He is an aristocrat by breeding and demeanour, Marquese Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. It is a title he does not encourage and he is more usually known as Avvocato, in deference to his legal qualifications. He is equally anxious to stress he has not been blessed with the supernatural powers to solve a problem that appears to demand little less. 'People stop me and ask me when Ferrari can start to win again, can it be the next race,' he said. 'I am not a magician. It must take time.'
The faithful who follow the fortunes of Ferrari, which is effectively Italy's national grand prix team and favourite soap opera rolled into one, might be forgiven such expectations. Montezemolo's career is the stuff of fairy-tales and television blockbusters. Born in Bologna on 31 August, 1947, he gained a masters degree in law at Rome University and completed his studies at Columbia University, New York. By then he had already exercised his motor sport interest, rallying with Lancia, but saw a wider road ahead. 'I wanted to do other things. I didn't want to be in a prison, thinking of just fuel and tyres.'
Gianni Agnelli's Fiat empire and Enzo Ferrari presented him with the opportunities. In 1973 Montezemolo was summoned by Ferrari to oversee the affairs of his struggling team at the track. Two years later Niki Lauda and Ferrari were champions.
Montezemolo was subsequently asked to turn on his charms at Fiat, ITDEDI, the publishing company, and Cinzano. He was Agnelli's golden boy. He was also the person with the credentials and charisma to head the organising committee of the 1990 football World Cup finals.
Italia '90 was another success story for Montezemolo. In the minds of the people, however, he remained the miracle worker of Ferrari and at the end of last year Agnelli had another goal for him. He was given the presidency of all Ferrari, with responsibilities for road-car production and the Formula One racing team, which had failed to win a race that season.
In the corridor leading to his office at the factory in Maranello, near Modena, hangs a blown-up photograph of a youthful Montezemolo leaping on to the track to greet Lauda as the Austrian takes the chequered flag in the 1974 Spanish Grand Prix.
Montezemolo is now in his middle years but his energy and enthusiasm are still apparent. He remains lean and impeccably groomed. He has the looks of a continental film star of the 1960s, whose face you cannot quite put a name to.
He remains relatively relaxed at what is traditionally a tense period for Ferrari. Tomorrow the nation's eyes will be on the scarlet cars in the Italian Grand Prix. 'I know what we are going to do - nothing,' he said, quickly adding: 'Well, not nothing exactly, but you know what I mean.'
Indeed we do. This has been another miserable season for Ferrari, a team renowned for their damaging internal politics as much as their Prancing Horse. They are currently fourth in the constructors' standings and under threat from Lotus-Ford. By Montezemolo's calculations it ranks along 1986 as the worst in the team's history. 'Everyone forgets that two years ago Ferrari was very close to winning the championship,' he said. 'They did not put enough wood on the fire then. It is not difficult to go down, much more difficult to go up.
'We have always been in the world championship, more than 40 years, and we want to continue to race because this is the most important thing. I am not a technician, but I am an organiser. I spent the first four months finding out the Ferrari situation, the problems, the method of work, the mentality and to understand how to approach the future of racing in a different way. I do not accept the politics here cannot change.
'Remember we are the only team who build the engine and the chassis, so that makes the job bigger. I realised we had this monolithic company which was not flexible enough for the requirements of Formula One. We had to have the best people and for these people to be clear what their responsibilities are.'
Montezemolo called on his old friend Lauda to act as 'consultant' and help him identify the problems and find the solutions. Eventually John Barnard, one of the outstanding designers of the past decade, was enticed back to the fold and is re-establishing a base in the south of England. Another Englishman, Harvey Postlethwaite, will translate Barnard's work (in more senses than one) into the finished article at Maranello and heads the team operation. Claudio Lombardi is responsible for engine development.
Montezemolo believes the British way, based on expertise and order rather than weight of numbers and bags of gold, is the only way forward. Postlethwaite estimates Ferrari have had the funds 'to run three small Formula One teams'. A staff of more than 400 in the racing division has been reduced by 30 over the past fortnight.
For Montezemolo, however, the essential quality for all involved will be heart. He emphasises the point beating the appropriate part of his anatomy. 'It is a big challenge for Barnard and everyone. This is a risky place and I know what can happen to me if we are not successful,' he said, running his hand across his throat to indicate his fate.
'It is more difficult for me this time because I am in charge of everything, I have responsibility for 2,000 people, 3,500 cars a year, a racing team and the most important Italian marque. I would like to be young and in the team again, but it is different now. Sometimes I feel I am too busy. I work day and night and the commitment is as it always was. This part of the past we can recapture. If people understand this way I am super happy. If they don't I cannot accept them.
'I am from Bologna, near here, so the public know my feelings for Ferrari. I also feel they are close to me. The human aspect is the most important. With a big heart and motivation many things are possible.
'Nigel Mansell had the heart. He can make mistakes but then who can't? For sure he was our last driver with a big heart. It was 100 per cent a mistake to lose Mansell.'
Ferrari lost Mansell at the end of 1990, the Englishman turning to Williams and a successful world championship course after his relationship with Alain Prost turned sour. Before the final race of last season, Prost was fired. 'I was not here then,' Montezemolo interjects. 'It is time to turn a new leaf.'
Next season Gerhard Berger also returns, in place of Ivan Capelli, to partner Jean Alesi. The long-heralded signing of Ayrton Senna must wait for at least another year.
Montezemolo used the 10 minutes between our meeting and his next engagement to pop round the corner to the test track, where Alesi and Capelli were completing preparations for this weekend's race. After chatting to the drivers, team officials and his 11-year-old daughter, and leaving instructions for a viewing bench to be relocated and the area tidied up, he headed back to his office. That evening he was on a flight to Rome for an appointment with Italy's minister for finance the following morning.
'I will not be at the race, I shall suffer here,' he said. 'We have to work to be strong again. We are putting plenty of wood on the fire now for next season. We hope to stop the downward trend and start to go up again.'
And beyond next season, what are the targets for Ferrari and Montezemolo? 'There is no question the championship is what we want in the future. We are hungry for victory. We all want it. But it is not the only thing. We must continue the tradition of Enzo Ferrari, the flavour and spirit of his unique team and company. We must sustain the Ferrari mystique.'
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