UN­THINK­ABLE: WHAT IF

Fer­rari could pull out of For­mula 1. It’s not the first time such threats have emanated from Maranello, but this time For­mula 1’s new own­ers have to take it se­ri­ously…

F1 Racing (UK) - - PRO -

Ser­gio Mar­chionne means busi­ness? What if he re­ally is think­ing of leav­ing F1, given that in his opin­ion (but also that of Mercedes, Re­nault and per­haps Honda) nei­ther Lib­erty Me­dia nor the FIA un­der­stand that the end goal of rac­ing at the high­est level isn’t just about mak­ing and sell­ing a show, but is also about cre­at­ing tech­nol­ogy linked to the cars we drive ev­ery day?

We have to start tak­ing this ques­tion se­ri­ously. It was in Bahrain that Lib­erty pre­sented their man­i­festo for a post-2020 F1 to the teams be­hind closed doors, then out­lined the bare bones of the pro­pos­als to the pub­lic via a press re­lease (left). Maranello’s re­sponse was telling. There was no com­ment: the ad­vice given by Mar­chionne to Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene and the other Fer­rari di­rec­tors was to avoid ex­press­ing even the slight­est opin­ion – un­like Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, who was diplo­matic but non-com­mit­tal, say­ing: “It’s a good base for dis­cus­sion.”

That is not with­out mean­ing; con­sider it an open­ing gam­bit in which Wolff is leav­ing him­self plenty of room for fu­ture ma­noeu­vre. From Mar­chionne, by con­trast, there hasn’t been so much as a squeak. No hints, no ob­ser­va­tions, which is typ­i­cal of the trend that be­gan with Fer­rari un­der his lead­er­ship of rais­ing the shields like a Ro­man le­gion as­sum­ing the tes­tudo (tor­toise) for­ma­tion in­stead of open­ing up, com­mu­ni­cat­ing, per­haps even smil­ing.

In re­al­ity, the Fer­rari pres­i­dent is con­sid­er­ing all the pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios now that the plans are in the pub­lic do­main, in out­line if not in de­tail. And given that Mar­chionne is one of those high­pro­file play­ers who al­ways guesses the cards in his ri­vals’ hands, he will have stud­ied what move to make in the light of the op­tions that will be on the ta­ble be­tween now and June, when F1’s rules for 2021 and beyond will be de­cided.

Is this a two-player game? Cer­tainly. And one be­tween sim­i­lar cul­tures, too, be­cause Mar­chionne learned his trade on the Amer­i­can con­ti­nent. He is now tak­ing on brains crafted by the same ide­ol­ogy, who share the same cul­ture and, in the end, even the same goals. The difference is that Mar­chionne is re­ally very Ital­ian, with a de­gree in phi­los­o­phy as well as de­grees in eco­nom­ics and law, which makes him very so­phis­ti­cated, sub­tle, and un­pre­dictable what­ever the ne­go­ti­a­tion he’s in­volved in.

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