It’s time to be excited about Ferrari’s changes

For any of you who have worked in the business world, the changes at Ferrari may be not be a big shock. Let’s face it, if the company isn’t meeting its objectives, sometimes changes are made if the processes and systems are deemed adequate.

For others, and I include myself in this category, the changes seemed a bit dramatic. After delivering record-breaking profit for Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo was ousted along with a raft of upper management. The team wasn’t doing as well as it has in the past, clearly, but Formula 1 is not an easily dominated sport. The domination of any team has come and gone like the winter season of discontent.

McLaren, Williams Ferrari, Red Bull, Brawn and many, many more including Tyrrell, Lotus and Brabham. The sport is a fickle companion, an elusive mistress, a discerning partner. It has made millionaires and malcontents. Through it all, Ferrari has stood strong but not always successful. Di Montezemolo delivered Ferrari many titles and one could be forgiven for straining over to recall Fiat’s accomplishments in that same timeframe.

New Ferrari chairman, Sergio Marchionne, doesn’t see the past as a clear indicator of how Ferrari is currently performing and how it will perform in the future and one has to appreciate that thinking. He’s a man who has a clear track record of high performance and big returns so dismissing his comments would be a fool’s errand. Marchionne told the press:

“Speaking with my experience in even more complex situations, changing the leading roles can help a business very much,” Marchionne added.

“But this is a huge experiment within our ‘continuity concept’.”

No doubt his role in Chrysler’s turnaround and Fiat’s challenges in making that happen have contributed to his experience of what changes to make and when. He’s made bold moves and to be completely fair, things always change. It was inevitable and Marchionne is a man of change, a man of character and high expectations.

The post-Schumacher era at Ferrari was over and the efforts to establish the Alonso era had fallen short. Never mind that Fiat has a vested interest in Ferrari’s success as a capping piece of investment strategy for the IPO but there is one element I discovered when I visited the factory with Shell.

While examining Shell’s involvement with the team, I discovered a moral fiber, character and DNA while walking through Ferrari’s secret areas. What I discovered was, what I consider, Luca di Montezemolo’s secret sauce.

Ferrari is Italy, Italy is Ferrari. The two are inexorably linked through blood, DNA, history and victory as well as tragedy. No other racing team I know has that kind of organic, interwoven relationship with the nation of its birth.

Speaking with Shell about Ferrari, one immediately understood their reverence for the team, its history and its passion. Speaking with Ferrari about Shell, one could understand how grateful they were to have such a partner who not only marshaled resources to make the team better but protected their brand, national heritage and DNA as closely as it does its own Dutch DNA.

I managed to sneak away and find an Italian mechanic building a V8 engine for the throng of 458’s on the factory floor. I speak no Italian but he graciously tried to understand my question and while he was a steely figure that hadn’t placed PR charm at the top of his CV, he did manage to convey to me, in very broken English, that he was working on the soul of Ferrari and Shell makes him happy because it makes his product perform much better. As long as it makes his craftsmanship perform better, he’s all in.

This guy doesn’t know me from Adam and yet I could tell that his Italian heritage and blood was poured into the soul of the Ferrari—it’s amazing engines. I could almost see a button or two nearly pop off his red shirt as he described what he does. The pride was tangible and that is what it is to be Ferrari. That is what it is to be Italian.

Marchionne knows this very well. He’s no one’s chump. Just how Italy responds to the changes remains to be seen. Regardless of how you feel about the changes Sergio has made, wins equal Italian victory and Italian victory equals Italian pride and Italian pride equals Ferrari. You start to get the picture on just how circular this system is and how ingrained the two are. Marchionne will do well to protect that and I know that he will.


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