There has been a lot of chatter in the last 24 hours with reference to statements made by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo yesterday at the Finali Mondiali event at Mugello.
Many commentators have read Montezemolo’s line as “Ferrari boss threatens F1 pullout” but it isn’t easy to decode his message here. I’m not sure that he meant to go that far on this occasion and that’s why the notorious Horse Whisperer was deployed on Monday to play down suggestions that Montezemolo was making threats.
What is clear is that he was doing something he likes to do from time to time, firing off some criticisms of the current state of F1 and he threw in the line “Formula 1 is still our life, but without Ferrari there is no Formula 1, just as without Formula 1 Ferrari would be different.”
He also said, “If they still want Ferrari then F1 must change and go back to being about advanced research, with the necessary attention to costs.”
What I think is going on here is a bit of frustration with the season just gone and the poor performance of his team (he later picked up team boss Stefano Domenicali for not being ambitious enough in his stated ambitions for 2012), combined with a desire to spell out that we are now at a delicate moment for the sport, with just over a year until the expiry of the Concorde Agreement, in which to agree the shape of the sport post 2012 and that the teams, governing body and commercial rights holders need to come together and get the right blue print for the next phase of the sport.
Far from this being about Ferrari going out on a limb to threaten to walk away if it doesn’t get what it wants, Ferrari is broadly on the same page as the other teams in seeing this moment as an opportunity, even if they done’t all agree on some of his ideas, such as third cars and more testing.
This is an episode in an unfolding narrative and it’s important always to remember the big picture. Talking to many of the team principals recently, with this next round of Concorde negotiations coming up, the sport has an opportunity to make some changes and to set itself up for the future.
The teams feel, for example, that they generate all kinds of data during race weekends, which fans would love to access. Team radio only scratches the surface of it and they’d love to do more with the internet to bring that to the fans. But that isn’t possible in the current set up. All of these things need to be brought up and discussed and tied into the future plan.
In terms of revenue sharing, as well as negotiating how the cake should be divided up, they also want to enlarge the cake and want to play a part in that.
Although Bernie Ecclestone says that F1 doesn’t need another Concorde Agreement, it is vital for his partners CVC if they are to make an exit. Without all the teams signed up to race they have an asset which is hard to value and thus hard to sell and there are buyers wanting to make that move.
Before the teams sign on the dotted line, they have an opportunity to play a role in shaping the next generation of F1 and no-one appreciates that better than Montezemolo, who has been involved in F1 one way or another via the Agnelli family and Ferrari since the mid 1970s.
So, Montezemolo’s words come at a time when many things are on the table from technical rules to intellectual property exchange to testing. And looking at the success of team led initiatives like the DRS wing, in response to research with fans who said they want to see more overtaking for example, there is a confidence among teams that they can play a central role in scoping out the future.
Of course there is always the latent threat of Ferrari leaving the sport, should their path to this be blocked, but that always exists and this threat has always been Ferrari’s most powerful lever.
It’s not the first time he’s reminded everyone of Ferrari’s historical roots in the sport and its importance to the sport and it won’t be the last.
With the state of crisis in Italy at the moment, it appears that the routes into politics for him are more difficult now. I think he can see a role for himself in F1 for the future. Far from leaving the sport, he can see a way of staying central to it.