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Why former Italy captain picked Benetton over Ferrari

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: It’s been Marco Bortolami’s lifelong dream to work as a mechanic for Ferrari, but right now it’s his Benetton team that he has firing on all cylinders.


The former Italy captain has been a massive fan of F1 motor racing since a very young age.

Such is his love of the sport, he went down the track of studying mechanical engineering at the University in Padua in the hope of working for Ferrari one day.

But rugby took over as he went on to have an illustrious playing career, winning 112 caps for his country in the second row between 2001 and 2015, while having spells at Gloucester, Narbonne and Zebre Parma.

Since hanging up his boots six years ago, he has moved into coaching, first as an assistant at Benetton and now as their head coach, having replaced the Azzurri-bound Kieran Crowley.

His second season in the hot seat has been marked by a highly successful start, with three victories from the first four United Rugby Championship matches having taken the Treviso-based side up to fourth in the table.

The engine is purring, which brings us back to that Ferrari dream.


“When I was very young, I was passionate about cars and trucks. Those were my preferred toys,” he explains.

“Ferrari is big in Italy as well. I remember Alain Prost was driving for them and then Michael Schumacher came in and was very successful. So that was a passion I had from a young age.

“It is completely true that my dream when I was a kid was to work as a mechanic for Ferrari. That’s why I started studying mechanical engineering. My life was driven by those big dreams and trying to find a way to make it happen.

“But then rugby became my first priority when I started to play for the Italian team when I was 20 years old.


“I remember doing an interview after my Test debut where I said my dream was to work for Ferrari, the next day, the secretary of the president of Ferrari at that time told me the president had read my interview and they would be waiting for me when my career was over in rugby!

“Obviously I have found my way in rugby now and I am fully engaged with that. But the passion stays with me still now. I am supporting Ferrari every week. It’s still there as a dream, so one day, who knows?”

For now though, rugby remains very much the focus, with coaching having replaced playing.

“It is very, very different. To be honest, I am not missing my playing days because I’d had enough, my body had had enough. I had been passionate about being captain of Italy and my clubs for so many years. It takes a lot of energy to do that,” he said.

After five seasons as an assistant, the Padova-born Bortolami took over as head coach from New Zealander Crowley last year.

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“It is not easy, to be honest. You don’t know that until you find yourself in that position. I learned a lot from Kieran. There is obviously still a lot to learn. I am not the finished product, but you try to learn from your mistakes and build on your strengths.

“I enjoy the responsibility and trying to influence the group to be better every day. It is a lot about rugby, but it is also a lot about your culture and your mindset. I have 65 players and you have got to feel what they need. Sometimes you have got to raise your voice, sometimes you have got to put an arm around them.

“You have got to educate them to make better decisions and develop their knowledge. You’ve also got to make sure they believe they can do it. It’s about what you can do to help them grow faster.”

As for how the season has gone so far, the 42-year-old Bortolami says: “We are very happy with the start. Results are going our way. We have played to our strengths and we are pleased with the game management. The players have been controlled, calm and focused.

“We won’t get carried away because it’s very early, but we have got to be confident as well.”

Benetton’s three wins – against Glasgow Warriors, Scarlets and Dragons RFC – have all come at home. The challenge now is to deliver on the road, with a trip to Edinburgh Rugby coming up this weekend.

“They probably haven’t had the results they would have wanted, so I am sure they will look at this as a game to bounce back. On the other side, if we can put them under pressure, they can maybe find it difficult to find the right answers.”

And with that Bortolami headed off to fine-tune that Benetton machine.

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