and owner Derrick Walker to the role of head of competition. In his introductory press conference this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he talked of finding a better balance between speed, innovation, and cost that can help the sport reclaim its past glory.

Gil de Ferran – who drove for Walker’s Champ Car squad in the late 1990s – has an idea of what that balance is all about, given he has had stints as a team owner in both the American Le Mans Series and the IZOD IndyCar Series.

“The balance needs to be achieved, otherwise, you’re driving everyone out of business,” said the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner. “However, for me, the biggest thing that I would focus on is appeal. One assumes that speed and innovation is appealing and I personally believe they are…You can cut costs until you’re blue in the face and if there’s no appeal – you can cut your costs to zero and you still will not be successful.”

Considering that De Ferran is the world record holder for the fastest lap on a closed course – a lap at 241.426 miles per hour achieved in October of 2000 at Auto Club Speedway – it’s no surprise that he believes that the series needs to keep in mind that particular “brand” of speed as it moves forward into the future.

“My gut feeling is that IndyCars have a brand of being very radical machines,” he said. “That’s the original IndyCar brand, where the cars used to achieve incredible speeds when compared to anything people were used to. They had this kind of an “extreme” motorsports sort of appeal. I think anything that IndyCar does going forward has to be in keeping with this brand, which separates IndyCar from anything else.

“IndyCar is not a junior series, IndyCar is a premier series in motorsport and the cars and racing has to portray that, as do the drivers and the teams. Otherwise, there’s no appeal to it.”

His old boss, Walker, surely understands this. In his 19 years as a team owner in American open-wheel racing, he fielded programs for the likes of De Ferran, Christian Fittipaldi, Alex Tagliani, Will Power, Paul Tracy, Simon Pagenaud and Sarah Fisher. In addition, he has experience going back to Formula One, working for both the Brabham and Penske camps, and in sports cars.

Now, in his first-ever senior management role with a series, Walker will be counted on to draw upon his wealth of knowledge in order to help IndyCar continue to make strides.

De Ferran has faith in Walker, who was critical in developing his career and taught him how important persistence and focus can be.

“I guess one of the things I’ve really admired about him – he’s like a Rottweiler,” said De Ferran. “He’s a very persistent person, so when you had that to his focus, I think they’re both qualities I’ve very much admired about him and I guess they’ve stuck with me.”

Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.