James Allen on the se­ri­ous­ness of Fer­rari’s threat to quit For­mula 1

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - @Jame­sal­lenonf1 face­book.com/f1rac­ing­mag JAMES ALLEN

I’m fas­ci­nated by Fer­rari chair­man Ser­gio Mar­chionne’s con­cern that the DNA of F1 is about tech­ni­cal dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and that this should be pre­served at all costs.

He doesn’t like the di­rec­tion that Lib­erty Me­dia is propos­ing to take the sport from 2021 on­wards, whereby the en­gine is sim­pli­fied and the rules pack­age pre­scribed such that there is a more level play­ing field be­tween teams. Mar­chionne sees no value in rac­ing in a se­ries where the dif­fer­ence be­tween a Fer­rari and a Mercedes is mostly paint colour. Mercedes feel the same way.

Un­like pre­vi­ous man­agers who have threat­ened to take Fer­rari out of F1 in the past, such as Luca di Mon­teze­molo, I be­lieve he means it.

Mar­chionne’s Fer­rari needs to be han­dled very dif­fer­ently from Mon­teze­molo’s. They have a very much more cor­po­rate cul­ture now, more akin to a US cor­po­ra­tion than to the fe­line, aris­to­cratic Euro­pean op­er­a­tion Mon­teze­molo ran.

But on one thing the two man­agers are aligned: Fer­rari are not like any other F1 team.

One of Lib­erty’s mantras is, ‘we love all our chil­dren the same’. This is in marked con­trast to Bernie Ec­cle­stone’s strat­egy of di­vide and rule. He pri­ori­tised Fer­rari for a num­ber of rea­sons. In ad­di­tion to their his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance to the sport, they have a global ca­chet and as­pi­ra­tional ap­peal that chimes per­fectly with F1’s values.

And Mr Fer­rari was a very big in­flu­ence on Bernie as he was com­ing of age in the 1970s and ’80s as a man­ager and an op­er­a­tor in F1.

Bernie was bril­liant with in­tan­gi­bles, with pa­tron­age and hid­den mean­ings; things at which high-level Ital­ians, like Enzo Fer­rari and Mar­chionne, are masters.

When the teams got them­selves or­gan­ised in 2009 and formed the F1 Teams As­so­ci­a­tion, Bernie knew he needed to break it up and he did so skil­fully. By form­ing FOTA, the teams were try­ing to speak with one voice and have more say into how F1 should present it­self and how it should be run.

This ac­tion forced an equal and op­po­site re­ac­tion as Bernie picked off Fer­rari and Red Bull and signed them up to lu­cra­tive bi­lat­eral com­mer­cial agree­ments, which form the plat­form for the in­equal­ity of team pay­ments which un­der­mines F1 today. Other teams fol­lowed re­luc­tantly. FOTA was dead and F1 was lob­sided.

Lib­erty now have to re­new the con­tracts with the teams from 2021 on­wards, while at­tempt­ing to re­bal­ance and re­duce the in­equal­ity. That’s an­other thing Mar­chionne doesn’t like.

So 2018 will be the year of po­lit­i­cal flash points and grand­stand­ing as we pass through the pain of defin­ing the fu­ture shape of F1, what en­gine for­mat it will use and who will par­tic­i­pate. But whereas Bernie pro­vided a nar­ra­tive through the me­dia, Lib­erty will play it straight.

The lines are be­ing drawn; Mar­chionne has evolved his sphere of in­flu­ence among F1 teams, bring­ing Sauber and Haas un­der his tent. Toto Wolff at Mercedes has Force In­dia and Wil­liams in his tent.

Sit­ting on the other side of the river is Red Bull, who would love the in­flu­ence of man­u­fac­tur­ers in F1 to be di­min­ished. It’s al­ways been the weak point in their F1 strat­egy and since the ad­vent of the hy­brid turbo en­gine in 2014, it has left them pow­er­less.

Mar­chionne might have ex­pected sup­port from the FIA pres­i­dent Jean Todt, given that the French­man has a long and il­lus­tri­ous his­tory with the mar­que as Fer­rari’s most suc­cess­ful team prin­ci­pal in the Michael Schu­macher era.

But in­stead Todt made it clear in a me­dia brief­ing I at­tended mid-march that Fer­rari are free to leave F1 if they so wish, al­though he hopes that does not hap­pen.

The align­ment be­tween Todt and Lib­erty is now ob­vi­ous and events have worked out in Todt’s favour. He’s the last man stand­ing of F1’s ‘big beasts’ – Mosley, Ec­cle­stone, Bri­a­tore, Den­nis, Mon­teze­molo ? All gone.

And Todt is putting in place his legacy, such as the sin­gle-seater path from F4 to F1, and his fi­nal act as pres­i­dent will be to pre­side over the im­ple­men­ta­tion of F1 2.0.

It is a crit­i­cal set of de­ci­sions that Ross Brawn, Chase Carey and Todt will be mak­ing this time.

The world is chang­ing quickly and by the late 2020s we will have be­come used to au­ton­o­mous cars. They could be as preva­lent then as Ubers are today. That will be how we first come into con­tact with them, via rob­o­taxis. As peo­ple get used to the idea of be­ing able to text, be drunk or do other things while be­ing driven along, so fewer will think about driv­ing and own­ing a car.

In that world, F1 needs to present a com­pelling spec­ta­cle of hero driv­ers in ex­treme cars do­ing death-de­fy­ing feats. There will al­ways be a mar­ket for that.

The unique­ness of Fer­rari is a huge part of the cur­rent DNA of For­mula 1 and vice versa

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