Breakfast with ... Federico Gastaldi

They say you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full, but Eric Silbermann risks the wrath of Mrs Manners by having breakfast with a pot-pourri of paddock people.


Lotus F1’s Deputy Team Principal is not exactly a household name in the paddock, but Federico Gastaldi has been around longer than you think, working with the team since 2010. His links to the sport go back further than that and coincidentally, the Argentinian started out working in the textile business just like a previous Enstone team boss, Flavio Briatore. We caught up with him a couple of weeks ago at the Hungaroring.

You’re something of a mystery man in the Formula One paddock. You’ve actually been involved in F1 for longer than people think. People know who you are now because of this current role but you were involved with the Argentinian Grand Prix and also Benetton.

I started working with Benetton when I was a kid - that was my first job.

That was in Argentina?

That was in Argentina and then I went to work for them in the States before coming to Europe.

Was that in the days of Briatore?

No, before Flavio. Flavio came afterwards. I was working for Benetton in the early 80s and living in New York when I first met Flavio. He knew one of the Benetton brothers and that’s how I met him.


So how did the motorsport involvement start for you?

One of my brothers had the idea of bringing Formula One back to Argentina. We met Bernie (Ecclestone) in 1985 through Luciano (Benetton) and we started talking in Monaco I remember. Then in 1989 we started talking again seriously and we started to put together the project. Bernie knew the President of Argentina whose son, Carlos Menem Junior, was a famous rally driver at the time.

To cut a long story short, the race was postponed for various reasons. (It was due to be staged in ’94 but following the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger that year at Imola, the Buenos Aires circuit layout had to be modified.) So, in 1995 we did a MotoGP, in the days when the series was run by Bernie and then we hosted the Formula One GP which ran until ‘98.

Do you think we’ll ever go back there? Has the country got the economic strength to do that at the moment?

It would be great. At that time, we thought we were going to be supported by the government as we had a petrol-head as a president, but he was very honest and straightforward. He said “listen, we don’t have a budget for this unfortunately”. We managed to organise it anyway. It was a good experience. Then the government changed and it was too difficult to deal with at that period of time and we decided to walk out.

The sport needs to be more open in all areas. It should be more relaxed

It’s a shame because I think for everybody who went there, it was one of the most popular races on the calendar.

It’s funny because I stayed involved (in motorsport) after we organised the Grand Prix, backing various South American drivers that didn’t do much! Anyway, then I also tried to organise a Grand Prix in Miami and in Mexico, just exploring possibilities.

And the Lotus job?

While I had worked in this team from the beginning, I also came back with Rocco Benetton when he took over, which was after it had been run by Alessandro Benetton, Flavio, Tom Walkinshaw and David Richards. Rocco stayed until they sold the team to Renault. After that, I stayed involved in the sport, doing other things but not with the Renault team. Then I came back in 2009 when Gerard Lopez asked me to get involved. So I’ve been here since then but always I kept myself in the background. I never wanted to be doing this actually!

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Day 3 - Jerez, Spain

You also worked as a music promoter.

When I was working in textiles, we got the offer to become sponsors with Benetton Sisely in South America of major concerts at the end of the 80s. It was at the time when we were rebuilding the race track, so we had to fill it with events. We started looking and, at the time, we had some contacts in the music industry and also in the tennis business through players like Guillermo Vilas. It was easy for them to call up their colleagues - Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis, Bjorn Borg, Pat Cash and Yannick Noah, so we were organising tennis tournaments there and then we were organising also concerts, bringing over names like Rod Stewart, Gypsy Kings, Billy Preston, Duran Duran, Paul Young and even Paul McCartney and many more.

Given your background then, you probably agree that Formula One is it a bit too much of a closed world these days, isn’t it? Have you discussed with Bernie ways of making this a better show? Making it more and rock and roll?

To be honest with you, yes, I’ve known Bernie for a long, long time. He’s the first one that has a massive interest in bringing back the rock and roll element. When I got this role in the team at the beginning of last year, I started going to these meeting groups with the rest of the team principals and the FIA and some sponsors and promoters. Bernie keeps calling this a show and I think we all need to work more closely together in these meetings. That’s what Bernie wants and I really think it’s 100% right because I was a promoter and I know that if we don’t all push in the same direction, it’s difficult. I know that we’re competing at the weekend - that’s a no-brainer - but if we were in the same boat on the same page with the same agenda, we could put on a bigger show, a better show. I’m sure if we start collaborating, having the drivers being more friendly and available if you like, giving the journalists more access to the teams, we could create a bigger show. Also it would be more attractive for a potential sponsor. At Lotus, we are one of the few teams that tries to do that. Even in the Benetton days, because of our contacts, we used to bring into the paddock people from the music business, tennis stars, models and all that and it was colourful, it was fun, it was different.

Honestly, I think we need more Flavio Briatores. He had a different angle.

If you had a free hand to improve Formula One, what would you do?

The sport needs to be more open in all areas. It should be more relaxed and provide an easier environment for business people and entrepreneurs. I understand that Formula One has changed, obviously because of all the things that happen in the outside world and that you have insurance restrictions as to what you can do, but it has become too robotic in my opinion. I’m sure that’s not what Bernie wants but that is what it is at the moment. I’m sure that we are all guilty of all charges.

Even the drivers?

Over the years, I’ve seen drivers that have been very helpful, open-minded, with a smart approach to being a good marketing tool for themselves and their teams. But then, there are some drivers - I don’t want to put names on the table - but we do know some of the drivers, they forgot where they were coming from and that’s when things started going in the wrong direction.


We’ve talked about what the show would be. Instead of running one team, would you like to run the show for whoever ends up running Formula One?

I would love to really. I think I could be part of a team of people with the same orientation. I think we could definitely have the right elements and tools to do a fantastic job, that’s for sure. We could have a fantastic show but again, we need to be in the same boat, we need to have the same agenda and be on the same page, because, unfortunately... I’m not better than anyone, I’m just saying, what I have seen since I started going to these meetings is that there are many many topics that are put forward from different angles - the sports side, the commercial side, everything. And then, by the end of the meeting, we haven’t done anything, we haven’t moved forward one centimetre, which is sad because we have the opportunity to do things.

Honestly, I think we need more Flavio Briatores. He had a different angle. I was privileged to start working with Luciano Benetton when I was 17, working with open-minded creative people. I was lucky to be there learning. I got a good chance to be with these people and I learned a lot from being in contact with people like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring in New York, it was so colourful. Madonna’s brother Joseph was working with us in the shop on 59 and Lexington. His sister was playing downtown and we used to go see her, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, all of them just performing for fun. We miss that sense of spontaneity in Formula One but I guess it was a different era.

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