Ferrari is at it again. This time the threat was veiled, but it was there all the same. Although he said it was “very unlikely” that Ferrari would leave Formula 1, Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne went on to say before Christmas that “Ferrari would find other ways to express its ability to race and win”. Further, and in specific relation to efforts to reduce powertrain costs and even up the field, he said, “We go to the track to prove to ourselves and to everyone our ability to manage the power unit. If we begin to undermine this advantage, Ferrari has no intention of racing.” And there’s nothing very veiled about that.
Now it is not my place on this site to peer through the smoke and mirrors of comments made by perhaps the most political player in this most political of sports; but I have met Marchionne many times in his other existences within Fiat and once since he arrived in Maranello and were I Bernie Ecclestone, I’d take his threats far more seriously that those of any previous incumbent. Enzo Ferrari was never going to pull out of F1 because it was his life and much the same could be said of Luca di Montezemolo. But Marchionne is a hard-bitten businessman first, second and third and if he thinks the time is right for Ferrari to no longer to be in F1, he will not let sentiment, history or anything else cloud his judgement.
So the question is could Ferrari ever be brought to that point, or is F1 so deep within the DNA that Ferrari simply couldn’t be without it? A week or so ago, Martin Brundle tweeted that Ferrari needed a strong F1 even more than F1 needs Ferrari. I was amazed, not by Martin’s opinion on what is a finely balanced subject, but the fact I disagreed with it. Usually he manages to say exactly what I think, or would have thought had I, er, thought of it.
I guess it is possible that Ferrari gets so much money from the sport and sponsorship that its ability to develop world class road cars would be degraded were that money not there. But I doubt it. What I do not doubt is that Ferrari’s road car sales would be entirely unaffected by its withdrawal from F1.
Indeed I simply don’t believe that people buy Ferraris because of F1. The old ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ mantra worked well for WO Bentley in 1922 but today both the customer and the marketplace are somewhat more sophisticated.
People buy Ferraris for two reasons, the less important of the two being that, as a range of cars, Ferrari makes the best supercars in the world. It really does. The only time its model line up could conceivably be considered better than the one it has at the moment was in the early 1970s when it made the Daytona, Dino and gorgeous 365 GTC/4.
But crucially people buy Ferraris for what they think these cars say about them. They love the looks, the noise, the image. And of course a huge chunk of that image comes from the authenticity derived from Ferrari’s racing activities. But it has been racing non-stop since the 1940s so would it really be damaged if it took a few years out and did something else instead? I find that very, very hard to believe. Porsche recently took 16 years away from its chosen home in the top level of sports car racing, and during this period its business was transformed out of all recognition to the point that became the most profitable car manufacturer in the world. Being away from racing did it no harm whatsoever. To this day Jaguar continues to dine out on stories of winning Le Mans, the most recent of which is now over quarter of a century ago.
Besides, even if Ferrari were to leave F1, I expect it would find another way to race, perhaps even in sports cars. Toyota made the transition from F1 to sports car racing using the same facilities and many of the same people and the Scuderia could do the same.
And how would F1 look without Ferrari? Bereft I am afraid. F1 relies on its image even more than Ferrari and Ferrari is a far greater component of F1’s image than vice versa. Whatever the recent and not-so-recent successes of Mercedes and Red Bull, it would be absurd to suggest that any other than Ferrari was the star of the show.
Will Ferrari leave F1? I doubt it, but there’s part of me that almost hopes it does. Indeed if I knew it would result in Ferrari’s first full works sports car campaign since 1973 and shake F1 out its current appalling complacency, I’d probably greet the idea with open arms.
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