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Sunday, 8 October, 2000, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
End of the longest wait
By BBC Sport Online's Andrew Benson
If Michael Schumacher thinks he has waited a long time to win his first championship for Ferrari, his troubles have been as nothing compared to the decades of pain endured by his team.
The wealthiest team in F1, a position it has held for at least 40 years, Ferrari has achieved comparatively little success. But the last 20 years have been particularly difficult.
Ferrari is one of the world's six most recognised brand names, sitting alongside giants like Coca-Cola and Microsoft, but that fame has been won by reputation and legend over achievement
Until Schumacher won the championship in Japan this year, it had been 21 years since Ferrari won the Formula One drivers' title.
Even in 1999, when Ferrari won the constructors' championship for the first time since 1983, it did not have the best car. It simply had a more reliable one than McLaren.
Those two decades have been a story of the most shocking waste of money, talent and resources, as British-based teams with a fraction of Ferrari's wealth embarrassed the only outfit still competing to have raced in the first year of the world championship, 1950.
Even by the time of its heyday in the 1970s, Ferrari had failed more than it ought to have done, but it is in the years since 1979 that it has really fallen short.
It was the advent of aerodynamics into F1 that proved Ferrari's undoing. It trailed behind the British teams in the late 1970s, and did not catch up until 1982, by which time it had employed an Englishman, Harvey Postlethwaite, as chief designer.
It should have won the championship that year, and would have done had not crashes killed Gilles Villeneuve, its leading driver, and dealt career ending leg injuries to Didier Pironi, Villeneuve's successor as team leader.
The rest of the '80s were a story of technical underachievement, only relieved in 1990, when Alain Prost took five victories in a car designed by another Englishman, John Barnard, to within an ace of the championship.
At that time, with two years still to go on Prost's contract, Ferrari appeared poised on the brink of a golden age to rival that of the 1970s, when Niki Lauda won two world titles in 1997 and 1977 and Jody Scheckter another - the last until this year - in 1979.
Instead, Ferrari rested on its laurels, failed to win a race in 1991, sacked Prost for telling the truth - that the car was dreadful - and plunged itself into a dark age from which for a while it appeared it might never emerge.
But at its lowest ebb, Ferrari's owner Fiat made a decision that was to lead eventually to the success of this year. It appointed Luca Montezemolo as Ferrari's president.
Montezemolo is the man who masterminded the Lauda years. A protégé of Gianni Agnelli, Fiat's patriarch, he was idenitified as the man who had the passion and vision to bring success back to the marque, and revitalise an image that was being tainted by continuing failure on the race track.
Slowly, it began to come right. Montezemolo appointed Jean Todt, a renowned motorsport organiser, as sporting director in 1993, and some semblance of order began slowly to return to the team.
But the real masterstroke was Agnelli's attraction of Schumacher.
It put pressure on Ferrari - Agnelli said if his team did not win with the best driver in the world, it could blame no one but itself - but it gave it the extra ingredient it needed.
With the German came the key people from the Benetton team with which the German won the 1994 and 1995 world titles. Their English technical director Ross Brawn, South African chief designer Rory Byrne and electronics expert Tad Czapsky.
Brawn and Byrne have turned the technical side of the team around until it runs like a well-oiled machine - like the best English teams, in fact. And Brawn is hailed as a tactical genius. But the real motivating force for the revival has been Schumacher.
Without him, the others might never have come to Ferrari, even though their wages are stratospheric.
Without his unrelenting genius in the car, many of the strategies that Brawn has been able to pull out of the bag would never have worked.
And without him, as his team-mates Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello have proved, the Ferrari is still not as good a car as the best car in F1, whether that be a Williams, as it was in 1996-7, or a McLaren, as it is now.
As it is put by Irvine, a man whose enthusiasm for the abilities of his peers is well under control: "Thank God for Michael. Without him, F1 these last few years would have been so boring. It is only him who has stopped McLaren and Williams walking away with every championship."
The problem for Ferrari is what happens now. Brawn is strongly rumoured to be on his way to Jaguar at the end of 2001, when his contract runs out. Schumacher's own contract expires in 2002.
A replacement for all these elements needs to be found, or the years of relative plenty that have come with Schumacher's presence are in very real danger of returning to the famine of the past.
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