Formula 1

Stefano Domenicali Interview

Stefano Domenicali Interview
If ever the right man was destined to lead Formula 1 through this decade it is Stefano Domenicali, appointed to the sport’s top job in 2021. Born to an Imola banker family in 1965, he grew up within sight and sound of the city’s sinuous Grand Prix circuit, regularly cycling past during school commutes. Aged ten he played car park jockey; a few years later he marshalled. Life revolved around cars and bikes, more specifically F1 and MotoGP.

A business administration degree opened doors at Ferrari, where he rapidly climbed the ranks, attaining the role of sporting director/team principal and leading the Scuderia to 2007/2008 World Titles. He also oversaw the company's Mugello circuit as CEO and (youngest ever) MotoGP race director. In 2014 he moved to Lamborghini, leading the brand's exponential growth. The role of F1 President/CEO was a logical next step.

Albeit born 15 years after the founding of the Formula 1 World Championship, such is Stefano’s passion and feel for F1 that he talks as readily and enthusiastically about Ascari and Andretti as of Fangio and Verstappen, his eyes sparkling as he recalls tales about his heroes. Who, then, are his stand-out drivers and races from each of F1’s seven decades to date?

“There are so many ways of comparing the ‘craziness’ (smile) of these different personalities, it’s amazing,” Stefano says as opener. “Some of the races were just as crazy!”

Stefano Domenciali and Max Verstappen posing for a picture at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Image Courtesy Hoch Zwei


Driver: [Froilán] Gonzales, because he was [Ferrari’s] first F1 grand prix winner. I met the family, but not him personally. I kept the book they gave me - to see the pictures of those times; the goggles were just something to put in front of the eyes…incredible.”

Race: British Grand Prix in 1951 because Gonzales won, but Juan-Manuel Fangio’s masterful win with a Maserati in the 1957 German Grand Prix ranks a close second.

Driver: I always admired Hill, Graham Hill – don’t ask me why, maybe because of his style. The first race I recall, I was seven, so in 1972, and Graham was active then. We should not forget Jackie Stewart, a triple champion - he is a legend now, but he was a legend even then. So, let’s make it Jackie for the sixties.

Race: The 1964 Mexican Grand Prix because John Surtees won the title for Ferrari after placing second - he, Jim Clark and Graham Hill were all in the running.

Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari 375) in 1st position at the 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Driver: For the seventies it’s Lauda, Niki Lauda. Jody Scheckter was a big surprise when he won the title because no one was expecting him to be so strong.
We can’t forget Gilles (Villeneuve), always he would arrive [at Imola, mainly for testing] by helicopter, a Bell. When he went out [on track] people would go quiet [in anticipation]. Gilles was an incredible driver, but I put him between the 70s and 80s, he was spectacular in both decades.
So, Lauda for sure, for his dedication and that no-bullshit spirit of his. He was very straightforward and what he achieved was very real. A three-time champion.

Race: 1976 Italian Grand Prix, Lauda’s first race back against all medical advice after his German Grand Prix inferno; he finished fourth despite having skull and ear wounds swathed in bandages under helmet.

Driver: I say Alain Prost because he was a machine, he was different, had a different mentality from what I always admired in drivers. Normally I admired drivers with a different personality [to Prost’s]; his approach was always very ‘professor’. He felt that he was living parallel to the others, which is why he caught my attention. He left Ferrari as I joined [at end 1991].
The first drivers I worked with [in F1, at Ferrari] were Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi.

Race: That 1982 San Marino Grand Prix clash at Imola between Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve

Alain Prost in his Ferrari at the 1991 World Championship. Image Courtesy Hoch Zwei


Driver: Ayrton Senna, in that period he was the driver that everyone admired. I would say for the first time [a driver] somehow influenced my [personal] growth.
I saw him as a real personality who was not only involved in the way that he was driving, but also the way he related with other drivers, with the authorities such as [then-FIA President Jean-Marie] Balestre, [the Frenchman’s successor Max] Mosley, and the way in which he conducted his private life.
It was the first time, as far as I remember, that I connected with a driver because he was more than a driver.

Race: 1994 Canadian Grand Prix, Jean Alesi’s first win and as it turned out, his last.

Driver: The era of Michael, we started working together at Ferrari in 1996, but there wasn’t much success from 1996 to 1999, then he had his accident - Michael at Silverstone and a possibility for Eddie Irvine to win the 1999 title [for Ferrari]. Michael was an incredible team player: he didn’t blame the team for the accident [he broke a leg] although a mechanic didn’t seal a brake [valve], and Michael tried to help Eddie win.

After that it was title after title, five in a row. That's why Michael is currently the greatest driver in my life. I've worked with many, many drivers, very good ones, Kimi – we won the 2007 titles after being 18 points behind - and I have to say it's a shame for Felipe because he deserved to win the 2008 title. I remember on the podium after he lost, massive dignity.

Race: 2000 Japanese Grand Prix, simply because we won the first Ferrari title with Michael.

Winner of the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher of Ferrari. Image Courtesy Hoch Zwei


Driver: We can’t forget Sebastian Vettel’s four titles with Red Bull fighting against Fernando [Alonso] and Ferrari. That was very good, but then came Lewis and he did something unique, so the twenty-tens period is really about Lewis and Mercedes - but I was not really in Formula 1 then although obviously I followed it closely.

Race: 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix: Season opener, first race for Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, first race for Felipe Massa after a spring struck his helmet in Hungary, and a one-two finish.

Driver: My driver of the 2020s? The decade is not over yet – ask me in eight years’ time!

Race: Same!
With that Stefano Domenicali is off to yet another F1 meeting, his childhood passion for the sport undiminished.

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