Last week a few of us were invited for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Chelsea by the heads of communication from both McLaren and Ferrari. It’s a shame the invitation was electronic, if it had been printed on card I would have framed it.
It seemed as unlikely as Peter Mandelson being invited to join the cabinet by his arch enemy Gordon Brown…except that, as in that situation, needs must.
The dinner was the public face of a private event that day, which showed how far relations have changed between F1’s two top teams. Ferrari’s Luca Colajanni had been invited by his opposite number at McLaren, Matt Bishop, to visit the factory in Woking and meet new team principal Martin Whitmarsh, his number two Jonathan Neale and to have a long chin wag with the retiring boss Ron Dennis.
Eighteen months ago, or even a year ago this would have been inconceivable. In the aftermath of the Nigel Stepney spy scandal (incidentally Stepney is now working at an engineering firm in Essex, but that’s another story) where Ferrari technical secrets were passed to McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan, you would not have believed that the cold war between the two teams could thaw to that extent. Colajanni’s visit was symbolic, it paved the way for other more senior figures from Ferrari, like team principal Stefano Domenicali and president Luca di Montezemolo to come over. And it sent a simple message to the FIA and to Bernie Ecclestone.
So what does it all mean? Well two significant changes have brought this about; one is the retirement of Jean Todt as Ferrari team principal. He and Dennis had a deep suspicion of each other which started back in the 1990s and only ever got worse, culminating in the spy scandal of 2007. The other is the establishment of FOTA, the teams’ association, which is doing some good work behind the scenes to bring the teams together as one body with one voice and get F1 onto a stronger footing for the future.