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…
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.