We (might) quit! … or not

Fer­rari’s re­cent threats to quit F1 are noth­ing new and not worth tak­ing se­ri­ously

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - by Mau­rice Hamil­ton

IF you have an hour to spare, you could do worse than lis­ten to The Grand Prix of Gi­bral­tar, the par­ody by the late ac­tor, writer and satirist Peter Usti­nov on Grand Prix rac­ing in the 1950s. In a solo record­ing pro­duced al­most overnight, he cap­tures the at­mos­phere of the day, mak­ing en­gine noises and mim­ick­ing to per­fec­tion Stir­ling Moss (aka “Gir­ling Foss”), Fan­gio (“Fan­dango”), Wolf­gang von Trips (“Von Grips”) and the rest of the sport’s lead­ing char­ac­ters of the day.

I men­tion it be­cause, of course, Enzo Fer­rari (“Com­menda­tore Fan­fani”) plays a ma­jor part in this imag­i­nary race around The Rock. Fer­rari has en­tered two cars, one of which re­fuses to start be­cause, as he says: “I told them to lighten the car to the max­i­mum – and they took out the gas! You can’t trust any­one these days. I can’t talk about this. It makes me so mad.”

Enzo’s mood dark­ens fur­ther when he be­lieves “Sch­norcedes” (Mercedes) has not ad­hered to the ad­mit­tedly bizarre rules. When asked if he has a mo­ment to ex­plain, Fer­rari replies: “I’ve all the time in the world, since I’m re­tir­ing from rac­ing. I’m dis­gusted.”

So, yes, Fer­rari’s re­cent threat to quit F1 be­cause of en­gine pro­pos­als for 2021 is noth­ing new in the team’s his­tory; ei­ther real or imag­ined. It’s true, how­ever, that Fer­rari is also con­cerned about sug­ges­tions that this would deny cer­tain nan­cial priv­i­leges based on the team’s his­toric signi - cance. There is also dis­con­tent about pro­posed bud­get cap­ping, al­though Fer­rari is in the mi­nor­ity in ob­ject­ing to a con­tentious is­sue that would as­sist the smaller teams.

Usti­nov’s script was based on Fer­rari’s ma­nip­u­la­tion of a po­si­tion much stronger than it is to­day. When the record­ing was made in 1959, Fer­rari had won half of eight ti­tles since the start of the driv­ers’ world cham­pi­onship. Teams did their own deals and Fer­rari was by far and away the most signi cant, a fact not lost on the Old Man as he reg­u­larly with­drew his cars. Al­though in­di­vid­ual race ap­pear­ances were, in later years, to be guar­an­teed by con­tracts drawn up through Bernie Ec­cle­stone’s col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, Fer­rari’s petu­lant long-term threats of with­drawal con­tin­ued, al­most as if by rite.

In 2009, for ex­am­ple, talk of a bud­get cap caused then-pres­i­dent Luca di Mon­teze­molo to the­atri­cally ick back his hair and de­clare Fer­rari’s long and dis­tin­guished par­tic­i­pa­tion to be at an end. A year or so be­fore that, men­tion of stan­dard­ised en­gines had been enough to prompt Fer­rari to re­vert to tru­cu­lent type with the same old threat.

On the other hand, in 1987, Enzo Fer­rari’s ir­ri­ta­tion over the pro­posed man­dat­ing of V8 en­gines prompted talk of a switch to Indy­car and the ac­tual build­ing of a car (the pro­posed re­stric­tion never came to pass). By and large, how­ever, talk of quit­ting has usu­ally proved to be noth­ing more than dra­matic pos­tur­ing, noted for its en­ter­tain­ment value rather than a cause for con­cern.

That said, the thought of a start­ing grid with­out a splash of the iconic red is in­deed a trou­bling one. I’ll never for­get the feel­ing of dev­as­ta­tion as a fan when Fer­rari failed to turn up for the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix, my rst F1 race out­side the UK. There had been no warn­ing what­so­ever. The loss was ours more than theirs, even though rac­ing was, and still is, a means to an end for Fer­rari with the mar­ket­ing of high-per­for­mance road cars. There was the un­de­ni­able feel­ing that miss­ing one race would not be dam­ag­ing, whereas the clo­sure of the Scud­e­ria would be com­mer­cial sui­cide.

The same thought ap­plies to­day, even though the struc­ture of both Fer­rari and mo­tor rac­ing has changed be­yond any­thing Enzo Fer­rari might have imag­ined when he started out in 1948. The com­pany is cur­rently build­ing more road cars than ever be­fore and en­joy­ing a healthy pro t. Nonethe­less, the sound of sabres cur­rently rat­tling in chair­man Ser­gio Mar­chionne’s of ce drowns the dic­ta­tion of memos cau­tiously in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ef­fect of shut­ting the Ges­tione Sportiva across the road. Af­ter all, there’s a cussed tra­di­tion to be fol­lowed.

Usti­nov picked up on it when he had Com­menda­tore Fan­fani call Fan­dango into the pits. Asked why he had done this when there had been a lot of shout­ing at his driver but no re­fu­elling or tyre change, Fan­fani replied with tri­umph: “My driver in­sulted me ear­lier and I thought of an an­swer, so I brought him in. I feel bet­ter. I have de­cided not to re­tire.”

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