Weighing up whether Formula 1 needs Ferrari – and vice versa – from the eyes of a self-confessed Tifosi
Before I get into the meat of this column I have an interest to declare. Where racing is concerned, I love Ferrari and always have. The first race my father attended was the 1951 British Grand Prix and I grew up to tales of González wrestling with the big Ferrari 375, the howl of its Lampredi-designed V12 motor and how, between them all, they managed to break the stranglehold of the hitherto all-conquering Alfa Romeo team in what we now call Formula 1.
I am capable of being perfectly objective about Ferrari’s road cars and hope I have a better record than most at calling out the less than brilliant machines it on rare occasions produces, but its racing cars? I could never be an F1 correspondent: every time a Ferrari failed to win my report would be a forensic examination of how, yet again, the Maranello team was robbed of what was rightfully theirs. Love is blind and when it comes to Ferrari and F1, I just don’t see straight.
What then is such a rabid fan of the Scuderia to think of big cheese Sergio Marchionne’s threat to withdraw from F1 if the rules intended to simplify and reduce costs in the sport turn out not to be his liking?
I think first that it’s not going to happen. Ferrari has cried wolf so many times over the decades and yet there it remains, at the heart of sport where it’s been since the very first round of the World Championship in 1950. I read eminent journalists (who know the sport far better than me) say that this time it is different, because Marchionne is not like di Montezemolo or Enzo Ferrari himself. Marchionne means business. And maybe he does.
And if he does, maybe Ferrari should leave F1 anyway and I can barely believe I just wrote that. One of the most extraordinary statements I’ve read of late concerning this latest threat is that ‘F1 needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs F1.’ Actually it wasn’t the statement so much as the person making it that surprised me: none other Toto Wolff, team principal of the Mercedes F1 team and by far Ferrari’s biggest rival. He also told Liberty Media not to ‘mess with Marchionne’ or ‘provoke Ferrari’. And why would he say all that? Partly I am sure because he believes it, but perhaps the fact that they are the two teams with most to lose under the new regulations might just have something to do with it too. Together we stand…
Marchionne has said Ferrari will leave if F1 becomes more of a spectacle than a sport, but I do not see these two as diametrically opposed interests at all. All those moments in any sports that keep us on the edges of our seats are never about one team leaving all others for dead. Great sport means a great contest and a great contest should be a great spectacle and that is exactly what F1 has failed to be for years, though there are at last some signs that this is improving.
I understand why Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz don’t want the playing field levelled but tilted in favour of those with the deepest pockets, and in their position, I would feel the same. But important to the sport though they are, no team actually is the sport – not even Ferrari.
So Liberty Media should decide what form it wants F1 to take based primarily on the wishes of the fans who one way or another finance the entire thing. And I think we all believe that if you polled a random, representative sample it would come back saying less downforce, more mechanical grip, far better interaction between drivers and teams on one side and spectators and viewers on the other and, above all, much closer racing. And there’s nothing new in that. Nor does this mean turning the sport into a silhouette formula like NASCAR, but it does mean creating an environment where more than three teams have a chance of winning.
For the truth is it’s been over five years and, according to my probably wonky maths, exactly 100 races since something other than a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull last won a Grand Prix, which means that for half a decade there have been essentially just six cars vying for victory from once race weekend to the next. And almost two-thirds of those races, 64 in fact, have been won by just two drivers. And that’s not healthy.
There’s another reason Liberty should stand up to Ferrari and anyone else who threatens to walk if the rules are not to its liking, which is to demonstrate to all teams that they do not and cannot rule the sport.
So do I want Ferrari to quit F1? I do not, and with all my heart.
Do I think Ferrari will quit F1? Not for a moment.
Would F1 be damaged if Ferrari left? Unquestionably.
Could it survive and rebuild without Ferrari? Of course.
Does F1 really need Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs F1? No, and if it does, that makes the need to change even more essential.
And I say that as the most enthusiastic fan of the Scuderia I know.