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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 April 2005, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
New broom sweeps through BAR
By Andrew Benson
Motorsport editor

BAR's new sporting director Gil de Ferran poses with one of the team's Formula One cars
De Ferran has swapped his racing overalls for team management
Gil de Ferran finally has a chance to prove himself in Formula One - but it is not quite in the way he always imagined.

Despite an impressive record racing against the likes of David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello in the junior categories, an F1 break never came the Brazilian's way as a driver.

Instead, after 10 years of success in American racing, the 37-year-old will reacquaint himself with his old adversaries and friends at this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix in his new capacity as sporting director of BAR-Honda.

"A lot of people have asked me whether it is unfinished business or revenge or whatever," De Ferran says, "but I really don't feel that way at all.

"When I was racing in Europe, all I wanted to do was get to F1 and hopefully one day become world champion. But my road took me a different way.

1992: British Formula Three champion
1994: Third in Formula 3000 championship
1995: Moves to US-based CART series
2000: Champ Car champion
2000: Sets world closed-course speed record with lap of 241.428mph at California Speedway
2001: Wins second Champ Car title
2003: Wins Indianapolis 500
"I didn't finish my career with any degree of bitterness - quite the contrary. I felt fulfilled. I felt like I had a great career.

"I was looking to use the experience that I had gained as a driver. I didn't want to get out of the sport even though I wasn't interested in driving any more. And this was the best opportunity I could hope for."

De Ferran ended up in America because F1 drives were thin on the ground at the end of 1994, when he narrowly missed out on winning the Formula 3000 title.

The decision to cross the Atlantic paid off handsomely - De Ferran won two Cart championship titles and the Indianapolis 500 by the time he called time on his career by winning his final race in Texas in 2003.

He quit, he says, because although he was still enjoying driving and felt he was as good as ever, he could feel his desire waning.

"I was plateau-ing," he says. "And we all know that after a plateau there is always a dive, and I really didn't want to see the other side of the hill."

Having amassed a personal fortune in one of motorsport's most demanding arenas, many would have chosen to sit back and enjoy it.

There is an element of risk in doing this but I was a racing driver - I'm used to taking risks
Gil de Ferran
Instead, De Ferran is swapping the sun of his home in Florida's Fort Lauderdale for England's fickle weather and the demanding environment of F1.

Renowned throughout his racing career for his intelligence, technical insight and good humour, De Ferran will need all of those qualities to succeed in his new role.

He says he needed a new challenge and F1 will certainly be that for a man who has no significant experience of it.

"There is an element of risk in anything you do in life," he says, "and one of the many challenges ahead is my lack of team management experience, and I'm sure there are some nuances about F1 that I don't know about.

"On the other hand, I have worked with some of the most brilliant men in auto racing - (US racing magnate) Roger Penske and Jackie Stewart are two people who come to mind.

"That gives me good background. And this feels like a natural progression.

Jenson Button in the BAR-Honda
BAR, last season's runners-up, have started the season poorly
"Will I be successful? I don't know. But I don't look for things that are certain. I look for things that provide challenges and difficulties, are exciting things for me to do, and situations where I can develop and grow.

"And I think this fits the bill. Risks? No doubt. But I was a racing driver - I'm used to taking risks. The deeper the swimming pool, the happier I am."

The most pressing item on his agenda will be to help BAR recover from a disappointing first three races, in which last year's world championship runners-up have scored no points.

"There has been a substantial change in the regulations from last year to this year. And some teams adapted better than others - all you have to do is look at Ferrari's and Renault's performance this year," he says.

"But the team understands the issues very well from the first few races.

"If you look at the latest tests, there was a great increase in performance from both drivers - both Jenson (Button) and Taku (Sato) were doing very well, and I guess that gives us reasons for optimism.

Gil de Ferran kisses the trophy awarded to the winner of the Indy 500
De Ferran's greatest day in America - winning the Indy 500
"In the short term, my role is not to disrupt a good thing. The team is essentially very good, and the worst thing I can do is go in there guns blazing and make a mess of everything.

"I just need to open my eyes, prick up my ears and understand what is going on and learn the ins and outs of what they do, and hopefully over time my contribution will increase."

And that contribution, he insists, will not stretch to any time behind the wheel.

"I was asked that question by someone in the team, actually. I am so focused on something else that that desire has not cropped up.

"Not only do I have no plans of doing that now, I have no plans of doing that in the future. And I think it would be disruptive."

And if one of the drivers makes a dreadful mistake and he finds himself thinking he could do better himself?

He laughs. "I guess in the same way that when I was driving and I made mistakes - and believe me, I made several mistakes - I appreciated the support from the team management. My role will be to do a similar thing."

De Ferran claims BAR-Honda role
06 Apr 05 |  Formula One
De Ferran calls time
25 Aug 03 |  Motorsport
Greatest win for recovering De Ferran
26 May 03 |  Motorsport

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