What Ferrari’s unexpected hiring from the tech world means for its F1 team

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The biggest surprise about the appointment of Benedetto Vigna as CEO of Ferrari – the 52-year-old replaces Louis C Camilleri, who resigned last December shortly after recovering from Covid – is not so much that he was recruited from outside the automotive sector, but that the process it took six months. That’s nine months without a CEO. For a listed company. During a crisis.

This points to a lack of succession planning within the company which is inexplicable given Camilleri was a stopgap CEO, parachuted in after the unexpected death of Sergio Marchionne in 2018. Worse, Ferrari chairman John Elkann, the Agnelli scion charged with tending the family’s investments, had his attention diverted as he was finalising the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot to form Stellantis.

After Camilleri’s departure a number of potential candidates were linked to the job, including Porsche Italia CEO Pietro Innocenti as well as fashion moguls Marco Bizzarri and Stefano Sassi (CEOs of Gucci and Valentino respectively). Instead Elkann and his board plumped for an electronics geek with a number of microchip patents to his name, one with an exemplary record with leading semiconductor business STMicroelectronics.

Benedetto Vigna
Vigna will join Ferrari in September from STMicroelectronics
Consider, though, that Camilleri’s most recent job before becoming head of Ferrari was with tobacco house Philip Morris. Before that he headed consumer company Kraft Foods. Against that background, a physics graduate with a background in microchips is more ‘Ferrari’ than his predecessor was.

Still, Vigna’s recruitment is highly significant on two fronts: he was clearly appointed to lead Ferrari, once the most mechanical engineering-led of all auto brands, into an increasingly electric future. Moreover, with no hint of any motorsport involvement or interest in his CV, it suggests that Vigna is unlikely to involve himself much in the F1 operation beyond normal business matters such a budgets, revenues and return on investment.

The first reason is a sign of the times: with four-door electric ‘execmobiles’ from Porsche and Audi – not to forget Tesla – able to outperform all-comers in the nought-to-120 stakes, and upstarts the world over promising to build battery supercars, Ferrari clearly needs to embrace such technologies sooner rather than later. Already a hybrid Prancing Horse SUV, the Purosangue, is on its way; the next Ferrari could well be an all-electric ‘draft horse’.

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When we interviewed Scuderia Ferrari CEO and team principal Mattia Binotto in Monaco he was clearly aware that an appointment was pending but was unable to comment due to stock exchange trading regulations. However he was confident that the sporting division, the Gestione Sportiva, would remain autonomous within the wider Ferrari structures.

“I have got the full autonomy and daily delegations of power,” he said. “If I need their support I have got their support as I had it as in the past. I don’t think much has changed. John Elkann is fully aware, fully involved and coming to some races; it’s a very positive and constructive collaboration that we’ve got.

“[Elkann] is chairman and CEO, so I report to him whatever we are doing and the main [decisions]. I’m convinced that because Ferrari is a unique family there will always be good, positive collaboration. He is very fully committed to the Ferrari project.”

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Such autonomy is all well and good, but should Vigna take Ferrari down the purely electric route – his head is clearly where the current flows – what then for the Scuderia? F1 is Ferrari’s primary marketing platform – the brand struts its stuff on racetracks in lieu of traditional advertising programmes – and the championship is expected to remain committed to hybrids for the foreseeable future.

Is Ferrari’s future electric?
Could the Scuderia thus end up out on a limb? Could the unthinkable occur, and Ferrari eventually dump F1 and go to Formula E? That is not beyond the bounds of possibility given that the Concorde Agreement expires at the end of 2025. By definition DNA is about evolution, and Ferrari has evolved from being a maker of sports cars that existed purely to finance the founder’s racing ambitions to a fully-fledged (limited) volume hi-tech luxury brand. Could electricity be Ferrari’s next helix strand?

Already Ferrari has struck a fashion branding deal with Armani and is about to relaunch the Il Cavallino restaurant – situated opposite the hallowed gates – in conjunction with Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura who has similar joint ventures with other luxury brands. That is a long way from a company producing a handful of cars annually, by hand, at an ancient blacksmiths; far from its original ‘DNA’.

Ferrari is accountable to its shareholders and not to F1 nor to the tifosi. If going electric on road and track enhances its bottom line while maintaining an aura of mystique and luxury, then Elkann and Vigna will not hesitate to go down that route. Any deviation from the optimum path to sustained profitability will not be in the shareholders best interests. The Scuderia as we know it could ultimately be collateral damage.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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13 comments on “What Ferrari’s unexpected hiring from the tech world means for its F1 team”

  1. Chris Horton
    15th June 2021, 13:16

    Even more reason to be thankful for the budget cap, that will allow Ferrari to explore other advertising opportunities.

    Reply moderated
    1. Very good point actually Chris. It might mean that keeping the Scuderia in the sport (since it more or less pays for itself with their chunk of the revenue and the cost cap) while they put the left over resource into going FE (and/or electric racing in other stuff, like Xtreme E or somethign like that?) to build up the new focus without giving up on the current one right away.

      I think it’s likely that they will be building and fielding ICE cars (and hybrids) for quite a few years. But to grow, they will most likely have to add electric.

  2. Why do I find this article somewhat scary?

    1. Fear of change, I guess. The article is hinting at massive changes within Ferrari which of course can/would/will apply to all other teams. The day F1 racing will not involve IC engines will happen sooner than we think. Money is such an important part of F1 that as soon as the automotive industry moves significantly enough away from fossil fuels, F1 will become irrelevant (economically) and therefore will need to change enormously (technologically) to continue to exist. I hope it’ll remain the pinnacle of motorsports.

    2. Nothing scary. As the article itself states:

      By definition DNA is about evolution

      The world is going electric. IC engine racing will stay but will become as irrelevant as horse racing in the future.

  3. Bit of a leap I think. They don’t need to go down an all electric route to take advantage of his expertise.

    If Ferrari did move to Formula E though I think that would be an almost definite sign of the merger Agag is hoping for.

    I couldn’t imagine an F1 without Ferrari, at the very least it would split the fanbase massively.

    1. i can’t imagine racing without ferrari

      Reply moderated
  4. Could the unthinkable occur, and Ferrari eventually dump F1 and go to Formula E? That is not beyond the bounds of possibility

    Don’t be silly

  5. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
    15th June 2021, 18:28

    Interesting article/opinion piece and perspective. However, this is super speculative with no meat supporting that Ferrari is taking their racing/sporting ventures else-where. Firstly, Ferrari is NOT going to consider Formula E for the simple fact that it’s a fairly “stock” series. Indycar couldn’t get them in the door no matter how hard they seemed to try. Ferrari is very clear about building their cars ground up for the sake of “branding”. They don’t want other manufacturers brands in “their” stuff. Branding changes isn’t something you change willy nilly unless it’s not working. It is working Ferrari’s current situation. Secondly, Ferrari has entered and committed to the sportscar scene again by entering the LMDh series. The competition racing side of Ferrari is unlikely going to change.. the road car side however, sure. That is always evolving and always will. The “racing” side is an investment front for name recognition and branding. I don’t see that changing no matter who they bring in as a CEO. Motorsports is the blood of that brand. Too many assumptions being made to take this seriously at this point.

    1. “Super speculative” describes this well, although a hack piece of journalism describes it better as we have here another instance in which a single fact (the hiring of another CEO without an automotive pedigree) is massaged and spun into something we’re supposed to believe is an edible pizza. Nevertheless, you have to give the guy points for having an imagination lively enough to dream up an alternate reality where the change he envisions is less than three more CEOs away.

      Reply moderated
  6. So a new godfather will take time and some massage to find his spot.

  7. When governments and corporations do not embrace change or notice the wind is blowing in a different direction, change will still come at a greater cost and it would be more severe.

    1:Hence decarbonisation of the economy
    2:Electric vehicles.

    You only have to look at what happened to Kodak.

    Reply moderated
  8. I have an opinion
    16th June 2021, 2:12

    Vigna has the smarts to dupe the revised fuel flow meter.

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