The pressure of working for Ferrari: ‘People are literally spitting at you in the street’

Henry Valantine
Ferrari engineer Rob Smedley with Felipe Massa.

Ferrari engineer Rob Smedley with Felipe Massa.

Working for Ferrari is a unique proposition in Formula 1, and former Scuderia engineer Rob Smedley has detailed that the range in emotions went from being the metaphorical “best thing since sliced bread” to having people “literally spitting at you in the street” in tougher moments.

Smedley worked as Felipe Massa’s race engineer during his stint with the Scuderia, which holds the dual position of not just being the most storied name in Formula 1, but the team also acts as Italy’s national team in the sport.

That brings with it one of the most passionate fanbases anywhere in the world, particularly when the sport races in Italy – but Ferrari red will be one of the most prominent colours in the grandstands at every race weekend of the season.

Such is the fervent support for Ferrari in Italy, though, that it brings with it intense scrutiny on a daily basis, which is the job of new team principal Fred Vasseur to manage as the Scuderia go about their jobs in the 2023 campaign.

Having spent a long period of his own career as a public face under the microscope of Ferrari’s performance, Smedley was able to recall just how intense it could be working for the team through both good and bad times.

In offering a word of advice for Vasseur, he believes the highs and lows of working for the Scuderia need to “blend” day-to-day to ensure the team is able to deliver consistently when they are on track.

“I think [for] all the senior guys there, especially the ones that are rolled out in front of the media, it’s a massive responsibility. There’s no doubt about it,” Smedley explained on the Sky Sports F1 podcast.

“I’ve said this myself in the past, you can describe Ferrari in Italy as a religion. Definitely. It’s the national team, and therefore, you are representing the nation, not just a brand. So it is tough, and you don’t need thick skin, you need rubber skin because I think the reality of the situation is it goes through cycles.

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“And I can remember this myself, personally, you know, you’d be held up on a pedestal, and you’d be thought about as being the best thing since sliced bread, and four, six weeks, two months later, you know, people are literally spitting at you in the street.

“So, it’s a tough dichotomy, to be honest, and you just have to ride it out. You kind of have to blend the highs into the lows, so that you just get a single emotional viewpoint on it all to give yourself that equilibrium that you need to be able to keep delivering day in, day out, because that’s the important bit, right?

“You know, when people are telling you how great you are, it’s important not to listen to it, and it’s equally important when people are telling you how rubbish you are – and that happens.

“So I think that Fred is going to go through all of that. He’s a good guy, he’s been in motorsport for a long time in senior positions, ART Grand Prix [and Renault] before he came into Alfa Romeo.

“He’s been there, he knows what it’s like. It’s a different intensity, a different pressure in Ferrari. But he just has to get on with it, you know, it’s part of his job.”

Ferrari have endured a difficult start to the season by their standards, sitting fourth in the Constructors’ standings after two races – with Charles Leclerc retiring from the Bahrain Grand Prix and already suffering a 10-place grid penalty for taking a Control Electronics unit on his SF-23 beyond his allowance for the season.