Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport has given an insight into how Ferrari bring through the next generation of drivers via their academy programme.
The rapid of rise of Charles Leclerc, who continues to go from strength and strength after outscoring Sebastian Vettel in his first season at Ferrari, has shown the effectiveness of the driver academy and now the next batch of youngsters on the production line will be hoping to follow the same career path as Leclerc.
La Gazzetta dello Sport held Q and A sessions, firstly with Ferrari’s sporting director, Laurent Mekies, to shed some light on how the Scuderia go about trying to unearth talent good enough to reach Formula 1.
How do you choose the drivers?
Mekies: “Apart from the pure speed of the driver, that we can value with different measurements, the most important thing for us is a kid who is open minded and willing to improve. Our goal is not to find a driver for Formula 1, but to find a driver who is good enough to drive a Ferrari in the future.
The new drivers, Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong, are they similar to Charles Leclerc?
Mekies: “This year they have both been good switching to a much more difficult competition in F3 and immediately finish first and second, but Charles did this a lot of time, no actually all the times! Charles with the Ferrari he improved his speed every 3-4 race. So we have to wait and see how Robert and Marcus perform in F2 before comparing them to Leclerc.”
Do you have talent scouts that help you find these drivers?
Mekies: “With drivers for the single seaters, we have a team big enough to find talents on our own and have improved this area so we are able to follow drivers even from distant countries.
“For karting, we have a deal with Tony Kart, and he informs us of the most talented drivers. We then invite them to Fiorano and we do some tests there and obviously some test drives with the F4 car. Obviously the drivers are then fully focused on setting the fastest lap.”
How important is it for the growth of these talents that Ferrari has some a customer team to send them to first?
Mekies: “An intermediate step, before getting to the Ferrari, is necessary. Leclerc is the perfect proof of this. But the talent trumps everything. If we find a real talent then everybody will come and ask for him, even teams that do not have any links to Ferrari.”
Marco Matassa, Carlos Sainz’s former engineer at Toro Rosso, is now also part of the Ferrari set-up looking for the next generation of talent.
“The drivers looks at me like a priest,” Matassa said.
“With each one there is a relationship of trust and confidentiality.
“It’s not very different from when I was in F1 working with drivers making their debut, even with them I was teaching them, when this chance came up and thinking it was Ferrari I had no doubt.
“I am from Modena so this role meant me going back home. It’s a dream came true.”
What do you look in a driver?
Matassa: “What we are looking is what we call talent, but at their age it is very difficult to understand what that talent is. Some drivers are immediately very fast, but then they hit the wall and cannot improve. Instead a real talent can have a slow growth but an even bigger potential.”
What is your definition of talent?
Matassa: “There is a film called “Amici Miei”, when they ask what is a genius, the answer is imagination, intuition, and quick thinking. Well, it’s the same for the driver. The driver that has talent is one that does things that are impossible to explain.”
What does the programme at the Ferrari Driver Academy consist of?
Matassa: “We have a daily programme, mixing up physical activity, mental activity and technique. Apart from that, we have campus sites around Italy where we can see how the drivers behave.
“Being very fast is not enough. The goal is for them to drive a Ferrari in Formula 1 one day, so they need to respect the value of our brand and also prepare them for the relationship with the media as well.”