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Binotto on himself, Mercedes, Arrivabene, Marchionne and more

For nearly a quarter of a century Mattia Binotto has toiled at Maranello almost incognito to the outside world, in the last couple of years he came to prominence as the team’s technical director and has now been promoted to lead Ferrari to former glory.

Prior to recently little was known about the Swiss-born engineer, who joined the Scuderia in 1995 fresh out of university, now Corriere della Serra have published a wide-ranging interview with the new team chief.

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Asked for his thoughts ahead of the new season which begins this weekend in Melbourne, Binotto said, “We have a team that season after season has shown to growth, because every year the team learns, even from the mistakes. And this process has led to us building an even better single-seater.”

“I think the team to beat is still Mercedes. We are a young group, we know our goals but we will have to show that we are united in under pressure. I do not know if it’s really a concern, but this has to be checked.”

“[Mercedes] are a consolidated group, they know how to build a fast car, they have the financial resources, skills and even if they experience initial difficulties they will overcome them.”

A big question mark hangs over Red Bull and Honda, how they combine and perform could become a factor in the title race. How much of a factor only time will tell.

Asked how strong he expects the energy drinks outfit to perform, Binotto predicted, “Strong. Honda has grown and has also proved reliable with Toro Rosso.”

The Ferrari SF90 proved to be a solid and fast package straight out-of-the-box, with both Sebastian Vettel and newcomer Charles Leclerc consistently among the fastest and apart from a niggle during the second test, they managed impressive mileage, all of which bodes well for the campaign ahead.

Explaining the strengths of their new car, Binotto said, “Importantly it has aerodynamic stability, it is predictable and constant at medium and high speeds through corners and on the straights. It is something we have been searching for because it was one of the problems with the car last season.”

He explained how the solution was found “with feedback between the wind-tunnel and track. We have ramped up our simulations to identify the problems and obtain a better correlation with the data.”

Binotto also repeated that to start with young Leclerc would be given the same equipment as his more experienced teammate Vettel, “Our commitment is to give them an identical product. The approach is different: Charles is an investment for us. He will spend a lot of time with the engineers to make the best progress. He will learn quickly, he’s a smart guy. ”

As for his own strengths, the 49-year-old engineer admitted, “I’m not particularly good at design but rather [I am] an engineer with a good understanding of the physical rather than mechanical phenomenon.”

“I believe that in these years my strength has been in management of a group. Whether the topic is technical or political matters little, the important thing is how you organise a team. More than anything else I feel like a person who can help others to do their job well.”

Asked to compare himself to the legendary Enzo Ferrari who was known to be an “agitator of men” and ran his team, while managing his drivers in a similar manner.

Binotto replied, “No, mine is more that of a paternal figure. I almost feel like a tutor.”

Shedding light into the polemics that engulfed the team late last year which eventually led to his appointment in place of Maurizio Arrivabene.

Despite the latter claiming that reports after the summer last year of a crisis within the team were “fake news” it was clear Binotto was unhappy and even being courted by Mercedes, who have never been shy to ‘poach’ from Ferrari.

The story is well told how, in December, Ferrari president and Agnelli heir John Elkann tried to broker a truce between the technical chief and Arrivabene but to no avail, one had to go and they opted to release the Marlboro Man.

Asked if leaving Maranello was an option, Binotto said, “I felt I was no longer in a position to do my job well and I made it known. This was not a difficulty I was experiencing alone but also related to the whole group because even if a technical director does not work at his best, everything is reflected in those he manages.

“Yes, it’s true: other teams have been in touch with me because my experience has value in F1. I’m a Ferrari fan since I was a child. I’ve never thought of another team except Ferrari.”

Daniele Sparisci and Giorgio Terruzzi, who conducted the interview for Corriere asked the inevitable question: What were the problems between him and Arrivabene?

“Working here for 25 years I was lucky enough to live those glorious moments with Todt, Brawn and Schumacher. And then with Stefano Domenicali. I have always learned from everyone, even from Maurizio and I thank him for this.”

“The personal relationship has always been good. Never a fight, the difficulties involved the vision, the management of the group or a race weekend. We had different points of view,” responded Binotto.

The man who believed in Binotto the most was the late Sergio Marchionne and by all accounts, before his passing last year he was plotting for this season and vital in inking a deal to promote Charles Leclerc to the team in place of Kimi Raikkonen.

Asked what the charismatic automotive titan taught him, Binotto replied, “Do not set limits. Give us the goal of reaching the impossible. It was his constant motivation, to try to do something that remains in history, either personally or of this sport.”

As for his rapid rise orchestrated by Marchionne, he revealed, “Yes, it was a completely unexpected development. He had already promoted me to head the engines in 2014 but I think with the second nomination he wanted to break the mould, not only here at Ferrari but in F1.”

“He chose a technical director who has never designed a car. It was a gamble that has to do with this horizontal organization, with which we continue to work with.”

“As a manager, you can no longer go into detail and automatically empower people. It is not Binotto’s machine, it belongs to everyone: the artist, the painter, the driver… collaborators become protagonists.”

He went on to explain that he was not surprised by his appointment to the role of team principal, “I had discussed the possibility of this with Arrivabene, but ultimately the appointment was a company decision. I am grateful to Ferrari for their trust and esteem.”

Finally, it was put to him that his is an inspirational fairytale of an intern turned team principal, he agreed, “Yes, especially for my colleagues who consider me one of them and perhaps this is my strong point. For some they are still their interns, for [me] they are young track engineers,” added Binotto, Ferrari’s 28th team principal.

Big Question: Is Mattia the right man to lead Ferrari back to the very top?