Ferran takes on F1 from pits

A lot has changed for Gil de Ferran since he stood on the victory podium at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:35 IST
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A lot has changed for Gil de Ferran since he stood on the victory podium at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, sipping milk and enjoying the biggest win of his life. That Indy 500 victory was in 2003, his final year as a driver at the age of 35. Now, three years later, de Ferran was at the speedway for last weekend's United States Grand Prix with a much different - some say much bigger - challenge as sporting director for Honda's Formula One program. The team, with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello as its drivers, has struggled to be competitive with the powerhouses of F1 - Renault, Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes. That doesn't sit well with de Ferran, who earned the nickname "Professor'' during 10 years in US open-wheel racing as a thinking man's driver and an insatiably curious person. When he took his current job with what was then BAR-Honda in April 2005, de Ferran said, "My interest in the sport always extended beyond driving, and this opportunity is the best I could hope for.'' De Ferran, a two-time champion in the former CART series, was used to winning, not just competing. Last Sunday's race was a mixed bag for Honda, with Button involved in a first-lap crash that took out eight cars and Barrichello avoiding the mishap and racing to a solid sixth-place finish. That left the Honda team fourth in the constructors championship, with Button and Barrichello seventh and eighth in the driver standings. But, as frustrating as it gets at times, de Ferran says he is happy with the challenge. There are big differences, too. "The routine is certainly different for me. I used to spend half of my life working out and exercising and, as you can see from my shape, that certainly is not the case any more,'' said de Ferran, who is still trim but does look a bit stockier than in his days in the cockpit. De Ferran brings a unique perspective to his job, having been a top-notch driver and also having spent his formative years in racing moving up the European competition ladder before heading to the US. The drivers definitely like having the former champion running the team. "Gil is able to understand the drivers to a level that sometimes the engineers cannot, because although they are incredibly talented people, they have not necessarily been drivers themselves,'' Button explained. Barrichello echoed his teammate. De Ferran said he really doesn't miss driving race cars. (AP)