Arrivabene: the man with few friends at Ferrari

by Mark Hughes on 7th January 2019

Where did Maurizio Arrivabene go wrong as Ferrari Formula 1 team boss, and what legacy does he leave?

Arrivabene Ferrari F1 garage

Maurizio Arrivabene’s dismissal from the role of Ferrari team principal was logical. He was not the right man for the job – and was of less value to the team than Mattia Binotto who may well have been lost to Ferrari if Arrivabene had stayed on as his boss.

That’s not to say it was expected. The impetus to action it was a decisive one and came from a Chairman, John Elkann, only a few months into the role.

Reports elsewhere suggesting Arrivabene’s firing was initiated by MD Louis Camilleri are believed to be wide of the mark, incidentally, and we understand that Camilleri’s position is itself still under review.

What did Arrivabene do wrong? He lacked the ability to lead and inspire. What he saw as leadership, many of those around him took as bullying. He had a similar relationship with the media, deploying an outright offensive manner that gained him few friends there.

So we eventually arrived at the position in 2018 where the worst race team was running the best car

He covered up his lack of detailed understanding with dismissive and aggressive responses. He didn’t seem to even understand what it was he was not understanding. At first I took it as a language barrier, but in time I came to know that it wasn’t – and that he expressed himself in much the same way in his native tongue. He appreciated questions from those around him about as much as he did from the media.

He was an autocrat to those below him but without the inspirational qualities to compensate. He was a ‘yes sir, three bags full sir’ guy to those above him.

Arrivabene was in the wrong job – something that Sergio Marchionne had come to realise after having plucked him from Philip Morris.

The late chairman had planned the exact change that has just happened and had informed the board of it. Hence Elkann is only doing what Marchionne had planned (just as with the hiring of Charles Leclerc in place of Kimi Räikkönen), even though he wasn’t beholden to it after Marchionne’s sudden passing.

During last year’s Chinese Grand Prix weekend the renowned F1 technical illustrator Giorgio Piola photographed the steering wheel that Sebastian Vettel had placed atop of the Ferrari’s cockpit when in the pitlane.

Piola then drew the wheel and wrote about the extra control that it featured.

The following day Arrivabene accosted Piola, growling menaces at him. The incident gave a good measure of the man.


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This is the man who a couple of years ago broke his usual vow of not talking to the cameras – to say that Vettel should stop trying to run the team and concentrate instead on justifying his position as a driver. He maybe took that as man management skills. Instead it lost him the respect of one of the biggest assets at his disposal.

As Arrivabene ran the race team through a culture of intimidation and fear, his opposite number in the technical group Mattia Binotto had convinced Marchionne of how the removal of fear could unleash much of the creative talent of the people within. Marchionne acted upon the suggestion and applied management science to making it happen – lo and behold Ferrari became the most creative technical group on the grid after years of just following the lead of others.

So we eventually arrived at the position in 2018 where the worst race team was running the best car. It wasn’t the worst race team because of the people within it – but because of how it was being led. This also seeped through to the mindset of its lead driver.

That’s the essence behind what has just happened.

F1 is a people game and people are complex, especially competitive and creative people.

Arrivabene’s job probably wasn’t advertised but if it had been it should have included this line: Intimidation and one-dimensional thinking would debar the applicant.

 

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