This weekend in China the new Team Principal of Ferrari, Marco Mattiacci, will be in charge for the first time.
In promoting Mattiacci, the company is taking something of a gamble on one level, as he has very limited knowledge of Formula 1; it’s culture and the complex, difficult people who populate its higher echelons.
He will have to learn quickly not only the politics of the sport, but also the culture of winning, which used to run through the corridors of Maranello in the days of Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt and which more recently has pervaded Red Bull in Milton Keynes and now Mercedes in Northampton.
Ferrari is some way from that now, as is McLaren. This is the spirit that Ron Dennis has come back hoping to rekindle.
An F1 team is highly responsive, able to adapt quickly to innovate and to change course as required, but it is also like an oil tanker on another level, as infrastructure can take time to build and hiring top personnel can take up to a year once gardening leave is taken into account. It’s about making a series of right decisions and very few wrong ones.
In promoting Mattiacci to the role, Ferrari has a proven decision maker and leader, who knows the Ferrari and the wider FIAT/Chrysler empire well. Indeed, Mattiaci’s appointment comes after Sergio Marchionne, the Chairman and CEO, Chrysler Group LLC CEO, Fiat S.p.A, visited Maranello last week and the appointment could signal a shift in emphasis, with the race team being brought closer to the seat of power. However, despite Mattiaci’s management credentials he will have to quickly identify who are the people around him whose voice and opinion he must trust. Running a winning F1 team is about knowing the right moment to invest in CFD, or a new wind tunnel or a new technical director or designer. A team principal is like an orchestra leader who needs to keep the violinists and the brass section at the top of their game at all times. It is a relentless job.
Keeping Fernando Alonso at Maranello will be one of Mattiacci’s first order priorities as the Spaniard has suffered a frustrating five years at the team with no world title to add to the two he won with Renault.
And it’s about giving nothing away to the opposition. Critics of former McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh, for example, would argue that he gave too much time to the task of looking for consensus among teams with FOTA and got distracted from the job of making McLaren unbeatable on track.
Domenicali was a strong boss, a popular character, but not a ruthless leader. Perhaps this was his downfall. He was always earmarked in the Italian succession plan to take over from Jean Todt, who was an utterly ruthless leader and a very effective one. Aldo Costa was earmarked to take over from Brawn and fell well short in that role. But now look at him, as the chief designer at Mercedes, doing what he does best making fast racing cars without the pressure of the technical director role.
These examples prove that success in F1, in sport and indeed business generally, is more about empowering the right people and not over-promoting. It is also about having vision.
Currently Mercedes is well ahead of Ferrari in hybrid ERS technology. This is because they started investing heavily in it six or more years ago, before KERS came into F1 for the first time.
Everything about Mercedes’ current domination of F1 is due to careful long term planning of the kind Mattiacci will now be looking to put in place at Ferrari.
Ferrari has most of what is needed to win in F1; a top technical director in James Allison, good aerodynamicists, great facilities for wind tunnel testing and two world champion drivers.
The engine department has let the side down this year, building a power unit that falls well short of the benchmark Mercedes. This is year one of a new technology and Ferrari will have a chance to improve its engine for the 2015 season. They must take that opportunity and then make sure that Allison and his team produce a chassis that is the equal of Mercedes and Red Bull.
Then they need to think like winners again.
Mattiacci, 43, has been one of the rising stars of Ferrari, first through his work selling cars in China and more recently in the USA, which is Ferrari’s biggest market and where sales are at record levels.
Mattiacci is 43 and has an economics degree from Columbia Business School in New York.