I am about to commit F1 blasphemy. Stand by while I put on my flak jacket … OK now I’m ready to take on one of F1’s most sacred cows: Ferrari.
Before I begin cow-tipping, I want to be very clear on one point. I love Ferrari, the road cars and the racing cars alike. I love the history, the mystique, the culture from which it comes, their style, their panache, their ethic, what they inspire, and the drivers that have raced for them throughout the years. If I had to pick one and only one car from all the cars in the world to own, old or new, super or road-going, it would most definitely be a 1965 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso and that is coming from a Porsche guy through and through.
As they have been all year, Ferrari are making headlines, however it is not because of the missed opportunity to win a drivers title which would be their first since 2007. I am also not referring to the lights-to-flag win in Brazil with Sebastian driving like his old self, thoroughly controlling the race from P1. Instead, the headlines I am referring to are due to the dust-up over what Liberty Media have in store for F1 going forward and what Ferrari deems is good for them, or rather what is not.
Here are a few quotes from Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne to get us started: “It (Formula 1) has been part of our DNA since the day we were born,” he said. “But if we change the sandbox to the point where it becomes an unrecognizable sandbox, I don’t want to play anymore.” He further went on to state, and this is the meat and potatoes of his complaint: “I think you need to be absolutely clear that unless we find a set of circumstances, the results of which are beneficial to the maintenance of the brand in the marketplace and to the strengthening of the unique position for Ferrari, Ferrari will not play.”
There is so much subtext there I don’t even know where to begin, but one thing is quite clear, that is a threat any way you form the carbon fiber. And that will be our point of departure for this discussion.
I am quite clear on which side of the debate I come down and while I am happy to share my opinions on all matters F1, this really is a post to spur honest critical thought on the subject matter at hand. This post is about Ferrari and what we all feel is their rightful place in F1, the sport of F1 and how these two entities will find common ground and mostly by default all about the fans which is you.
My Opinion And Only My Opinion
As I see it there are really two parallel points of view in this discussion and they should not be co-mingled if we are to further flush out this on-going argument that since the signing of the Concord agreement (there have been several, in which Bernie Ecclestone entered into several secret deals behind closed doors with the sport’s most prominent teams), rears its head every so often.
The more common point and the one that gets most people’s knickers all in a tizzy is, how relevant would F1 be without Ferrari? Would a constructor’s title or driver’s title still have the same value if both were won without Maranello in the mix? If we further parse this point out, one also has to ask (and answer) the question: what value do the current owners (Liberty Media) feel Ferrari bring to the party from a commercial point of view and what would they lose if Ferrari call for a divorce from F1? Conversely, what if any benefit does Ferrari enjoy by competing in F1 against the former titans of the sport, Williams and McLaren, as well as the new titans, Red Bull and Mercedes?
The less common point, but one I feel is worth our time, is how healthy is it for Ferrari to believe they are more important than everyone else, which I will concede is just a simple fact of life. Ferrari is more important to the sport than Force India as an example, but collectively, than all the other teams??? I wonder.
Many F1 fans will not agree and most Ferrari fans will most definitely not agree that F1 could survive without its most celebrated and most successful constructor. I am very interested to hear how the readers of this blog feel about it. However, one could also make the argument that any F1 team, even the holier than thou Ferrari, which uses threats to get what they want out of the sport is 1) not in a healthy relationship with the sport, 2) probably creating resentment from other teams in the sport (which was the case if my memory serves me when Ecclestone’s back room deals came to light previously) and lastly, is just not that sporting.
We should all take pause and remember that what we have come to understand as F1 began long before El Commodore starting building and racing his own cars in what would eventually become the official FIA sectioned formula.
It is true however (and everyone brings up this point ad nauseum) that historically Ferrari have been the only team to contest each and every race since F1’s official beginning in 1950, and I would absolutely agree that Ferrari should enjoy some preferred status in F1 as such. But should that entitle a team, any team, to hold the sport hostage for more money, require a unique veto power, or in the case of what has spurred the latest exit threats, to quash the vision or direction of the new owners???
Team principals and team owners have been asking for years for modernization and new ideas, including Ferrari. Maybe Liberty Media will make some changes for the better and maybe Ferrari should let the new owners try a few un-orthodox things or less traditional things to see if something positive can be achieved. Just a thought.
Let’s just outline for a second why Ferrari and Sergio Marchionne are posturing in this way to begin with. What seems to have really caught the eye of Ferrari are two areas of what will surely be a very difficult negotiation come 2020: engine formula and prize money. These are not points I wish to distill at this point, they are not part of this post, I am merely giving you the reader a bit more information and context.
That one manufacturer should think they are so important and should wield so much influence is sending the wrong message if you want other marquee manufacturers to participate – such as Porsche or Aston Martin. The idea that Ferrari could enjoy an unfair advantage, possess any veto power, or get paid 100 million dollars (note: this figure is a bit difficult to nail down – It took me several attempts to find information I was confident in. I finally settled on a article from Forbes of this year) just to show up when they have so many millions at their disposal already sounds insane to me and I feel is ultimately is bad for the sport. I can’t even think of a good analogy for this so here is a bad one. Ferrari getting that much money (and if I am correct that does not include the prize money for their finishing position at the season’s end) is similar to Amazon receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to build their new compound in whichever chosen city agrees to pay this ransom. Does anyone have any idea what Amazon is worth currently??? You could look it up, but I just did. As of July this year Jeff Bezos’ company is worth over 500 billion dollars. Wow…
I have, since the moment I learned of the historical payout to Ferrari felt it was completely out of line, no matter how important Ferrari is to the sport. Do they not make tons of money already by just being in F1? Did the Lakers get a show-up fee in the go-go eighties? How about the New England Patriots? If there ever was a Football team right now that deserves it, look no further. Does this same deal exist for Real Madrid? FC Barcelona? Man United? Arsenal?
History. (Not All It Is Cracked Up To Be.)
That there is some kind of mystique that Ferrari brings to the table is completely understandable in the context of the history of the sport. But I ask you, in the 20 year Ferrari drought from Jody Scheckter’s WDT to Michael Schumacher’s, did the sport enjoy any less success because Ferrari was not challenging for regular podiums or annual titles?
To put it another way, F1 did just fine without the red car winning championships. To hear some people tell it, Ferrari at one point were the laughingstock of the paddock until Luca di Montezemolo made it his life’s work to make the team from Maranello respectable again.
Tell me, how can one say Ferrari are so important yet for 20 years they had little or no success in the overall championships… the same 20 years that the sport became the juggernaut that it is today? Was this success due to, or because of Ferrari? Sure, it is nice to have that red car on the grid, but what percentage of Ferrari involvement really contributed to the sky-high world popularity and success that F1 gained in the 80’s and 90’s?? You tell me. Do the names Lotus, Williams, Brahbam, and McLaren ring any bells??? Did not these teams have just a bit to do with this success, that by the way also elevated Ferrari’s status despite the fact that Ferrari was not winning on a regular basis? (note: I know other teams also get historical pay-outs and there are also deals with Red Bull and Mercedes, but lets stay with Ferrari for now).
Again, one can look at Ferrari’s continued and long-term involvement in F1 as the leading point. This constructor should enjoy a unique type of status in the sport, and while it is true that teams such as Brahbam and Lotus are no longer, it must be stated that Ferrari have for a very long time been underwritten by the huge conglomerate FIAT to varying degrees over the years. In simple terms, FIAT pays all the bills for the Scuderia. How hard is it to just stay in a sport with no accountants to answer to? All you really need to do is show up.
It’s Not Personal, Just Politics
OK, now that I have well and truly focused the crosshairs on my back, let’s tackle yet another point that I think is always missed. Politics. Why would the current owners of the sport pay so much money to in any way upset the carbon fiber apple cart? Why would Liberty Media want to do anything that would cause the sport’s most celebrated team to threaten to quit?
I think it is all gamesmanship, and that the quit threat is just that, a threat. Did Red Bull follow through with their threats to quit? It seems that just few years ago Dietrich Mateschitz was saying he would be quitting every other week for something or another. Christian Horner, who is always good for a quote and I’m fond of referring to, weighed in on this issue by telling the press, where would Ferrari go? And I agree, where is Ferrari going to get the kind of exposure and fan devotion that they enjoy from F1? Again, I will absolutely agree that Ferrari helped create that level of exposure but now that the genie is out of the bottle, Red Bull and Mercedes have done a pretty good job at creating their own mystique thank you very much, as had Williams and McLaren.
I would love to see a more comprehensive poll in regards to what the entire F1 fan base thinks about Ferrari’s importance in the sport and whether or not Ferrari’s exit would truly make a difference. And when I say more comprehensive, I mean a plethora of questions, different age groups, traditionalists vs. new generation, is it the driver that you follow or the brand, why do you follow F1, what got you to notice and follow F1, if Ferrari is not challenging for race wins will you still find F1 compelling, etc. etc.
But as of right now we just have the survey from a poll that Autosport referred to in a recent article that was the impetus for this Op-ed. I have not verified the results, but if we are to take the comments at face value then there are opinions on both sides of this discussion. Autosport does not give a clear percentage of how many polled believe the sport would be worse off, just a cross section of opinions. Here are a few:
1.RPM40: I’d be sad if Ferrari left. It is a huge brand; it wouldn’t take much for F1 to be relegated to teams like IndyCar currently has, without much in the way of a clear identity. While the hardcore fans may not care as much, it’s a big draw for the casuals to hear a name they know.
2.Nustang70: Ferrari needs F1 just as much as vice versa. Ferrari needs a sport that can absorb a great deal of profligate spending.
Ferrari may complain because it isn’t winning championships, but so long as they can outspend and outperform nearly everyone else, they’re comfortable enough. Where else can they get that environment? Le Mans is the only other option.
3. PayasYouRace: F1 without Ferrari would be strange. But Ferrari without F1 would be stranger still. It would become just another manufacturer of sports cars.
4. Augurk: What a mess that has been created when Ecclestone gave Ferrari the advantages it has. There’s no way out without a loss of face.
How are Ferrari supposed to explain to shareholders that they will accept the loss of its “longest-standing team bonus” and its veto on regulation changes? They [Ecclestone and Ferrari] maneuvered themselves into a position where there will always be a loser.
I think it is safe to say, not one fan, not any passionate F1 fan wants to see Ferrari out of the sport and that most definitely includes me. I am pretty sure no driver wants Ferrari out of the sport due to the fact that all drivers want nothing more than to race a Ferrari, even one that is not challenging for podiums and race wins, such is the draw and importance of this marque.
In Ferrari’s new found resurgence I am pretty sure Mercedes and Red Bull want nothing more than to compete against Ferrari, such is the feeling of victory against a great competitor and a team with such a rich history. Lastly, I am quite sure Ferrari don’t want to leave the sport as they seem to be on the cusp of another championship winning era with Sebastian Vettel.
What I am also quite sure of is that F1 and by extension the other teams don’t want a sport that is skewed toward just one of those constructors regardless of their history and mystique. Competing in F1 is so very hard already with the top teams spending millions of dollars to race each other. Smaller teams spend millions just to stay on the same lap albeit 40 – 90 seconds behind. How fair is it for every other team aside from Ferrari to spend these millions and to also be at a disadvantage or feel that it is not a level playing field due to the fact that one team can leverage its power politically to pick and choose what rules and regs they like, or that suit them, or worse, by threatening to quit?
Frank Williams, rather Sir Frank Williams, was honestly surprised by the veto power that Ferrari was given by FOM. I think the sweetheart deal that came to light in the press during one of the the Concord agreement (from 2005 or there abouts) was enlightening to quite a few people in the paddock. I remember thinking at the time, how can the other teams acquiesce to such an arrangement, but then again it was Bernie’s sandbox at the time and what Bernie wants Bernie gets, if you want to stay in F1 here is the deal take it or leave it…
The Question still stands, Does Ferrari need F1 more that F1 needs Ferrari?? I don’t know the answer to that question. I am sure that we do not need to see what would happen if F1’s most winningest team left the sport, and after all as long as I can remember, the F in F1 stands for Ferrari…