WHAT HAPPENED TO FERRARI?
Updated: Jun 19, 2020
This article was originally published on October 10th, 2018.
In 2017, Formula 1, along with Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, conducted a survey of 14 thousand sports fans from the UK, US, Germany, Italy, Brazil, China, and Russia.
According to their findings, 2 out of 3 sports fans follow Formula 1. To put this in perspective Formula 1 believes that the sport has half a billion fans worldwide, with 100 million avid supporters.
It is easy to be captivated the sport. Whether it is the glitz and glamour offered by races in locations such as Monaco or Singapore. Or a peek into the future, through the latest innovations designed to shave off fractions of a second. Or even stories of heroism, Formula 1 has the lot.
Despite all of this research, the sport has been struggling for some time. Audiences have been in decline since 2008. Camera operators are having to carefully manipulate their angles to avoid showing empty grandstands.
In recent years, the sport has gained a reputation for being passionless and monotonous. With many races being described as downright boring.
The 2018 season, looked to be a year that Formula 1 fans had been waiting for. The year that the most famous team in motorsport, Scuderia Ferrari, could maintain a championship fight.
The sleeping giant was starting to make headway in being able to compete, with a dominant Mercedes team.
The story of the modern Ferrari is a remarkable one. However, this is the era where drivers' abilities are being overshadowed by the cars they drive. So how does Ferrari, a team with the highest budget, the most extensive history, and the largest global fan base go through a decade-long title drought?
Only six weeks ago, Ferrari's lead driver Sebastian Vettel dominated the Belgian Grand Prix.
Earlier in the season, Vettel set a new track record in Bahrain and in Shanghai. Everything looked to be gearing up for a title race, that could go the distance.
However, on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) took his sixth victory in seven races. Hamilton's first-place finish, at Suzuka, moved him to the brink of his fifth world title. The championship battle that previously looked evenly matched has turned into a rout.
After the race in Japan, former Ferrari team principal Ross Brawn spoke out about Ferrari's recent form. Brawn, now Formula 1's managing director of motorsport, pointed to the loss of president and CEO Sergio Marchionne, who died in July. “There is no doubt the shock of the sudden death of its leader, Sergio Marchionne, who had been such a strong reference in the team, will have a major impact, and that is totally understandable.”
Ferrari recently named John Elkann as its new chairman, and Louis Carey Camilleri as CEO. Brawn further mentioned the team’s new leadership must avoid the temptation to ‘play the blame game’.
As Mercedes now have one hand on the championship title, it is time to think of the positives this season. “It’s obvious from even a brief analysis of the way the car behaves that Ferrari has a very strong technical package,” Brawn said, “thanks to the efforts of the past few years which has seen the team close a technical gap to Mercedes that had developed since the introduction of hybrid power units in 2014.”
The Dream Team
The modern era of the sport looks vastly different from what fans of Formula 1 would have seen in the early 2000s.
Fans would have seen the most ruthlessly successful team ever assembled, with Ross Braun, Ryan Byrne, Jean Todt and Michael Schumacher. Together they managed to deliver 5 consecutive Drivers' Championships, between 2000 and 2004, and 6 consecutive Constructors' Championships, between 1999 and 2004, for Scuderia Ferrari.
After Schumacher left in 2006, Kimi Räikkönen was ushered in as the Ferrari's lead driver. The Finn benefited from the engineering excellence, left by the exiting Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne.
As a result, Räikkönen would secure what remains as Ferrari's last driver's title. Finishing one point ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial), who finished joint second.
Mistakes Were Made
Ferrari's car remained competitive into the 2008 season. The same season which saw Jean Todt, hand over team boss duties to Stefano Domenicali.
Brazilian driver Felipe Massa (@MassaFelipe19) would lead the charge for Ferrari that year and only missed out on the Drivers' Championship on the final corner of a chaotic final race, in Brazil. Despite this, Ferrari still managed to win their 16th and final Constructors' Championship.
By 2009, the momentum of the Brawn-Byrne-Todt-Schumacher era had faded. Ferrari's car was no longer competitive, Räikkönen only bringing the team a single victory. Soon 'The Iceman' was paid to leave and replaced by Fernando Alonso.
Much was expected of the Ferrari-Alonso relationship. The sports best driver with the sports best-resourced team. The relationship started well with a debut win in Bahrain. However, a host of high-profile mistakes lead to Red Bull's first World Championship.
Ferrari made a cataclysmic strategic error in the final race in Abu Dhabi. Mark Webber (@AussieGrit) was closest to Alonso on points, and when the Australian made an early pit stop after a safety-car period, Ferrari covered him with Alonso. Seemingly forgetting that Vettel was leading and would win the title if Alonso did not recover fourth place.
Two years later, Ferrari had only the fourth fastest car. Despite this handicap, Alonso showed his true quality. The Ferrari driver was 40 points clear of second-placed Webber after 11 of the season's 21 races. Following this initial success was more bad luck for the Spaniard. At the Belgian Grand Prix, he was taken out at the first corner by Romain Grosjean's (@RGrosjean) Lotus. Three races later, another retirement. A light touch from the front wing of Räikkönen's Lotus as they jockeyed for position punctured Alonso's left rear tire.
By the final race, Alonso was 13 points adrift of Vettel in first. When Vettel crashed with Williams' Bruno Senna (@BSenna) at the start final race, Alonso looked like he might prevail. However, Vettel's car, while badly damaged, kept going and he drove back through the field to sixth. This was enough to hold off the Spaniard.
After Vettel won 13 of the 19 races and romped to the 2013 title, Alonso's relationship with Ferrari waned. The Spaniard lost all faith in the team when its new hybrid engine was uncompetitive at the start of 2014.
As Alonso rejoined McLaren, Vettel saw a chance to earn legendary status. By emulating his childhood hero Schumacher bringing back the Championship title to Ferrari. Vettel started the 2015 season with a win in his second race and followed up with two more over the season. However, tensions started to show between Ferrari and their lead driver after a winless 2016.
The Unimaginative Giant
Ferrari would replace president Luca Di Montezemolo with Sergio Marchionne, in 2014. Marchionne, nicknamed "the jumpered assassin", initialized a major restructuring of Ferrari's internal operations.
He was unhappy and began a full investigation into how things worked at Ferrari's Maranello factory. He personally interviewed many staff, not just the bosses, he wanted to know their thoughts on why Ferrari could not compete with the best teams and asked for an explanation about why they had a reputation for lack of imagination and innovation in F1 design.
Marchionne focused on restructuring the design department, freeing up some of the more creative minds. Identifying about 20 key "high-potential individuals" to promote and harness. While reorganizing the team's management and even the format of meetings.
The whole idea was to make Ferrari's designs more flexible, to ensure all ideas were discussed, and the team was more open to suggestions, moving away from conservative design thinking.
Marchionne would encourage a greater sense of ownership and responsibility among a much wider array of people. Avoiding the usual Ferrari problem of people keeping their heads down so they could not be blamed for the team's failure.
Simultaneously, Marchionne ordered an analysis of the team's weakness. It was concluded that there were three main issues. Aerodynamics, especially on circuits that require efficiency, such as Barcelona and Silverstone; tire management; and gearbox fragility.
During Marchionne's restructure technical director James Allison would be replaced by former engine boss Mattia Binotto, who had a reputation as an excellent engineering manager.
Despite the organizational change, Allison's contribution to the 2017 car had been significant. Due to the car starting its design process in 2015. However, after the introduction of Binotto, a number of innovative designs were introduced, to offer some improvements.
Following Vettel's win in Bahrain in 2017 Marchionne made the following statement:
"We finally have a competitive car to count on and it is important to recognize the speed with which we implemented the developments demanded for each new race. All this is the fruit of superb work at the track and in Maranello, so my compliments not just to Seb for his achievements in Bahrain, but also to the whole team".
Vettel led the way for most of the 2017 season. A late run of form from Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, together with something of an implosion from Ferrari, opened the door for Mercedes to swoop.
During the season Vettel often acted as his own worst enemy. In Azerbaijan, while under safety car conditions, the German deliberately drove into the back of Hamilton's Mercedes. In Singapore, Vettel's over-aggressive defensive swerve on the first lap took out both Ferrari's and Max Verstappen's (@Max33Verstappen) Red Bull, effectively handing victory to Hamilton.
This season Ferrari designed a car that has been the fastest thing on track, at all but a handful of race weekends. However, even with a better car a collection of driver and team decisions has allowed Mercedes to take control again.
As the sport moves forward, having a Ferrari that can challenge is only a good thing for Formula 1, as a whole.
However, a successful Ferrari may complicate negotiations over teams' new contracts after 2020. Ferrari's historic value means that under the current deal they are given 5% of Formula 1's total revenues. This equates to about $1.5 billion, so that's $75 million which goes straight to Ferrari. This is before any prize money, which would generally be about another $120 million.
Cutting this revenue, as part of a more equal income distribution with the other teams won't be easy. Especially when Ferrari's value could rise when they eventually stop Mercedes' domination.
Furthermore, the most important question for Formula 1, how does it appeal to a younger generation of fans? Especially in an era of falling television figures. However, two of the greatest drivers in the world fighting for a world title while racing for two of the biggest names in the motor racing and automotive industry. That's good for everyone who has even a passing interest in the world's largest televised sport.