As Ferrari gears up for the 2016 F1 challenge, the team’s sporting director Massimo Rivola has confirmed that he has left the Scuderia’s Formula 1 team to become the boss of its young driver programme.
Rivola, who joined Ferrari in 2009 after 11 years working for Minardi and then Toro Rosso, will replace Luca Baldisserri at the Ferrari Driver Academy as one of a number of changes at the Italian team.
Jock Clear, Lewis Hamilton’s former performance engineer at Mercedes, who has been on gardening leave from the German team since late 2014, has joined Ferrari has head of track operations. That appointment is expected to allow technical director James Allison to spend more time overseeing work at the factory rather than attending every race.
Baldisserri was once Michael Schumacher’s race engineer and had been running Ferrari’s academy since 2010. He is moving on to mentor and manage the career of Lance Stroll, the European Formula 3 racer and Williams’ development driver who was once part of the Scuderia’s young driver programme.
Rivola was the subject of a mysterious ‘suspension’ last May, when Ferrari prevented him from attending the Spanish Grand Prix, due to unspecified activities behind the scenes at the team. His future with the Scuderia was questioned at the time, but he returned to complete the season. His position was supported by Sebastian Vettel, who developed a bond with the Italian when they were at Toro Rosso together in 2008.
In a letter sent to the fans, Rivola wrote: “The rumours which have been circulating for a while are true, but I wanted you to be the first to know officially from me what Ferrari has decided: after 18 years of F1, of which 12 have been on the pitwall, it’s time to make a pitstop.
“Motivated by a great professional challenge, along with the company, I have decided to take care of the renewal of the Ferrari Driver Academy. The farewell of a driver as symbolic as Jules [Bianchi] is the spark which means that today it is a real ‘mission’.
“Also thanks to my previous experience, I was fortunate to work with many drivers and to do so when they were young, like Sebastian [Vettel] and Fernando [Alonso] to name a few. To think that the champions of tomorrow for Ferrari will grow in the Academy is just amazing.
“I have always supported thinking of the young, the Ferrarista of the future, and now we have one more tool to do it together.”
The Academy may have lost Stroll, but there are suggestions that one of Nicolas Todt’s most exciting young drivers Charles Leclerc, could join the programme soon. He would be following a well trodden path; the much loved and missed Frenchman Jules Bianchi was another of Todt Jr’s Ferrari junior proteges.
The adjustments to Ferrari’s staff structure comes a year after the team made numerous changes to its management structure as a result of its disappointing 2014 season. Maurizio Arrivabene became team principal and Allison was given full control of the engineering department, while Sebastian Vettel replaced Fernando Alonso in the squad’s driver line up.
That reshuffle was followed by almost instant success as Vettel won the second race of 2015 and Ferrari’s chairman, Sergio Marchionne, has already declared that he expects the team to be capable of challenging for the 2016 title from the first race of the new season.
“The year of our return to the top has begun,” he said early this month. “The team is there and we’re not far from reaching the level of our competitors.
“The investments won’t be lacking. We have invested a lot of financial resources – the work done in 2015 has laid an exceptional basis for a season of success in 2016.
“We must win right away. We must get back in the saddle immediately and reset to zero the difficulties of the past.”
Do you think Ferrari will be able to challenge Mercedes for the win in Melbourne? How will the team changes influence the Scuderia’s fortunes? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.