Ferrari are the longest serving constructor in Formula 1, although they started as they meant to continue by cot turning up to the inaugural World Championship Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950 as they were unhappy with the start money offered. I wonder what excuse they used at that time, as they cannot have relied upon the fact that they were the oldest constructor in the sport (as every other manufacturer entered had been going since before the Second World War). In fact the team have missed 27 of the World Championship Grands Prix held to date (all of these before Bernie Ecclestone insisted that teams commit to attending all races in a season in the early 1980s). Eleven of these events are the Indianapolis 500 that was included in the World Championship calendar from 1950 – 1960,but that still leave sixteen events that the works team failed to show up for in the first three decades of the series.
So Ferrari have a long history of not attending races when they are unhappy with the event promoters, or when they expected to be uncompetitive. However since the first Concorde Agreement in January 1981, teams have been required to commit to the full season of Grands Prix, so Ferrari have been contractually obliged to attend all the races, this hasn’t stopped the Italian arm waving and frequent threats to quit the sport. The most serious of these was probably in 1986 (when Ferrari was unhappy with the engine regulations that were to replace the turbocharged 1.5 litre units then used). Enzo Ferrari was unhappy with the mandated V8 for the normally aspirated engine, and so threatened to leave F1 for CART. This wasn’t just words though; they actually designed and built a chassis (ironically using a V8 engine that was mandated by the CART regulations). When the images of the car were leaked to the press, the F1 regulations were changed which allowed Ferrari to build a V12 for the new 3.5 litre F1, and also allowed Honda to build the more efficient V10 which dominated the series, with every other engine manufacturer (including Ferrari) having to eventually adopt this configuration in order to be competitive.
This current threat to quit hasn’t yet reached the stage where the team has built a car to compete in an alternative series, so should we take it seriously? Other manufacturers when their competitiveness hasn’t met expectations have quit the series (BMW, Toyota, Renault, Honda), and while some of these have returned (sometimes more than once), Ferrari have never gotten as far as leaving in the first place. Perhaps the reason for their staying in the series can be explained by their marketing strategy. Ferrari do not advertise, the only promotion they do is through their Formula 1 racing, and most of this is funded by the prize money from FOM (now Liberty Media) or by the sponsors of the race team (Phillip Morris and others). AUTOSPORT have carried out an analysis of what each team spent for the 2017 season (note, behind paywall), this concludes that Ferrari spent £350 Million in 2017 (including engines – £305 Million excluding), they received £180 million from FOM – a £9 Million reduction over what they received in 2016, and £170 Million from sponsors and licensing. Now there is a note to say that one of the sponsors is Ferrari themselves, but it is hard to see that it compares to the advertising value the brand gets for exposure to such a large global audience. Ferrari are the most recognised team within the sport, and Toto Wolff has estimated the value of exposure Mercedes gets from the sport is in the billions per year. Ferrari must be getting at least the equivalent value and this far exceeds the few tens of millions they have to spend on the team. Even with a declining TV audience, F1 still attracts around 400 million views around the world; it is hard to see how Ferrari could gain that exposure by competing in WEC, IndyCar or any other motorsport, as they just don’t have that level of audience.
Yes, Ferrari could well choose to leave Formula 1, but I think it would hard Ferrari far more than it harms Formula 1. The sport has had many manufacturers pull out, and many once great teams disappear, yet it has survived. It would survive the Italian team’s departure (should it ever happen), but I am less convince that Ferrari would remain as a viable car company without the F1 team to do its marketing.