NOTnothing focuses the minds at Ferrari like the roar of the tifosi in Monza. The sea of red, the feverish atmosphere, the passion for Scuderia at its most intense and demanding. For Ferrari manager Mattia Binotto this is a reflection of what makes the brand so special that he shares with fans and why he brought such personal commitment to try and bring the team back to the top of Formula. 1.
Binotto speaks at Monza ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari’s home race. Intelligent, sympathetic and relaxed, it betrays neither nervousness nor worry about the inevitable test it faces with a car that is still far from the pace of Mercedes and Red Bull. Italy’s eyes will be on Ferrari, but Binotto is taking advantage.
Ferrari from start to finish, he believes the very idea of the brand goes beyond mere mechanical achievement, more than racing, to encompass a concept and principles that are more important than anything that can be delivered on Track.
It was Binotto, 51, who took over in 2019, who proposed the public expression of this distinctive philosophy that reflects Ferrari’s history as the oldest Formula 1 manufacturer and the only one to have participated in this sport since the first championship in 1950. It engraved it on the cars and the suits of its pilots Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. It is an exhortation to an attitude: “essereFerrari“: In English, the slightly ugly” being Ferrari “.
Such a feeling would have found favor with Enzo Ferrari. He commendatore has always believed that there was something special about the team he founded, especially in his early years, when it was spirit and innovation that fueled his team. Binotto wants to ensure that this is reflected in the Scuderia now, because he believes it is essential to their future success.
“It’s to identify us,” he says proudly. “It’s something unique, it’s Ferrari, it includes all our values and everyone who works at Ferrari. It is very important that we understand that this is a unique family, a unique thing.
“I always tell my guys that it’s more important to be Ferrari than to win, because winning is just going to be a consequence. If we are able to be Ferrari and work well, victory will be the result. I use the example of Gilles Villeneuve as being a fantastic driver but in reality he really won very little. The way he behaved, the way he drove, his passion made all the difference.
Binotto does not quote the great Villeneuve by chance. He was introduced to F1 by his grandfather when he grew up as an Italian in Switzerland. It was of course the red cars that they supported and for Binotto it was the competition that attracted him and Villeneuve, mercurial in a Ferrari, which ignited his love of racing.
Binotto studied mechanical engineering at university but only specialized in cars and engines when he completed a master’s degree in automotive engineering in Modena, near Ferrari’s headquarters in Maranello. Given the chance to join the Scuderia Graduating in 1995, he’s been a part of the team ever since and admits it was a dream come true, but not something he actually thought would happen. “An opportunity came out of nowhere,” he recalls with a smile. “Not something I was looking for and really lucky.” Ferrari can still take this as good fortune.
Binotto rose through the ranks in a series of roles, including during the glory years when the Scuderia returned six consecutive constructors’ titles. When he was appointed Engine Manager in 2015, his management was crucial in improving his performance, kicking off the team’s comeback as a competitive force. He took on the roles of Technical Director in 2016 and Director in 2019.
The team he inherited from Maurizio Arrivabene, whose experience was as a marketing manager, was in dire need of a reset. They had fought for the titles in 2017 and 2018, but both seasons were deemed insufficient. Arrivabene had brought a bunker mentality: there would have been an intimidating and critical culture within the team, pointing fingers seemingly commonplace.
In 2020, when Ferrari’s new car turned out to be out of power and aerodynamically weak, it was a real shock, and the Scuderia suffered their worst season since 1980, when even Villeneuve couldn’t do much with the reluctant 312T5 and they finished 10th. Binotto’s reaction was revealing. “It’s not by laying people off that you make a car run faster,” he said, revealing that he has started to restructure the team and how it works. He was aware of the culture of blame and made a point of facing it.
“It’s something we’ve worked really hard on and we’re still working really hard because it’s the worst that can happen,” he said. “If you’re worried about being blamed, you’re not making progress, so that’s something, a behavior, a culture, that we’re trying to correct. At times of such difficulty in 2020, the team being united, no internal blame, no criticism, but working together to try to respond was something I was very happy about.
Those changes he instituted – including bringing new blood and restructuring within the team, looking to the future by committing to the undoubted talent of a young driver at Leclerc – the have made optimistic that next year Ferrari will once again be challenged to win. . He believes it’s a process that will lead to another round of victories for a team that hasn’t won a constructors ‘title since 2008 and a drivers’ championship since 2007.
He has every right to be confident, having been with the team the last time Ferrari went through similar convulsions to come out stronger. In 1995, Ferrari hadn’t won the constructors’ title since 1983 and Jean Todt was slowly and painstakingly rebuilding the team that would eventually pay off.
“There are similarities to now,” recalls Binotto. “It had been a long time since Ferrari had won in 1995 and Jean Todt was laying the foundations for the future to set up a winning cycle, by employing young engineers. Twenty-five years later, we are in a similar situation.
His experience back then and the remarkable group of people who came together to achieve such great success were clearly instrumental in forging the character that Binotto now brings to the world. Scuderia. “I had the chance to work with these guys, Jean Todt, Michael Schumacher, who was a leader not only in the car but outside the cockpit, Ross Brawn, Stefano Domenicali…” he recalls. “There were a lot of people back then who were giving very good examples that are very useful to me today.”
Binotto is serious and open. His reign so far has been marked by honesty in the face of failure as well as a willingness to celebrate success when it presents itself. Ferrari is a family, he explains, and he laughs enthusiastically when suggested to him that he is the father figure.
Yet there is also a serious side to this, a conviction to Binotto’s belief that this family, this “being Ferrari”, is what sets the team apart from the rest and why he is convinced that as soon as possible, the tifosi will be right to celebrate once again at Monza. “Having the right humor, the right passion, the right spirit is the key,” he says. “There is something special about Ferrari, which is a clear identity, and that identity is our family.”