Ex-Ferrari figures on ‘huge pressure’ from Italian media and why it’s ingrained in team ‘psyche’

Henry Valantine
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz testing in Bahrain. testing results

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz testing in Bahrain.

Pedro de la Rosa and Rob Smedley have spoken about the pressures faced at Ferrari on a day-to-day basis, not least from Italy’s national media outlets.

As Italy’s ‘national’ Formula 1 team, there is a natural spotlight on the Scuderia in the nation – and when coupled with it being the most storied team in the history of the sport, there is a unique privilege to driving for or working for Ferrari, but with that comes a pressure like no other.

There are headlines about the team in the country on a daily basis, with the fortunes of the Maranello-based outfit under a microscope, and former test driver De la Rosa and long-time race engineer Smedley explained that the scrutiny ran deep within the team – to a degree where a daily media “dossier” about what was written was spread around the factory every day.

Such was the effect of a poor race weekend, De la Rosa said as soon as the chequered flag fell on a Sunday, the tone for the coming week would already be set in people’s minds over what kind of coverage the team would receive – and that was known, all the way at the top of the team.

“When I was at Ferrari, I remember in the Monday morning after a bad result, I go to the factory and I went into Stefano’s office and there was La Gazzetta dello Sport opened, his mail [on] his office desk, and I realised that we were in trouble. You know, that’s a bit [of] radiography of what Ferrari is like,” De la Rosa explained on the F1 Nation podcast.

“It’s a difficult team. There’s a lot of huge pressure from the press mounting up and the moment that you haven’t had a good result that specific weekend, already on Sunday, at 4pm, you already know what kind of week you’re going to have the next week.”

Smedley, who was often heard on team radio as race engineer for Felipe Massa while both were with the Scuderia, explained that different people took different approaches to trying to deal with the pressure that came from the national media.

Even in response to a recent story in which former Ferrari board member Lapo Elkann said the team needs to “wake up” after a poor start to the season, Smedley explained that the effects of his words on social media could have far wider-reaching implications inside the Ferrari factory – even when, on the same vein, when the team performs well, the praise is often fawning.

“Pedro’s absolutely right, the media is almost part of the team, and lots of team principals have had a go at either embracing that or trying to stop that,” he added.

“But in the end, it’s kind of a fact of life, that the strength of the Italian media, or the power of the Italian media is inveigled in the team psyche. Absolutely.

“So when you have a good race, they will write brilliant things about you, and when things aren’t going as well, then, you know, it just needs somebody with the gravitas of Lapo Elkann to say something like ‘Ferrari need to wake up’, and that becomes a real thing within the team.

“Now, depending on, how much Fred [Vasseur, current team principal] can protect everybody from that is dependent on how much people get distracted, but it can be a distraction. And I know from personal experience that it can be a distraction, especially when it’s about you personally.

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“But I think that as time goes on, you know, the more senior guys there, you just learn to deal with it. It just becomes part of what you do. And as Pedro mentioned, Stefano would have La Gazzetta open, and there would even be a dossier of what was being written.

“When I first got to Ferrari, there was this dossier that was kind of handed out on every single morning about what was written, and I think that Ross Brawn when he was there was really keen on getting rid of all of that, because it just is, you know, to use that word again, it’s a distraction. You kind of get to grips with it, you get to deal with it, and then it just becomes white noise. You’ve just got to make it white noise in the background.”

De la Rosa continued from Smedley’s point, reasoning that coming to the team having not been born in Italy would make it easier to adjust to the surroundings, and not being used to the level of scrutiny placed on them would mean that the pressure may not affect people as much coming from ‘outside’, as it were.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why the foreigners do so well at Ferrari, is because they are not affected as much by the press, mainly because you don’t understand the press, or the Italian press,” the Spaniard reasoned.

“It’s good for the foreigners, but the Italian engineers, mechanics, the people that work there on a day to day [basis] and they are Italian, they feel the pressure.

“It’s also not about the language itself, but it’s also about the education, what Ferrari really means and how much pressure they manage to handle.”