Twenty-five years ago Mattia Binotto was a part of that year’s graduate intake at Ferrari, just another bright young engineer. Now he’s made it to the top of the ladder, as the newly appointed team principal.
He’d been set to be promoted to this role by Sergio Marchionne, but the president’s sudden passing last July put all that in jeopardy as the incumbent principal Maurizio Arrivabene was given a half-season of grace. These were conflicted times for the ambitious Binotto. He had been instrumental in convincing Marchionne of a change in management systems for the technical department over which he presided – which produced spectacular results in the form of the Merc-challenging SF70 and SF71 cars of the last two years.
In this way Binotto was able to extract the potential of the talent inside the factory, which had previously operated within a fearful culture. It contrasted sharply with the strict chain-of-command style employed by Arrivabene in running the race team. Binotto was – and is – certain that his own more open style would give the same boost in the field to that it had produced in the factory. Meet the new boss, absolutely not the same as the old boss.
This management of skilled and creative people is Binotto’s greatest strength. The technical innovations on the Ferraris of the last couple of years didn’t come from him, but the people he’d freed up to express themselves fully and to be less afraid of failure.
“Meet the new boss, absolutely not the same as the old boss“
“He’s always been a man manager, even when he was heading up smaller projects on the engine side,” confirms Rob Smedley, who worked alongside him at Ferrari for many years as Felipe Massa’s engineer. “He’s bloody good at it, too. But whether that translates into a team that can avoid making the sort of mistakes that lost it the championship despite having the best car last year – shades of 2008 – all depends. Will he be allowed to fully manage and have autonomy of the F1 team? If not, no. If he has senior management on his back, no. Jean Todt at the outset said, ‘This is my department and I will run it.’ But you need success to carry that through and even Jean, at one point, seemed set to be on the way out – and was only rescued by success.
“During my time there Stefano Domenicali never had proper autonomy from Luca di Montezemolo and so he wasn’t properly empowered. If it’s like that this time it will be the same, so whether Mattia has the strength to insist on that autonomy will determine how it’s going to be.”
Don’t rule it out. Despite Binotto’s quiet, self-effacing manner, he’s plenty tough when required. He’s also adept at inspiring – rather than try to force – a group of people to follow his lead. If his ultimate bosses Louis Camilleri and John Elkann are as smart as they seem, they will simply let Binotto be the new boss.
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