Motor Racing: Todt harnesses power of the Prancing Horse: The tifosi celebrate Ferrari's first victory for almost four years as the team's leader continues to restore their credibility

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The Independent Online
THEY tumbled down from the cities in their thousands, clogging the autostrade and every winding route to the coast. Now, Italy can holiday in peace, content that Ferrari are winners again.

In another era, Gerhard Berger might not have been joking when he said he hoped this country's beloved team would resist the temptation to join the evacuation to the beach following his victory in Sunday's German Grand Prix. But things have changed at Maranello, evidently for the better.

The man who has been responsible for reshaping Ferrari, a Napoleonic figure from France called Jean Todt, is a deceptively strong leader and, after little more than a year as team director, he has restored much of the fabled Prancing Horse's credibility, doing great service not only for the passionate tifosi

but for the whole of Formula One.

Tragedies, rows and recriminations have darkened the course of grand prix racing all season. At Hockenheim, there was more controversy; more drivers were summoned and punished by officialdom. Most alarming of all was the fire which engulfed Jos Verstappen's Benetton-Ford. The inquiries and soul searching must go on.

However, the scarlet car's first success for nearly four years ('Finally' screamed one headline yesterday) has soothed motor racing's highest order both emotionally and commercially. The old maxim still rings true: a healthy Ferrari means a healthy Formula One. It bolsters confidence and enthusiasm, and, in this land especially, means a huge boost to ticket sales and television viewing figures. The doubts over the Italian Grand Prix, scheduled for Monza on 11 September, have dramatically receded. 'It will go on,' Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's impresario, said.

Ferrari are not deluding themselves the job is done. Todt will ensure that. The former Peugeot chief feels the renaissance is barely under way. Come next season, the operation should be running to his full satisfaction, but then this, as he discovered, is no simple task.

Todt said: 'I must admit it has been tougher than I expected. The pressures are very great. Remember, this is like a national team. Everybody here cares about Ferrari. I could see changes were necessary but you have to be sensitive. Some things you cannot change. You cannot paint the car green.

'This is also a very big organisation. We have 400 people. Unlike the other teams, we build our own engine, so the work is very demanding. And when you are into the racing season, there is little time for anything else.'

Todt, who regularly works through to midnight, went on: 'Gradually we are getting there, with the car and the organisation. I know what I want to do, how to do it and the people I need.'

His aides at Maranello have been resonsible for developing and modifying John Barnard's original car design and Todt wants the Englishman to continue with long-term projects at his base near Guildford.

The present Ferrari, though much improved, remains essentially a power-circuit contender and Berger's main opponents, the championship leader, Michael Schumacher of Benetton-Ford and Damon Hill of Williams-Renault, were removed from the equation in Germany. That V12 engine will not be so effective in Hungary, on Sunday week, and the gods may not be so accommodating.

Berger said: 'We still have problems on the car and it will be much more difficult in Budapest. I don't think we'll be so strong as we were at Hockenheim, but we'll be fighting. It's so much more fun when you can race knowing you have a chance.'

The Austrian's spirit, humour and sense of fair play have been as important to the racing as they have to his stewardship of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association. He is enjoying a purple patch, his pace having earned him pole position for Sunday's race. 'That showed I still have my old speed and now I have the experience,' the 34-year-old said.

Berger, who readily acknowledges he learned much from his partnership with the late Ayrton Senna, has made himself a pillar of the new Ferrari structure. Jean Alesi's place is less certain, even though Todt contends his countryman is under contract for next season and wanted for the season after.

Todt considers it his duty to be loyal and comforting to his drivers. 'I would never break a contract,' he said. 'Alesi is very fragile, but even Berger is sometimes fragile. They need help.'

He added, however, that he would not endeavour to keep an unhappy driver, and rumours suggest that sections of the team would not be sorry to lose Alesi, who has been linked with Williams and Benetton. Todt displays little interest in Nigel Mansell, while Williams, too, are apparently cooling on the former world champion for next year. Hill, despite his error at Hockenheim, seems secure for next year.

The driver being mentioned as a candidate for a top seat is Rubens Barrichello, and a fee of dollars 3m ( pounds 2m) to prise him from Jordan- Hart should not prove a deterrent. McLaren appear to be leading the chase for the Brazilian, while Martin Brundle could be returning from the Woking camp to Ligier.

Nigel Mansell saw his hopes of winning the Marlboro 500 for the second year running dashed at Brooklyn, Michigan, on Sunday, by a throttle linkage problem. The Briton, who led at one stage, finished 26th behind Scott Goodyear, of Canada, who achieved the second IndyCar victory of his career.