Barnard focuses Ferrari on war

BRITISH GRAND PRIX: The fearsome offspring of Ferrari's Guildford- based designer will be put to the test at Silverstone tomorrow; Derick Allsop meets the Englishman saddled with the task of returning the Prancing Horse to the winner's enclosure
Click to follow
John Barnard makes another infrequent appearance at a grand prix this weekend. It is his home race, after all. A fortnight ago he was at the French, too, but there he had a particular engagement. He was honoured in recognition of 150 Formula One victories for carbon brakes, which he pioneered more than a decade ago.

Barnard has always been an innovator and it is back at his tranquil base near Guildford, Surrey, that he prefers to work and plot his latest scheme to outwit the rest in the competitive and volatile world of grand prix motor racing.

This is an unlikely hub for any Formula One team operation, but we are not talking about any Formula One team operation. The black Prancing Horse on the yellow plate hits the visitor with the impact of a V-12 exploding to life. This corner of the land is Ferrari England.

Almost three years into his second stint as designer of Italy's beloved car, there is optimism it will outpace the others again. Or at least there was after Jean Alesi's win in Canada and until the French Grand Prix. There, the Ferrari could not match the Renault-powered Benetton and Williams, so Italian euphoria reverted to dismay.

In his office Barnard smiles the smile of a man who has seen and heard it all before and managed to retain a sane perspective. "The trouble is there is so much over-reaction about Ferrari from people outside and there's over-reaction from people inside," he said. "The facts are that in France, Renault made a step, Williams had some new bits on their car and I think Benetton had some new bits.

"Having said that, I think the real crux of it was the fact that we didn't get the best out of the car in set-up. We missed the direction, going step by step and doing logical things."

Designers and engineers will tell you direction and logic are as important as invention and inspiration. Put those ingredients together and you have the next best thing to genius. It is generally acknowledged that over the past 15 years Barnard and Patrick Head, of Williams, both Englishmen, have secured their places in that category.

Barnard recognised the advantages of space age materials long before most were prepared to contemplate such a drastic departure and created the McLaren which dominated Formula One in the mid-Eighties. He revived Ferrari at the end of the decade but admits he regrets his brief, ill- starred spell with Benetton.

Ferrari gratefully returned him to the fold, and set up a design centre on his doorstep rather than drag him out to Maranello. A safe distance from the "over-reaction", the almost reclusive Barnard applies detached reason to his undoubted flair.

"There are times when it would be nice to be nearer the car and that side of it," he said, "but then it is nice to be able to get back, put your head down and have a serious think about what is required. If you've got the organisation, all the other things should be in place.

"The overall design and concept of the car comes out of here. We also make a lot of items on the car and do development things on the car which then get handed over to Maranello for production. Some of the car gets designed over there according to my guidelines. I'm responsible.

"There's a certain history of motor racing in this country and a way of operation that works. I think you could even trace some of the attitude and approach back to World War II and how the Spitfire was created. Necessity is the mother of invention.

"I think that's the key to it, and motor racing is the next thing to war, really. You've got absolute deadlines, you can't miss them and you are in direct competition with somebody who's trying to do you, and you are trying to do him. And I think there are certain traits in the British character which enable us to be good at these things. The standard Brit is brought up with a compromising nature that suits the design process."

The ideal foil for Italian passion? "There's no question the passion for it is immense in Italy and Ferrari is the national team," he said. "It's something people over here, working in English Formula One teams, don't understand.

"You go there, you see it, you begin to feel it and you realise what you are into. People don't walk around the streets with their heads down in this country if Williams or McLaren have had a bad weekend. They do in Italy if Ferrari have had a bad one.

"It's the same with the road car. Is there another road car you can drive down the high street and everybody from seven to 70 will stop and look at? It's got that yellow badge and the black Prancing Horse. It's an emotive name like no other.

"There is a negative side to it, of course. The bad times can be traumatic, because that's the way Italians are. But if you want to work in motor racing a long time you have to chop off the highs and lows and work in the middle band.

"There will be times when you are riding the crest of a wave and times when you are right down in the trough, I don't care who you are. Look at McLaren, look at Lotus. McLaren are a classic case of a team with a good organisation, they have lots of capacity, they are covered in people, but it hasn't fixed their problems.

"We can talk organisation and changes and all the rest of it, but there is one thing that fixes all teams and that is a car and engine combination that works. When you get to that point the drivers are happy, they feel comfortable, they get behind you and they push to get that last half a second when they need it for qualifying. Everything changes."

The mood at Ferrari and across Italy has changed to the extent that championship success is being predicted for next year. Barnard smiles again.

"I don't even think in those terms," he said. "We've been consistently edging up, so we know where we are and can build on that. It means next year's car almost has to be better."

Barnard is already penning that car around the projected V-10 rather than Ferrari's traditional V-12 engine, exploring, as ever, ways of finding improvements within the "shrinking box" of Formula One's regulations. He is currently examining the use of carbon in gearboxes.

There is constant speculation about a change in personnel at Ferrari next season, that they will pay what it takes to put Michael Schumacher in their car. Barnard views that as an intriguing prospect. "Anybody would want to see him in their car," he said. "It would be interesting to see how he would go in our car. That's got to be the question on everybody's lips."