F1 Frontline with Mark Hughes

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You can read in the following pages our exclusive interview with Luca di Montezemolo, about his reflections on his two stints at Ferrari where he oversaw seven world championships for drivers and nine for constructors (compared to eight and seven respectively for Enzo Ferrari). But during that interview he was also very interesting on the sport’s future and the things he believes it should be putting in place for its long-term health. At the time of writing the question of the 2017 regulations had yet to be resolved and there was a possibility any changes would be deferred until ’18. With Pirelli having agreed in principle to provide from 2017 tyres that are no longer designed to heat-degrade and can therefore be driven flat out for a full stint, arguably F1’s biggest single problem of the last few years is already being addressed. There is a real window of opportunity to make further progress. Di Montezemolo is no longer an active participant, but his thoughts from that perspective are probably even more relevant as the inevitable blinkers of self-interest are not guiding them. Here he outlines what he would propose.

“First of all, I do not say this with any disrespect to Bernie,” he begins. “I think he has done a fantastic job for the sport since he came in. But it’s not reasonable to ask a man of his age completely to change his mentality. And there needs to be a change in mentality in many areas. We are in a very delicate situation with F1 at the moment but, despite that, it still has big, big potential if it is managed correctly. I have to say very, very strongly I’m very sorry not to be in a position to do something for F1. When I left Ferrari I thought this kind of job is in my blood – because it’s organisation, marketing, communication.  

“I’d propose a five-year plan, like a business plan. With very clear goals. At the moment F1 just works on the contingent problems. I give you an example: the strategy to be present in the USA in a competitive way. You can only do this with proper planning – with good people there preparing, talking with sponsors, the TV people, the organiser, the mayor of the town, just preparing the ground. You would have someone strong from American football who understood the marketing.  Maybe even five years would not be enough; I’m working now on Rome’s Olympic Games bid – for 2024.  

“We need to recognise the history and heritage of the sport. I cannot believe that we are going to race in Baku but there have been doubts about Germany, questions about Spa and Monza. This would be like Apple or Nike changing its logo. These places are part of F1’s brand value. 

 “The so-called new media is not even new any more, but F1 still has not adapted to it. I want to watch a race on a flight or in my office. Young people demand this sort of thing, they want links to social media. We have to be very careful about the future and where the fans will come from because in road cars young people are not buying them in the way they used to, for example. They are not really interested in cars – they look at them the way people of my generation would choose a TV screen; the design and the price. The rest is irrelevant.  

“Costs need to be addressed so that medium-sized teams can prosper. But to be honest if the teams are too small then they shouldn’t be looking at F1. If you have Champions League ambitions in soccer you have to be able to afford Champions League players. The medium team prize money is very important but I think a third Ferrari and third Mercedes would be more interesting to the fans than two Marussias. We have never properly looked at standardising parts that make no difference, which you cannot see but add enormously to the cost. Why not? I wouldn’t want it to be like Indycar where all is the same, but somewhere in between.

“We have made the sport too difficult to understand. Even the TV commentators cannot always properly follow it when the strategies diverge too much. Also the rules change too often, making it even more difficult. We need also to improve the contact between the drivers and the fans. When I went to Le Mans it was like a revelation to see this.

“It needs a professional, strong person each to be in charge of the racing, the marketing, the finances and so on with a strong CEO to manage the whole group.” 

There’s much in there that seems self-evidently good. But the chances of di Montezemolo having any role in making those ideas reality seem already extinguished. He had been on the F1 board of CVC, the private equity company with the controlling interest in F1. But he was there in the position of Ferrari CEO. “I was not there as Luca, so as soon as I left Ferrari I was automatically replaced on the F1 board of CVC by Marchionne. I had been fighting to have three team representatives on the board as I think it would have been useful to engage CVC more – because they don’t really know anything of F1. Their approach is just that of speculation, to make money. So I was pushing to stay involved in this way – but Mr Marchionne did not agree.”

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