Enemies on the F1 track, friends off it – Ferrari and Mercedes the key dynamic
Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Feb 2018   |  3:38 pm GMT  |  139 comments

The Six Nations Rugby tournament kicked off this weekend with some thrilling matches and highlighted a sporting dynamic that Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff insists exists between his team and Ferrari.

They can be bitter enemies on the race track and seek to not only beat, but humiliate each other.

But off-track the two team principals not only breakfast together on race morning, at a senior level the two manufacturers are well aligned and now it’s the F1 management team under Liberty Media that is the adversary.

This is set to be one of the key dynamics of 2018 and their unified approach will have some bearing on the shape F1 takes for the future.

F1 like rugby?
Ireland’s Johnny Sexton broke French hearts on Saturday, when he kicked a drop goal with the final action of the game, to steal victory. After being mobbed by his Irish team mates, his first act was to go over to the French team’s huddle and shake hands and share a word with them.

This is the spirit of rugby; the fact that the competitors can want to destroy each other on the field, but then immediately the final whistle blows, they come together with respect and humility thanks to their shared passion for the game.

“I like the analogy to rugby,” Wolff said last Autumn, “That you can be fierce and tough competitors and trying to punch each other during the match and win with all the necessary emotions – but you’re still able to have a beer afterwards.

“This is the attitude that we’ve had over the years..

“But it’s necessary; we are all stakeholders in this giant platform. And if this giant platform is successful, it makes the teams successful and it makes the sport successful and we are all benefitting from this.

“I think in the past – not only in the past, still today – there are individuals that are very narrow-mindedly focussed on Formula One as is there was nothing else besides it. And the truth is that there are many interests that we share besides the fierce competition on track.”

Throughout my 28 year F1 career, I have seen periods when some of the drivers had some sense of cameraderie and some of the team bosses too. When Stefano Domenicali ran Ferrari and Martin Whitmarsh was running McLaren there was a lot of off field respect and cordial relations.

But there has usually been a spirit of animosity off track, clashes of big egos and team bosses seeking to destroy rivals on and off the track.

The group of F1 team bosses was once described as “The Piranha club”, by Ron Dennis.

Shared purpose: to stand up to Liberty
There is a lot going on behind the scenes in F1 at the moment as the management team under Chase Carey reforms the sport for the future. They have had a year to learn who everyone is and how it all works and they’ve had some successes and failures with things they have tried.

But now comes the hard part; shaping the sport according to their vision, even if that puts them on a collision course with the top teams, especially Ferrari and Mercedes.

It’s mostly around engines, rules and money.

So far it’s been Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne (above) who has made most of the negative noise about Liberty’s plans. Mercedes have kept a lower profile.

But Ferrari have been more forthright in some of their actions too; for example Sean Bratches oversaw a bidding battle last year between Amazon Prime and Netflix for a new behind the scenes F1 documentary series. Netflix was chosen, but the word is that Ferrari aren’t playing. Mercedes will only feature in a limited way.

Liberty’s approach is to want to treat all their children the same, but Ferrari and Mercedes don’t want to be treated the same as the smaller teams. Much of the fascination of this season ahead will lie in how that negotiation progresses in parallel to the racing competition on track.

All possibilities remain on the table for where this could all end up, from a new Concorde agreement binding in all parties and agreed rules from 2021 onwards, through to Ferrari and Mercedes exploring a different series.

But unlike in the past, where one suspected that Ferrari would always break ranks and do what suited them when push came to shove, there does seem to be a shared sense of purpose with Mercedes and it is important to bear that in mind when watching what unfolds in the Great Game off the circuit.

All photos: LAT Images

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These two make me miss Ron Dennis and Flavio Briatore.


let’s get rid of all the manufacturers and give the power back to the real racing teams like Williams McLaren sauber force India alike. someone please breathe life back into f1


A pair of bullies whose motivation is to keep their position at the top by [mod], stifle innovation in other organisations and pat themselves themselves on the back for maintaining high standards. Or would you like to know what I really think?


I don’t think with Porsche entering the fray that there will be much off the track friendship with Mercedes, or Ferrari/ Alfa for that matter…..


@ Andrew…I would love to see Porsche enter F1 as a fully fledged team, if not on their own then maybe in partnership with Audi! AP F1 Racing. Both these marques have great hybrid power plants and the experience plus the wherewithall to enter the series but i would expect that they would rather see a less complex power unit in place before entering. If we add Aston Martin-Cosworth as well…WOW what a grid that would be? Is it likely to happen? I very much doubt it, as Liberty would have be able to take control back from the big three manu’s first and that won’t be easy, if at all.


I’d like to see Toyota back as well.


Not sure why the comparison between a global easy to follow sport like F1 and a complicated minority sport like rugby.
Maybe it’s a public school thing?


Make that pre-race breakfast a family thing by adding a couple of grid kids.


The key to it all is Ross Brawn. He’s where the power really lies.

He may say he’s only focusing on the technical aspect, but we know how F1 works. His influence either with Liberty or as a go between for the other teams cannot be understated.


I’m not too sure that Brawn is as powerful as a lot of people think. James would be the right person to ask to see where he thinks Brawn sits on the ‘power’ scale of F1 movers and shakers. If Brawn really is going to ring in substantial changes to the motive power units he’s going to have a near impossible time. Just consider the joint power wielded by the big three. They would be able to flex their not inconsiderable strength by virtue of their supply contracts to other teams … Sauber would be seriously compromised now by the Alfa Romeo infusion when coming to decide who to back in any serious confrontation as an example. Red Bull and Renault are still in conflict to a lesser degree but Horner is not shy when saying what he wants and he wants independent engine builders to be an integral part of the supply chain. Brawn is supposedly having round robins with the teams but what are the proposals? James, any news is better than no news.


Ross is now in a pretty powerful position. I hate those Power League lists, but if there were one in F1 today he’d be in the Top 5 for sure along with Carey, Todt, Wolff and Marchionne


@ James…thanks for the response. It’s very interesting that you place him in the top five. ATM i’m reading the Brawn/Parr book based on strategy and for the first time really come to grips with the Incessant and sometimes clandestine backroom dealing and the lengths that people like Brawn will go to in order to gain an edge!!!! I have always known it was there but the details are fascinating and i’m sure that there is a vast array of even deeper conflicts that were not published!!! Probably never will be unfortunately. If common ground can’t be found this time around then one party is going to suffer a great deal as this is simply a major power play for the future. The question is, just who is in control?


I would put Hamilton in that list too. The amount of social media exchanges he generates with fans is a powerful thing.


How did Mercedes become on par with Ferrari and supercede McLaren, Renault and even RBR and Williams in the power hierarchy! As a constructor – they have been involved only for 8 years compared to 78 for Ferrari, 60 odd for McLaren, 50 odd for Willams and 20-30 for Renault!

Nice touch to the past showing Ron as the Boss.


If Mercedes have only been involved for 8 years how did they win the 1954 & 1955 WDCs?


Things really don’t change much from the third grade playground, do they ?


Hi James, Johnny Sexton’s name is spelt wrong.

Not a big rugby fan but that’s the first thing that I noticed.


Call me a cynic, but I get the impression that Toto Wolff is the kind of person who is too eager to please other people (afraid to upset others); and that Ferrari are playing him (and Mercedes) given his call for “unity” currently suits their interests.

The moment things take a turn and the opposition (Liberty Media) now suits them, Marchionne (Ferrari) will likely stab Wolff and Merc in the back without even flinching.


I doubt if Toto became one of the wealthiest people in the UK (see Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ for details) by allowing himself to be played for a sucker very often!


I can’t help but think it’s this sort of attitude which will forever keep F1 in a bad (less good?) position. There is perpetually too much, “what’s in it for me?” and not enough, “what’s good for the sport?” Ferrari and Mercedes should be working with Liberty to move the sport forward, not just trying to protect their own advantages (particularly Ferrari with the welfare they receive). I don’t think Liberty necessarily has the answers, but the sport needs everyone pulling the same way on the same rope.


First you get the money. Then you get the power. Then you get the… competition.


If comparing Rugby to F1 that would make Mercedes the All Blacks. Ferrari possibly England , Red Bull Australia? Force India Ireland perhaps.


I’d say renault Ireland?


two corporate executives desperate to keep their unfair advantages re f1 payments.


Well, Ferrari and Merc really aren’t competitors in terms of the markets they serve so they should just be good friends and agree to alternate the winning of races and championships to share the dividends and maximise the appearance of there being a “competition”.

Then, as Renault and Honda also don’t really compete with Ferrari or Merc in terms of the overall auto market, invite them also to the breakfasts and make two more friends. Give them a few wins and maybe a championship to make it worth their while.

Then, everyone will be happy. Won’t they ?

Sport ? Pffft.


Considering last weeks public statement of support for Marchionne’s style by Wolff nothing in this surprises me. Alliances forged on a mutual dependency for control are nothing new. It is my belief that Marchionne is playing bad cop and Wolff is playing the opposite but only [ falsely ] to imply a sense of balance. Wolff cannot be trusted if one takes into account Brawn’s experiences over the Paddy Lowe incident. Forget Mercedes…Wolff will do what’s best for Wolff, IMO. He is nothing if not shrewd and he has achieved a great deal. Likewise Marchionne. Liberty will have to face up to formidable challenges and it won’t be pretty unless deals are struck to reduce the ‘heat’ generated by the threats from Ferrari. What does instill a degree of disillusion is the fact that Liberty have chosen to make changes, on the premise of their ‘vision for the future’ when they have not outlined in any detail what that ‘vision’ is. The grid girls issue is a case in point. They claim that they have acted in association with the fans? That change just appeared without any priors, to my knowledge. Same with the broadcast timings. Just an edict out of the blue.
What i do hope for is that there are changes made that reduce the control being exerted by the manufacturers. Until that is successfully undertaken Liberty will have their chain pulled relentlessly. I am not confident that they can effectively achieve this. Consider the fact that unless they can sort out these conflicting issues, come 2020 a business valued at $8B could well be worth a lot less!!!!

Tornillo Amarillo

What do you think about the dynamic between Ferrari and Mercedes?

Quotes from Machiavelli to…

MERCEDES = “Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”

FERRARI = “Politics have no relation to morals.”

LIBERTY MEDIA = “The new ruler must determine all the injuries that he will need to inflict. He must inflict them once and for all.”

FANS = “The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.”

JOURNALIST: “The one who adapts his policy to the times prospers,
and likewise that, the one whose policy clashes with the demands of the times, does not.”


Very good!


Re :shaping the sport according to their vision…

Personally, i could take or leave the grid girls. They aren’t why i watch, but i acknowledge that they are part of the glitz and glamour associated with the sport.

I wonder if Liberty feel that by banning them they are opening up a new market? If so which market?
I am unaware of there being any Weinstein type incidents or accusations in relation to grid girls (i stand corrected if there are), but i wonder what has led to this decision? Is it advertiser led, or is there some moral code being imposed?


Good question makes you wonder if the glitz and glamour of Monaco is going to be toned down no more shots of women sun bathing as the cars speed by underneath. Will the drivers no longer participate in the fashion shows so they wont be objectified?


@ LKFE…Yes, but what is their Vision? I am certainly not aware of what it is, how it was arrived at and how, if acceptable, it will be implemented. There is an old saying, ‘you can’t sell a secret’ if you want to carry the weight of the fans with you. So far all we’ve seen is tinkering around the edges and nothing of any great importance being put on the table for discussion. I am equally sure that there are a lot of happenings behind closed doors but will we, the fans, get to know where they are headed ? I very doubt it but we are still expected to fork out large sums for the privilege of watching a semi fixed championship.


Ha ha JA!!!

Northern hemisphere rugby…. “thrilling”?

You nearly had me there 🙂 🙂


I can’t believe Ferrari would be buddy buddying up to Mercedes, to maintain these PU rules, when they have been utterly dominated for years by the Mercedes PU package.

Ok they came a tiny bit closer in 2017, but don’t be fooled by Mercedes controlling the pace, controlling the race as to how close. Don’t be fooled be a Ferrari on the limits, able to match Mercedes at only a few tracks, whilst said Merc has plenty in reserve and a 100 percent, title winning, full season reliability. Plus Ferrari were, as ever, completely destroyed with their in-season development, again poorer than the team they are competing against (as per how slow the Alonso Ferrari was at season end against the NeweySeb Red Bull when he’d managed to drag the red car within a shout at the final race a couple of times)

It’s like Ferrari are satisfied with 2nd place…

You’d think, with the money they have, they’d be buddying in with Liberty to tweak the PU rules for the sake of better competition for victories, to give themseleves a realistic shot at the title again.

Hope someone else can break into the top two next year, though I doubt it with these PUs.


And surely Renault and Honda would benefit the most from radically new engine rules.


I’m missing something about that as well. With their resources and recent good form Ferrari would surely benefit as much as anyone from new rules.


Germany vs Italy on track
Off track
Germany smiles at Italy still in Euro debt
Similar to the Mercedes vs Fiat car war .
Also great win by England against the Italian side in 6 Nations 🏉”””,,,,,🏃‍♂️. Get in there !!👍




The tail must not be allowed to wag the dog.
Despite the Mr E type frenzy that the grid girl situation whipped up (gotta be one of the most commented on articles James?) Liberty must wrestle back control of the sport that it owns.
I truly believe F1 is at the most critical point in its history and has one chance to get things right for its future.
I don’t care what they paid for it or how much Bernie made or what the potential earnings are,the future depends on people watching. And if we don’t put money in the meter the lights will go out.
If anyone is capable of getting it right then Ross brawn is that man.
Mercedes and Ferrari both know this and are quite rightly concerned,but no matter what the cost, the tail must not be allowed to wag the dog.


German shepherd: “WOOF”
Spinone Italiano “WOOF”
French Poodle ????


F1canmaker… The tail is somehow attached to the ‘veto’ and therefore can wag the dog…..I think?


“Liberty must wrestle back control of the sport that it owns. “

I think that F1 must wrestle back control of the sport tbat was given to Bernie in the infamous 100 year deal! The whole idea of Liberty ‘owning’ F1 is anathema!


Liberty Media are making the same mistake with F1 that the BBC did with Top Gear….Liberty Media will learn the hard way that being “politically correct” and pandering to the left-wing is not good for viewing figures and profits!

F1 is a shambles …
> Ugly cars
> Boring personalities
> Lack of genuine competition
> Lack of showbusiness and glamour

Such a shame that F1 has lost so much of its shine.


Great analogy, and sadly all too true! The only good news is that being a listed company, we’ll have relatively quick market feedback on whether their strategy works or not.


Thanks, Bernie. Hope you’re having a good day!


I can only report the facts as I see them…

I can always get Sebee to chip in if needed 🙂


Wolff seems to have missed the fact that Rugby players and teams also respect the game as well as each other. Rugby players will still call the referee, Sir, and rarely argue his decisions.

And Rugby teams certainly don’t make little breakfast clubs to work out how to gang up on the sporting body so only they can win games and competitions in the future.


Excellent point.

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