Sometimes you can see moments of history approaching. As we head towards two important dates for the future shape of the sport – the October 31 future engines meeting and the November 7 teams meeting where the new plan for F1 will be revealed by Liberty Media – there comes the inevitable positioning, led by Ferrari.
This is the first crunch moment in Sergio Marchionne’s tenure at the helm of Ferrari. And as in the past when Enzo Ferrari, or successors Luca di Montezemolo or Jean Todt spoke for the Scuderia – he says essentially that Ferrari is F1 and vice versa but that it won’t write the sport a blank cheque.
Speaking to the Italian edition of Motorsport.com at the Ferrari Mondiali event in Mugello, Marchionne says that if Liberty messes around with the DNA of F1 then Ferrari will no longer be interested in participating.
“I confirmed two obligations [to Liberty at a meeting in Austin last week],” said Marchionne.
“Like them, we want to reduce the costs of F1 which are beyond the limit. And that’s not because of technical choices but because of the way the sport is managed.
“We will do everything to reduce the costs of competing. And that will help the sport.
“But the most important thing: to change the nature of F1 for commercial reasons is a discussion that doesn’t interest Ferrari. We have to be very careful not to take away history from the DNA of this sport; that’s what interests Ferrari.
If these two things are missing, then Ferrari’s interest in staying in F1 will diminish.”
So far in all his pronouncements on F1 leading up to these crunch meetings, where Liberty will reveal their plans for F1 post 2021, CEO Chase Carey has emphasised the importance of getting the costs under control and making the F1 teams sustainable businesses. And he has underlined the value of its history. American sports owners always value history.
But the key will be whether they value the history that Ferrari represents to the tune of $100m a year surplus to what the teams receive in appearance and prize money. Bernie Ecclestone and CVC put that value on Ferrari; Liberty needs to find a way to make Ferrari feel valued but to level the playing field a bit. How they tackle that will be one of the key moves of this coming phase.
“This isn’t a threat,” Marchionne continues. He referenced comments in Gazzetta dello Sport by Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene which some have interpreted as a threat. Marchionne says he will protect Ferrari’s involvement in the sport, “but not at any cost.”
“I’m open for any discussion, but if they want to turn F1 into a nonsense, a shppping channel, then I’m not the slightest bit interested.
“There is a very noble aspect to F1 beyond the things that happen on track; it’s a sport which is truly different from the others and we can’t over commercialise it. If they do that, we are off; no interest.”
You don’t need to be an expert in political theory to understand this messaging. Marchionne repeats his core message about the things Ferrari is not interested in. Unusually for the build up to a major meeting, featuring the reveal of a new F1, there has been little gossip about what is on the table from Liberty’s side. That reflects their style and approach. It’s not divide and rule, as in the past, in fact it’s the opposite. They want to try to treat all their ‘family members’ the same, as much as possible.
That’s a bit of a problem for Ferrari and Mercedes, because they feel they bring far more to the table than Sauber or Force India. While Ferrari and Mercedes are well aligned with each other, Red Bull are at odds with them. It will be fascinating to see this play out.
We know that the direction of travel on engines is that they will be based on current 1.6 V6 engine, they will be louder, will be higher revving and that will be achieved by means of a higher fuel allowance, up by as much as 20%. They will be simplified with some components of the hybrid system – such as the MGU-H on the turbo, either dispensed with, or standardised.
But Carey and his team have given little away about what the broader rules package and integration of the cost cap might be. Some top teams have a working assumption that the cost cap will be $150m without driver and senior management salaries of marketing, with a glidepath down to that figure over three years.
The next two weeks will be momentous. Stay tuned.
What do you make of Marchionne’s comments? Leave your own comments in the section below