THERE’S LIFE IN THE OLD HORSE YET
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 dened 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 At the time, the company had out-of-control accounts, outdated working models and seemed to be heading either for closure or bankruptcy.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.
“I DEMAND YOU MAKE ME A WINNING FERRARI THAT TAKES EVERY CONCEPT TO EXTREMES” SERGIO MARCHIONNE
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 conrmation 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