Fer­rari are rac­ing again at full gal­lop. So what’s the key to their un­ex­pected re­vival? Step for­ward… well, who ex­actly?


There was only one per­son who truly be­lieved Fer­rari could turn the sit­u­a­tion on its head – mov­ing from a dis­as­trous 2016 to a year im­prob­a­bly rich with glory, giv­ing the team a gen­uine chance of win­ning the cham­pi­onship. That per­son was chair­man Ser­gio Mar­chionne.

Per­haps it was more a mat­ter of in­tu­ition than cast-iron cer­tainty. But ei­ther way it has been enough to re­store Fer­rari to the lofty po­si­tion they now en­joy, as lead­ing lights of F1 rather than sup­port­ing ac­tors. Since the Schu­macher era, they have largely played the lesser role – with the ex­cep­tion of 2007, when Kimi Räikkö­nen took the ti­tle by a sin­gle point from the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Fer­nando Alonso. This was what one team in­sider dened as “a happy anom­aly”.

Mar­chionne man­aged a sim­i­lar turn­around, when he took con­trol of the Fiat Group in 2004. At the time, the com­pany had out-of-con­trol ac­counts, out­dated work­ing mod­els and seemed to be head­ing ei­ther for clo­sure or bank­ruptcy. Yet he swiftly turned them into a solid, sol­vent struc­ture, now eighth in the list of global car man­u­fac­tur­ers.


In that sit­u­a­tion, Mar­chionne put his faith in young staff mem­bers to nd the cre­ative re­sources to bounce back, ditch­ing big-name man­agers hired from ri­val rms on large salaries. At Fer­rari he has per­formed the same op­er­a­tion, choos­ing to make do with­out the ex­per­tise of such well-known en­gi­neers as James Allison, Pat Fry and Niko­las Tom­bazis.

The aim was to give free rein to those who had the am­bi­tion to ex­press them­selves but had not yet been given a voice, of­fer­ing them a chance to put their own ideas on the ta­ble and build their rep­u­ta­tions. The page was turned, leav­ing a blank sheet onto which a brand new per­son­nel owchart has been drawn, based on a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing and act­ing.

At the very top was one man, Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene. Then there was a tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor pretty much un­known out­side of Fer­rari, but val­ued within the team for his or­gan­i­sa­tional ca­pa­bil­ity and crit­i­cal think­ing: Mattia Binotto. Un­der Binotto came the lead­ers of the var­i­ous de­part­ments, start­ing with the conrma­tion of Si­mone Resta as chief de­signer. There was a sur­prise change in the area of aero­dy­nam­ics, which had been con­sid­ered the weak point of

the 2016 struc­ture. Here, Mar­chionne placed his faith in en­gi­neer En­rico Cardile, pre­vi­ously the leader of the same depart­ment in the road­car di­vi­sion and with zero ex­pe­ri­ence of F1. Along­side Cardile, David Sanchez took the role of chief aero­dy­nam­i­cist in place of the de­part­ing Dirk de Beer. And other new names ar­rived to lead other spe­cialised ar­eas.

Pre­vi­ously, the process of de­sign­ing the new sea­son’s car would be­gin with a con­sid­er­a­tion of the de­fects of the pre­vi­ous car. But in the mid­dle of 2016, Mar­chionne made him­self very clear: “I don’t want you to take the past as a ref­er­ence in any way. I de­mand you make me a win­ning Fer­rari that takes ev­ery con­cept to ex­tremes. It should stay within the FIA’s rules but know how to ex­ploit them to the tini­est de­tail.”

This was a change in men­tal­ity, just as Bernie Ec­cle­stone, who was in­ter­ested in hav­ing a win­ning Fer­rari back in the game, was ru­moured to have of­fered Mar­chionne the chance to hire a key player from the colos­sal Mercedes struc­ture: their ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor (tech­ni­cal), Paddy Lowe.

Mar­chionne’s re­ply was a sur­pris­ing “no thanks”, one he ex­plained months later with a dec­la­ra­tion that seemed reck­less: “Paddy Lowe is a great en­gi­neer, but we don’t need a hero to re­solve the prob­lem: what we need is to es­tab­lish a new method. We will build up the team from within. If in the end re­sults don’t ar­rive, it will be en­tirely my fault.” There were mo­ments when peo­ple thought Fer­rari had again gone se­cretly in search of Adrian Newey, only to re­ceive an umpteenth de­nial. When win­ter ar­rived, along­side the rst pro­jec­tions of the new cars from the wind­tun­nel, alarm­ing ru­mours started to cir­cu­late. One sug­gested that the data com­ing out of Fer­rari’s sim­u­la­tions was dis­as­trous, in­di­cat­ing the team would be even fur­ther from the front than in 2016. It reached the point where a frus­trated Se­bas­tian Vet­tel is sup­posed to have of­fered him­self to Mercedes for 2018 in the cer­tain be­lief that Fer­rari would bring him noth­ing but pain.

The quick­est lap times in the tests at Barcelona? They were, thanks to run­ning on low fuel and some other trick­ery, to dupe the tifosi and dis­guise the car’s ap­par­ent in­con­sis­tency. This was the nau­seous air be­ing breathed around Maranello be­tween Fe­bru­ary and the early days of March: scepticism was rife, the gen­eral mood was ter­ri­ble and the dis­be­lief of the tifosi seemed to be gain­ing the up­per hand.

Then came the Aus­tralian Grand Prix, and Vet­tel’s win. A one off? No. A fort­night later came his sec­ond-place nish in China, and then the tri­umph in Bahrain, with fur­ther podiums in Rus­sia and Spain and – of all things – the Vet­tel-Räikkö­nen one-two nish in Monte Carlo. In­cred­i­ble, yes, but it was true: the Fer­rari was gen­uinely good enough to beat the Mercedes and to cause real prob­lems for the cham­pi­onship su­per-favourite Lewis Hamilton.

The SF70H is a Fer­rari ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing well on cir­cuits that are all very dif­fer­ent from one an­other. Af­ter the Barcelona race, Ar­riv­abene nally let him­self go and com­mu­ni­cated to the world that the drought was nally over: “Yes, we’re there, this is the sea­son we’ve been wait­ing for. We can ght for the world cham­pi­onship all the way to the end.”

If the 2016 Fer­rari had a ‘fa­ther’ in James Allison, the 2017 model doesn’t have a sur­name. Mar­chionne cut the dis­cus­sion short with a de­cided air of sat­is­fac­tion and the line “It’s the Fer­rari of Fer­rari” – be­cause that’s ex­actly what he had wanted from the very start.

There is, how­ever, one name that comes above all the rest, that of Binotto, who is a point of ref­er­ence rather than a de­signer; a con­duc­tor, if you like. Mar­chionne chose to name Binotto as Fer­rari tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor on 27 July 2016, hav­ing wit­nessed how, un­der his watch, the

Ap­pointed as tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor in 2016, the unas­sum­ing Mattia Binotto im­me­di­ately set about cre­at­ing a more in­te­grated team

Fer­rari’s one-two – their first in seven years – at Monaco would have seemed a dis­tant dream in 2016

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