MARANELLO, Italy — Blog by Race Chaser Online Open Wheel Correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — Gas 2 photo — Formula One has prided itself on championing innovation and change for decades, featuring not only the world’s best drivers but also top notch technology.
Throughout the years, the names, cars, and sport as a whole have undergone major transitions. While some teams and tracks have remained the same, F1 seasons can be divided into distinct eras.
The newest era was ushered in at the start of 2014 with the introduction of turbocharged V6 engines, but this new time for the sport goes far beyond car construction. Bearing a heavy financial cross and staring down a crossroad between traditional excess and affordability, old F1 is being phased out and new F1 is gathering steam.
As chairman of Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo’s job encompassed far more than just racing, but his resignation after 23 years illustrates the changing of the guard currently taking place. Despite Ferrari’s expectation of record profits in the road car division this year, success in Formula One is a cornerstone of Ferrari. That success has been lacking as of late and the philosophy behind the team lies on the opposite side of the direction the sport is heading.
One constant about the state of motorsport is that failure is always an unacceptable option. Scuderia Ferrari won its last Drivers’ Championship in 2007 with Kimi Raikkonen and most recent Constructors’ Championship the following year, but the legendary team has floundered in the seasons since and 2014 has been marked by futility with just two podiums.
Ferrari is the latest dominant regime to struggle, joining teams like McLaren and Williams as former perennial title contenders knocked down from the top tier to racing purgatory (although the latter seems revitalized as of late).
Faced with important decisions to steer Ferrari back in the right direction, di Montezemolo’s proposed fix to Ferrari’s ailment speaks volumes about the divide between different eras and their philosophies on management.
One of the most common criticisms of Formula One is the lack of parity. When the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, eventually the poor become completely broke. Unfortunately, few teams can assemble a winning budget, and although it is in the best interest of the rich to push the financial limits of the sport, it has become clear this is no longer a sustainable business model
Luca di Montezemolo epitomizes the old school F1 mentality, rising to power at a time when extravagance was promoted as part of the sport’s branding. The extravagance extended far beyond the Grand Prix lifestyle and into the paddock. Success became contingent on engineering more than racing and the heavily funded teams excelled.
Given Ferrari’s expansive resources, di Montezemolo favors unlimited testing, increased budgets, and a return to the big spending days that boasted uncontested world titles with the team of Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, and Jean Todt. His voice as a senior member of the sport’s community and clout as the most powerful man behind the Prancing Horse at the race track helped to found the Formula One Teams Association in 2008.
di Montezemolo’s impact on Formula One and Ferrari will be felt beyond his tenure, but he is rooted in the past and the message is clear—there is no place for the old school approach in the modern F1 climate.
Recent changes in regulations have thrown Ferrari for a competitive loop, and despite claims by di Montezemolo that road car sales and racing performance are not directly proportional, the string of results is still damaging to the brand image. The solution to fixing this isn’t what it once was, and now the team will take a new direction under new chairman Sergio Marchionne while the sport changes along with them.
As costs reach astronomical rates, the possibility of three car team monopolies that reduce outside competition and promote further well-being of the top dogs in the sport is been touted by some insiders. Adam Parr’s related Twitter declaration that F1 will soon change in this regard highlights the difficulties surrounding the focus of the future. The most intriguing questions asks where the sport goes from here.
To some, cost cutting measures are killing F1, turning it into a stripped down product from its glory days. Truthfully, cost-cutting is the only thing keeping the sport alive. The F1 Strategy Group helped back up those changes until 2017, but whether a cost cap in instituted along with simplification of numerous parts, the spending war between the top teams has already reached a climax and cannot continue any further.
Of course, to say that di Montezemolo was canned solely for the performance of the new power unit or to insinuate that he is leaving Ferrari because he’s “too old school” is ignoring the dispute between himself and Marchionne as well as the numerous factors that have contributed to Ferrari’s racing decline.
However, di Montezemolo represents one of the final members of a certain breed in Formula One.
F1 and Ferrari aren’t just turning the page, they’re writing a new book.