Will Ferrari’s slump go on after Montezemolo exit?

2014 F1 season

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Fernando Alonso, Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari, Monza, 2014How much Luca di Montezemolo’s departure from Ferrari was due to the Formula One team’s lack of success in recent seasons, and how much it was to do with the strategy of their road car business, is a matter of debate.

Fiat Group CEO Sergio Marchionne made a pointed reference to the team’s failure to win a championship since 2008 earlier this week. But, as today’s Comment of the Day argues persuasively, matters outside Formula One are likely to have been the driving force.

Today’s news will inevitably raise questions about how long Ferrari’s fallow period in F1 is going to last. A piece of brilliance from Fernando Alonso in Hungary was the only time they looked like winning a race in the last 12 months.

What must hurt most at Ferrari was that so much hope had been invested in 2014 as the year when they would finally turn things around. Montezemolo in particular had repeatedly criticised F1 during the V8 era, complaining about the lack of opportunities for engine development and overwhelming focus on aerodynamics.

The 2014 rules package tipped the balance back towards engine development – Ferrari’s domain – yet they have come up with arguably the weakest power unit on the grid. Renault’s V6 may have been embarrassingly unreliable in testing, but Red Bull have still won three races with it.

Ferrari are the only team other than Mercedes to enjoy the advantage of building both engine and a chassis in-house, yet the differences between their two seasons could hardly be more stark. At Monza they slipped behind Williams in the championship – a team with a far smaller budget than Ferrari’s.

Montezemolo’s response to Ferrari’s poor start to the season was to pile yet more invective on F1. Embarrassingly, he discharged both barrels on the eve of the Bahrain Grand Prix, ridiculing the sport as a feeble contest for fuel-sipping taxi drivers, only for race day to provide a blistering contest in which his struggling F14 Ts only figured when they were being overtaken.

That woeful performance provided the catalyst for team principal Stefano Domenicali’s departure. He joined a succession of staff who have carried the can for Ferrari’s failures over the years – Chris Dyer after a strategic error cost Alonso the 2010 championship, Aldo Costa when they failed to equal Red Bull’s aerodynamic inventiveness, and Luca Marmorini when the 2014 power unit came up well short.

It’s an unfortunate irony that Ferrari’s bravest move in decades – re-hiring Kimi Raikkonen to form their strongest driver line-up in decades – coincided with production of one of their worst cars in some time.

Both drivers must be wondering what today’s development means for the team’s short-term future. Particularly Alonso, now in his fifth year with the team, who arguably only had a championship-worthy Ferrari in his first season with the team.

If the new administration are planning more sweeping changes, how much longer will he have to wait to get his hands on a potential title-winner? Despite his recent assurances that he wants to stay at the team, it’s not hard to imagine how the entreaties of McLaren-Honda might start to sound more appealing.

Ferrari under Montezemolo

Luca di Montezemolo, Niki Lauda, Ferrari, Monaco, 1975Luca di Montezemolo began working for Ferrari in 1973. The 26-year-old was personally appoined by Enzo Ferrari straight after his graduation from Columbia University.

Montezemolo quickly won over those sceptical over the appointment of such a young and inexperienced sporting director as the team returned to winning ways courtesy of designer Mauro Forghieri, and drivers Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni. Under his stewardship the team ended a championship drought which had lasted almost a decade.

However it proved a temporary association as he quickly was promoted elsewhere within Fiat. He eventually returned in 1991, three year’s after the death of the team’s patriarch.

By now the severity of the team’s troubled could be judged by the fact they had just fired Alain Prost, the driver who had won more races than anyone ever, for pointing out the obvious fact that their car was no good.

A long rebuilding process began, and even once the ‘star team’ of Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Michael Schumacher had been assembled it still took until 1999 for their first championship triumph, and another year for Schumacher to claim the coveted drivers’ title.

That began five years of domination of the sport – the standard by which all future Ferrari teams will inevitably be judged.

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Image © Ferrari/Ercole Colombo

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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51 comments on “Will Ferrari’s slump go on after Montezemolo exit?”

  1. Ross, we NEED you! Please come back and put Ferrari back on wheels

    1. But would Ross want to come in right now? He might, if given guarantees that he can do his job the way he feels it should be done. Much the same goes for people like Bob Bell etc. and not to forget James Allison who is there and could do a very good job as well.

      I think Ferrari do have most of the things needed to get back up in house already, but they need to get moving, ditch the blame culture as well as nationality (being italian) counting for more than skill.

      Montezemelo certainly didn’t do the team any favours with throwing the blame on the engine rules instead of focussing on how to get out of the hole they dug themselves at the start of the year. Yes, Ferrari made wrong choices with their engine, but those kind of things happen. Its not as if they can’t improve from here on.

      I do guess even if they put in place a good new structure, that it will take a year or 2-4 until they really get on top of things again, maybe an interesting challenge for Vettel, now that Red Bull is not really giving him much satisfaction?

      1. The departure of Luca di Montezemolo is the single best thing that could have happened to Ferrari by releasing it from his micro-managing tendencies.

        #1 person to run Ferrari Flavio Britorie
        He’s billionaire , he understands what it means to be in an exclusive club and can cater to that group of people very well. At the same time he could tell JA to run the team as he sees fit.

        #2 Ross Brawn to run Ferrari F1 with Cart Blanche Approach with JA as his right hand man .

        #3 Flavio Runs Ferrari F1 , he reunites with his beloved Alonso and they ride into the sunset with 2 more championships before they both retire.

        1. How about put Piquet Jr. in Raikkonen’s seat? That would be the thing.

        2. A simplified version of this would be JA running the team with Flavio in charge of the parties, with Brawn still mostly fishing. That would be about right, actually.

  2. I think it’ll certainly resolve the blame culture problem. After all, it always looked a bit weak when people got shuffled around/sacked from their middling positions whilst Luca postured and proclaimed ‘NEXT YEAR!’, constantly talking down the sport because his team weren’t winning, despite financially harming the sport more than anyone other than CVC.

    Heck, even if he didn’t go, the fact that Marchionne called him out on his recent ‘I am invincible’ statement says wonders for the guys ‘politician’ mindset. A true snake.

    1. I wouldn’t read too much into that exchange. The boss made it clear that this move was going to happen, while Monti had wanted to prevent the team from beeing unsettled before the race. Its just words, I doubt that this move hadn’t been planned well in advance.

    2. Hmmm, I wonder what McLaren needs to do to put an end to their blame culture. Fry and Whitmarsh have been sacked, and yet McLaren is leading the fight with Force India for the title of the worst team with the best engine by a single point, while having one of the weakest driver lineups to boot. Perhaps a certain major management figure has to go, in the same vein that Ferrari finally let Luca go.

  3. Italy is in the midst of a terrible economic recession which has plagued the Country for years. Could this have something to do with the problems of Ferrari? Would like to hear some discussion on this.

    1. Not really, no. Because the team as well as the car maker have money to spare, the car maker even put a limit on how many cars they WANT to produce to keep it exclusive, they didn’t have much of a dip at all.
      If anything, it might have enabled them to lure some interesting people over to the team because they could easily promis salaries that hardly anyone else (save RBR) was willing or able to spend.

  4. I’ll give 50/50 for Ferrari’s success in the near future. Ferrari is passing a rough time for sometime now, and changes were inevitable. Some were made already. However, Luca’s exit and the dead of Emilio Botín, in a such short time, may cause a strong impact. Won’t be easy for sure to regain the balance, but Ferrari is a strong team with a strong past, so with the right choices, Ferrari will definitely fight for the top again.

    1. @yes-master
      Tough time for Alonso too, Montezemolo out and Emilio his godfather is dead in the same day

  5. the future looks bleak with this ridiculous engine homologation rules. if the engine power was on relative parity like last year, Ferrari would be capable of winning this year. so many people think Ferrari are failures at the moment, but they are always in the top 3 teams, which is still great, and you cant always win.

    1. they are always in the top 3 teams

      Do you mean in terms of expenditure or results?

      1. @keithcollantine
        If the championship was decided on only expenditure, Ferrari would probably have won well more than half of the constructors’ championships

      2. top3??? Top1 you would say!!!

        Ferrari is the team that has won more than every other one in F1 – should that be mentioned on a F1 fanatics site!?!?

    2. I’m a Ferrari fan and I can catagorically state that Ferrari have failed this season by building an engine that’s not up to the standard set by Mercedes and a car that’s, at best, the 3rd best on the grid most GP weekends.

      You can’t always win but if Ferrari go the whole season without winning a race then this season can’t be viewed as anything but a failure for the team, and even more so when you consider the drivers, engineers, designers, resources and money available to them.

    3. Why are they ridiculous? Because Ferrari’s engine is hopeless?

      If the future is bleak, it’s entirely Ferrari’s fault. Mercedes managed to build a better engine. That they did this (and Ferrari didn’t) is not because of the rules.

      Ferrari are failures, because they aren’t winning, or even close to winning. They have been comprehensively outclassed by Williams this year, a team with a far smaller budget and a grand total of zero world championships between the drivers. (Incidentally, Williams’ success isn’t entirely down to the engine, as they’re also in front of McLaren and FI.)

  6. I dont see how one man can make enough of a difference.

    1. If that one man is responsible for hiring others, putting them into the right positions, allocating resources and setting the overall strategy for the team they can have a massive impact.
      I once worked for a company that was very successful, so much so that it was bought by one of their competitors who replaced the senior manager with one of their own managers. Within a few months the business went from being very profitable to the verge of bankruptcy because the new boss thought his way of doing things was the only right way of doing things and anyone who didn’t agree was forced out of the company and replaced with someone who would do as they were told without question.
      Two years after being bought the company was making a loss and ended up being sold for a fraction of what it had been bought for.

      1. sad sad reality

  7. The slump will definitely continue in the short term anyway. I have to say i will not miss Luca, i think over the years much of what he has said when outspoken is rubbish, he only speaks for Ferrari’s self interest rather than the sport and his constant whinging when Ferrari is not winning will not be missed by me anyway.

    1. I think that applies to every manufacturer. Remember Mercedes threatened to leave if V8s are kept ?!? And what’s the interest of F1, 1.6L V6 ?!?! We have that already at Le Mans…..

      1. Mercedes didn’t thread to leave, it was Renault that did.

  8. Personally I’ve felt Montezemelo’s, and therein Ferrari’s, failures have been three-fold…

    1. Personnel – Formerly the might of Ferrari appeared capable of creating a package tempting enough to coax almost any paddock figure into their midst, as was most significantly the case with Schumacher entering what was a thoroughly below-par Scuderia in 1996, and yet no such success was found with Newey, whilst McLaren successfully poach Podoromo. Key successes have been made with Allison and de Beer, successes likely to improve Ferrari’s 2015 prospects, but equally Hulkenberg was clearly wrongly overlooked twelve months ago and the failure to recognize Newey’s waning enthusiasm in F1 lost his #2 to McLaren. Aldo Costa, who arguably created the last half decent Ferrari (the F10) was also a crucial loss.

    2. Structure – On paper Ferrari arguably had the strongest team in terms of personnel`(both drivers and designers) going into this season, and yet the F14 T has been little more than a midfield car: this points to key structural issues (something de la Rosa hinted at when he noted the Ferrari simulator was “several years” behind McLaren’s). The concerning assignment of Mattiacci to team principle on the basis that he is a “Ferrari insider” suggests an overprotective reverence in the established team structure and protocol: things that must be changed if Ferrari is too catch up with its seemingly more dynamic opponents. The strength of Ferrari’s hardware, as demonstrated by the team’s continually impressive reliability, versus its allegedly primitive software systems (thus inhibiting design and development not merely on-track performance) could also be crucial: a mechanical team in a virtual era even?

    3. The future – This is where Luca has failed most directly. The failure to recognize fantastic racing in 2014 and widespread fan enthusiasm to further its own agenda under the banner of aiding the fans is completely inexcusable. Ferrari may feel it needs to alter the course of F1 in its favour to protect and ensure the continued engagement of Ferrari fans and to keep a key brand for F1 from splitting its attention to field a Le Mans attempt, but that does not call for fan alienation to be fabricated. And anyway, was a new “engine era” that robbed the former aerodynamic advantage from Red Bull not meant to be an excellent opportunity for Ferrari; was this year not “the time to win”, Luca?

    1. @william-brierty – From the outside it appeared that Montezemelo was more occupied with trying to win un-winnable F1 political battles rather than with the racing battles and having the vision to do whatever it takes to win on the track.

      I really thought Ferrari had a golden opportunity in this new era too and it totally fizzled out. If they do not manage to get Ross Brawn back to help right the ship, can it really be done with who they have on board now?

      1. @bullmello – One gets the sense that Luca believed no battle was un-winnable as president of Ferrari…

        In terms of personnel, I’d suggest that only their engine and software engineering staff need revamping now Allison and de Beer are on board…

    2. Come on, you’re exagerrating. Truth is, RBR had the best car in the last 4 years, so where do you see Ferrari having the best engineers in the last 5 years ?!? It’s obvious they did not have the best ideeas all these years, 2014 is no different. Ferrari doesn’t have (one of) the best chassis(ses), same thing with the engine. Look at RBR, the engine is not good, but the chassis seems really good. I highly doubt Ferrari’s engineers forgot how to design a car. So, I wouldn’t bash LdM for firing certain engineers, it happens everywhere.

      1. @corrado-dub – You’ve misunderstood me. I’m not saying Ferrari has had the best personnel for the past five years, but only since they poached James Allison, Dirk de Beer and Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus. The aerodynamic proficiency of both de Beer and Allison will likely make itself known in Ferrari’s 2015 performances…albeit it is the engine not the chassis that needs the most improvement.

  9. I think I can see the rationale behind firing Luca, yes he’s been very successful in empowering the Ferrari brand and keeping its exclusivity and prestige but let’s be honest all that hinges on a winning F1 team.

    If they are beaten week in week out by a rival car manufacturer or even worse by an energy drinks company eventually some of that prestige will fade away.

    Whether or not this reason was a simple excuse to get rid of Luca is debatable but I really believe he was incapable of managing both the racing and road car businesses any more.

    1. This isn’t really a reply to @mantresx, but I can’t get to the ‘Post Comment’ button as it’s behind the Sky ad!
      I think the incoming Ferrari Chairman’s focus will be on the road cars, rather than the racing team. While Luca has certainly kept the road cars profitable, he has done so by keeping the exclusivity tight – rather like Morgan, in a way – and overall revenues could be improved with a little more productivity.
      But other ‘exclusive’ car companies like Porsche, Bently and Lamborghini have shown that it’s possible to broaden the range, the appeal and massively increase profits without losing anything at all. And so I suspect that the profit targets that will be set by the new FCA group may be top priority, rather than the racing team.
      It’s September already, and plans for 2015 should be well advanced. Unless Ferrari have found an extra 100 hp down the back of the sofa, I don’t expect much change for 2015. The new Chairman may not focus on the racing side until well into next year, in which case improvement may not be possible until 2016 or even 2107.

    2. I don’t think that the racing success and commercial success go together for Ferrari. They made their name first by winning races. But, as the charts above show, Scudiera Ferrari has spent considerable time getting beat by garagistas, so to speak, like McLaren, Williams, Lotus. And over time, Ferrari has made some truly disappointing road cars and sales dropped as a result. Mondial, anyone? 348? They had gained a reputation for shockingly unreliable cars that were no quicker than an Esprit or Corvette. The road car sales depended on the quality of the cars; wins depend on the quality of the race cars.

      What brought the road car sales, and this is to Luca’s credit, was that they started cracking out some truly advanced and incredible road cars. In my view, the renaissance began with the 288 GTO, but in terms of road car tech, Ferrari really got back in the lead with the F40. Both very non-traditional turbo cars, by the way, back when turbo was a bit faddish. Then the Enzo, which put a halo over everything they did. That is what put them in a position to hold two-year waiting lists and to start selling sneakers. Before these cars, Ferraris were mainly just about the noise and the gated shifter and design, rather than substance. But now, Ferrari needs to go forward from here. They need to sell more cars.

      That said, Ferrari has to keep racing in F1 to keep its identity. However, I think for most people, they just know that Ferrari is a perennially good F1 team. Which it still is, just not dominant. That’s enough for the road car side. I think this is how the FIAT suits are going to see it. They will say, P5 and P6, not great, but not disastrous, so let’s work on that later; first, let’s rebadge a Jeep Cherokee SRT and paint it corsa rosso….

  10. I really feel bad for Alonso, if they get everything right, bring in Ross and the right people, he still needs to stick it out cause it may take a few years fro the dominant ferrari again. Problem is Alonso wants to win NOW and who can blame him. It doesn’t look like he wants to go to McLaren as they are now on plan b to say “we would love to retain Jenson”. He wont go to Mercedes nor Red Bull.

    tough choices for Alonso for sure, feel for him though.

    1. Why do you feel sad for Alonso? He is a double world champion and have a really fat salary.
      He will be fine, trust me.

    2. What about Haas? 2016, I know.

  11. As an outside (long time McLaren fan – also in the doldrums!) this looks like a continuation of the poor culture within Ferrari of blaming and firing people. No one will ever risk innovating in a culture like that.
    They desperately need the likes of Brawn back in charge – although that goes against the “staying Italian” line we heard…

  12. Monte was inclined to stick his nose in wasn’t he? Butt in and hand down decisions like about the new wind tunnel, without knowing enough. Undermine everyone with his egocentricity, making out they all owed him something, and then get into blaming like with Chris Dyer.

    As a fan of other teams I always regarded him as a major asset :)

    If someone can sort out the politics then I think Allison will do okay.

    Of course back in the day Ferrari could outspend McLaren, but these days even with Bernie’s extra money they can’t do that with Mercedes and Red Bull, so the game has changed really.

  13. Not sure where people get the idea that Ferrari only hire Italians. Fry and Allison are not Italians, Alonso isn’t, Kimi as well.

    Also not sure why they need Ross now. The structure is in place. Mattiaci seems to be doing OK for a guy who hasn’t go any experience of racing. The problem isn’t on track operations but rather things brewing in the design of the car.

    Allison and co need to get that right. Operations side of things seem just fine.

    1. @evered7 Then you haven’t really kept an eye on their engineering department since 2007. Sure, they don’t hire Italian drivers, but that’s only because there’s no one good enough to win races or titles yet. But since the end of the Todt-MSC-Brawn-Byrne era in 2006, their key personnel have been: Stefano Domenicali (since fired), Aldo Costa (since fired), Luca Marmorini (since fired), and Mario Almondo (quietly moved to road cars based on his LinkedIn), just to name a few. Fry and Allison were hired only after the first batch of people failed.

      Simply put: it wasn’t broke, so why did they change it?

      1. @journeyer I might not be a 100% right but weren’t Stefano, Aldo part of the team which had Todt/MSC/Brawn/Byrne? If so, promoting them from inside doesn’t seem a bad choice. They were Italians but it doesn’t seem like a country bias to me. Only Luca seems to have left to Toyota in ’99 and returned in ’09.

        Of course, when things don’t work, you tend to remove some people and try out new faces. In Ferrari’s case, it just hasn’t materialized.

        Their downfall isn’t purely to do with their hiring policy.

        1. @evered It’s not purely it, but the mistake was replacing Todt/Brawn/Byrne when there was no real need to – because they were winning. And if they were to be replaced, they should be replaced by the best available – even if they are not Ferrari employees yet. Even replacing MSC was deemed questionable at the time.

        2. Good one re Aldo, was a statement that MB valued him enough to not only hire him but have him share the podium after a win. I did not care for Luca’s pontificating and scapegoating but I see no reason to think the new guy will do any more for them than the new guy who replaced Stefano. Who needs experience and passion for f1 to manage? Am not particularly a fan of FA but hope for his sake he can move before more years add on.

  14. There’s a reason why Ferrari was appointed as the best company in the world to work with. They’ve surely focused even further on capitalist drive, ever since Enzo left this world, but it’s great to hear F14T boss pegging that back a little, Ferrari needs to rekindle the passion. I do feel that all this process of firing people meant all along that Luca was going to leave Ferrari in the end there needs to be more than love there needs to be passion and I’m sure things are going to look better with fresh blood, and a new powerful character to impose the changes that need to be make to get back to the top spot.

  15. I’m sure Fernando Alonso is asking the same question, and that Ron Dennis has a ready answer for him.

  16. Ferrari already is in such a slump that there is only one direction to go – upwards. IMHO Montezemolo was an epitome of bad luck – at least throughout the last years the usual comment on Russian TV after seeing him in the paddock was – Oh no, call immediately to cancel your bets onto Scuderia! Strangely, but the alarms weren’t false most of the times! :-)

  17. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RP6IfR8hUs
    This is Ferrari’s (driver’s) solution for 2016. They are both extremely fast and speak Italian as well, and after what they showed in Monza I’m sure that tifosi would approve it :)

  18. I know that Luca Di Montezmolo gets a lot of flack for saying questionable things, and constantly complaining about the state of F1 and its rules, especially when Ferrari aren’t winning but I thought I’d share this quote from him:

    “Formula 1 is a really rotten system. It all has to be changed. It’s the end of an era.”

    Sounds like something that he’d have spouted within the last two years, right? Nope! He said this the weekend of the Monza Grand Prix in 2004, a season where Michael Schumacher had already won 12 races and was World Champion for a fifth time in a row, and Ferrari were Constructor’s Champions six times in a row. That weekend his team mate Rubens Barrichello would lead a dominant Ferrari 1-2 at the chequered flag. You’d think he wouldn’t have much to complain about.

    I think the guy just liked to have a bit of a moan.

    1. Just for reference: I lifted the quote verbatim as it appeared in “Formula 1 Yearbook 2004-2005” published by Chronosports. The quote is on page 184.

    2. I think the guy just liked to have a bit of a moan.

      You mean he was secretly British? :)

  19. Ferrari just seem to be doing it all wrong recently. They very very nearly signed the head of the power unit department Andy Cowell, but didn’t because Dominicalli got fired. If they had Cowell, their power unit could be almost as good as the merc next year.

  20. Bring Hamilton in will make you at least a top 2 team he brings good karma we all predicted he was stupid to go to Merc look what happen’d we all know it is not just the engine Merc have a great chassis aswell. Alo and Hamilton would also really drive eachother i predict Alo to edge Hamilton but Ham would be their longer, Alo peak is virtually over.

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