It was July 4 1993: the Magny-Cours circuit was hosting the French Grand Prix. Three days earlier, for the first time ever, a non-Italian had been appointed to manage Scuderia Ferrari. It was Jean Todt, who on 20 June, as boss of Peugeot Sport, had just won an historic third victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
President Luca di Montezemolo had realised that the Scuderia needed restructuring and required a strong man who ran teams with an iron grip. Jean Todt was such a man: he even used the toss of a coin in a tent in Timbouktou to decide which of his two Peugeot drivers would win the Paris-Dakar in 1989. Heads, Jacky Ickx; tails, Ari Vatanen. It fell on tails.
Todt came to a Scuderia Ferrari which had not won a Grand Prix for 41 races, since Alain Prost’s last victory in Spain in 1990. The following year, the car was not competitive however the team was third in the Championship. In 1992, a season dominated by Williams and its active suspension, the Italian team only scored 21 points and in the first seven races of 1993, with the F93A, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger were only able to score nine points between them.
The French Grand Prix saw the Renault engine dominate in qualifying, with the two Williams ahead of the two Ligiers. Alesi was best of the Ferraris in sixth, two seconds off pole position, while Berger was in 14th, three seconds off Damon Hill’s time to beat.
At the start, Alesi was overtaken by Michael Schumacher in the Benetton while Berger dropped from 14th to 15th after the Finn “JJ” Lehto in the Sauber overtook the Austrian on the home straight leading to the Adelaide hairpin.
The Ferraris’ bad run continued. Alesi, running in ninth, stopped with an engine problem on lap 48, while Berger was lapped twice and finished where he started: 14th. The team had hit rock bottom.
From the following race, it began a slow comeback. The Todt era had only just begun but already some improvements could be seen in Hungary and in Italy, with a third place finish for Berger and a second place for Alesi respectively. In Australia, both cars finished in the points for the first time while John Barnard started to work on the 412 T1.
It was going to be a struggle, but the route was fixed.