Sergio Marchionne, the Ferrari chairman, has sent a strongly worded message via the Italian media to the bosses of F1, that they had better take his threat to pull Ferrari out of Formula 1 seriously, otherwise they are ‘playing with fire’.
He has been increasingly strong on his Ferrari quit threat, based on his unhappiness about what he sees as the dumbing down of F1’s complex hybrid engines and the technical DNA of the sport. He has support. albeit far less vocal – from Mercedes. Marchionne suggested at the Italian media lunch in Maranello on Monday that they may even start their own breakaway series.
Of course the other real issue behind the scenes, is the maintenance or not of Ferrari’s privileges, like the $100m bonus payment, which it is understandably keen to maintain in the post 2020 contract.
There is nothing new in this kind of talk, but dropping the “B” word [Breakaway] has usually proved the point at which the people who bring it up are overplaying their hand. Marchionne has nevertheless placed that particular card on the table now, to get Liberty’s attention and that of its investors.
Marchionne took Ferrari public recently and knows what market and investor sentiment is all about – so here we have one US listed company threatening the long term viability of another.
This time he also got personal – putting F1’s managing director of motorsports, Ross Brawn in the crosshairs.
Brawn, will no doubt remind the chairman, that he was the man whose mastery of F1 technology and the rules in F1 at the time led to Ferrari’s unrivalled period of F1 dominance from 1999 to 2004. Ferrari has yet to get anywhere close to matching that in the modern era.
“The main thing that bothers me is that inside Liberty Media there is a person with great experience in F1, which is Ross Brawn, who is trying to giving a direction that is not in the DNA of the sport,” said Marchionne.
“If the objective is that after 2020 the engines are more simple and the cars all the same, like in NASCAR, then Ferrari will leave Grand Prix racing the next day. Ross goes on TV and gives out commandments like Moses, but then who can go and talk to Moses’ boss (Carey) can also disagree.
“What we are doing here, Mercedes, Renault, Honda and ourselves, in supplying engines to other teams for 15 million euros a year is already a miracle.
“To Brawn I say, ‘What more do you want for that figure?’
“Next year with only three engines per driver for the season the costs increase because of all the work on reliability.
“However I do agree with Liberty that the races are boring with few overtakes, like Abu Dhabi. We need to make them more exciting. It’s the fault of the regulations, which put too many brakes on the engineers’ creativity. You need real freedom to create the cars.
“We have been part of F1’s history, so we understand bullshit and we understand F1.
“We have a race department that works only on F1, so we know F1 well.
“We have to try to balance [Liberty’s] interests with ours, but I think that we can arrive to that in time to avoid Ferrari’s exit from Formula 1.
“But we will have to work at it. If they think we are bluffing then they are playing with fire.”
Do you think Ferrari is bluffing or do you think they would quit F1 if Liberty sticks to its proposed path? Leave your comment in the section below