Thoughts from the front line
Formula 1 without Ferrari: pasta without sauce; pizza without topping. Each as unthinkable and unappetising as the other.
Bernie Ecclestone knew it, hence the financial and regulatory indulgences he was prepared to grant the Scuderia. Enzo knew it too, understanding the allure and mystique of his brand and the magic spell his racers could cast upon millions across the globe.
Of course the scarlet cars needed an arena in which to perform and Formula 1 has served that purpose admirably since 1950. Arm-in-arm they’ve flourished, these two paramours, one to become among the world’s largest sports franchises; the other regularly noted as the world’s most valuable brand. Could either really do without the other?
Because that’s what’s being contemplated in F1’s corridors of power as Liberty Media seek to re-frame the sport’s regulatory and financial structures, with outcomes difficult to predict.
Rune-reading has been made harder by the loss of old certainties, such as the deep understanding forged over generations between Ecclestone and former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo. They’ve been replaced with Liberty’s hard-ass sports-business mindset and the iron-fist-in-iron-glove ruthlessness of Fiat-ferrari supremo Sergio Marchionne. Rarely have rock and hard place been so implacably juxtaposed.
As Pino Allievi (page 36) notes this month, the new tone of relations between leading players on both sides has lent a nervy edge to post-2020 F1 negotiations. Liberty would be fools to let slip their most lustrous bauble, but neither can they be dictated to by a mere ‘player’ – even the grandest one of all. Ferrari, meantime, have no doubt they’re in a fight for the very soul of the sport on which their reputation is founded. Not for Maranello a dumbeddown F1 with spec parts that devalue the notion of a Ferrari machine – be that on road or track.
So when Liberty insist they are serious about reducing costs in F1 we can only note their intention and that their goal runs counter to Ferrari’s wishes. Then when Marchionne insists: “There could be something even more interesting than F1,” it would be naïve to take him at anything other than his word.
How Liberty would regard their prized asset without Ferrari is difficult to imagine; just as one can only guess the reaction of investors to any Ferrari withdrawal from F1’s global marketing platform.
Time, then, for cool heads and silken diplomacy to prevail before we find that instead of everyone being a winner, as Liberty profess to wish, everything has in fact been lost.
Anthony Rowlinson Creative content director