F1 2018 Straight Talk: Why the Ferrari threat to quit is real

(Photo credit: Ian C)

According to the Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne:

“The true champions are also great men. They are capable of making difficult decisions, of admitting their mistakes and of pushing harder than before when they get up from a fall.”
“They also share their success with their colleagues.”
“They are leaders, who take responsibility in every situation, winning the respect of their colleagues and their rivals alike.”

He was speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport on the subject of the Italian national football team’s goalkeeper Gigi Buffon. 

But it’s interesting to hear him spell out his vision of what makes a true champion in sport and of what he expects from those who aspire to be a champion when competing for Ferrari. It is even more interesting when you put those comments in the context of what makes a great leader and what is expected from a team boss. 

I’m fascinated by Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne’s concern that the DNA of F1 is about technical differentiation and this should be preserved at all costs. He doesn’t like the idea of homologation, simplified engines and a more economically fair playing field between the teams. Marchionne sees no value in a racing series where the difference between a Ferrari and a Mercedes is a paint colour. Mercedes feel the same way, but are less vocal. 

Unlike previous leaders like Luca di Montezemolo, who also threatened to take Ferrari out of F1, I believe he is serious. Ferrari is a much more corporate culture now, more akin to a capitalist built US corporation than the feline, aristocratic European operation Montezemolo ran. But there is one thing the two see parity on. Ferrari are not like any other F1 team. Immediately we see an issue here. One of Liberty’s founding principles is that “all our children are the same”. This is in stark contrast the Formula 1 Bernie Ecclestone ran. Favouring Ferrari for their history, fanbase and global cachet. Bernie had a strong relationship with Enzo Ferrari himself based on these principles. Now we are left with the legacy of both great men, in a different world to when these principles were founded. 

When the teams organised properly and formed FOTA (F1 teams association), Bernie picked Ferrari and Red Bull and made them sign lucrative commercial agreements, which immediately gave them more money and power. These agreements provided the platform for the current inequality seen in F1. Other teams followed reluctantly, FOTA was dead and F1 is this lopsided mess we now know. 

We now see Ferrari arguing in the press about the renewal of these agreements in 2021. It is Liberty’s job to restore some level of equality through these channels. And Ferrari don’t like this.

This could end up being a year of political flashpoints as we pass through the pain and arguments that shape the future of one of the most global sports. This will take the form of engine formats, the number of participants and how the money is divided amongst them at the start of a season. Battle lines are being drawn. Marchionne isn’t an idiot and has already enlisted Haas and Sauber as more than technical partners and you would expect them to follow Ferrari blindly. Equally, Toto Wolff at Mercedes has Williams and Force India, although Williams' current internal struggle could see them move on from Mercedes. On the other side of the battleground is Christian Horner and the Red Bull boys who by nature would want equal competition as the power unit element has never been a part of their business plan since the introduction of the turbo hybrid in 2014. It has been their weakness in races and also their commercial failing in dealing with engine issues. 

The key player in this is Jean Todt, the current FIA president. In theory, he should support Ferrari, his former team. But in recent months has made his allegiance to the future of the sport and Liberty Media his primary concern. He was quoted as saying: “If Ferrari want to leave, they are entitled to do so.”

The world is changing quickly. By the late 2020s we could have autonomous cars as prevalent as Ubers. As people get used to drinking, texting and doing many other things while being driven, the consensus is that they will care less about owning a car, let alone the war between manufacturers we see today. In that world, F1 will need to present a compelling spectacle where hero drivers in extreme cars perform death-defying feats. There will always be a market for that. 

Do you believe Ferrari will turn their backs on F1? Let us know in the comments below.


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