Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article and please don't forget to comment
This was supposed to be the year that Ferrari mounted a sustained challenge to the dominant Mercedes juggernaut. The opening race of the season in Australia, gave hope that they might do just that. Sebastian Vettel was in prime position to open the campaign with the win that Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne had promised going into the race, only to see that slip away with a strategic error during the red flag moment following Fernando Alonso's horrific crash. But as the season progresses, and with varying updates brought to the car both aerodynamically and to it's the power unit, the gap looks to be getting wider rather than closer, so any hopes of sustaining a serious challenge to Mercedes, seems to be fading with each race.
Eleven races in and Ferrari find themselves trailing Mercedes by 154 points in the constructor’s championship, and they are only one point ahead of fellow rivals Red Bull. So, is the Gestione Sportiva in crisis, and is the pressure from top brass, namely Sergio Marchionne, starting to take its toll?
Former driver Gabriele Tarquini’s assessment of the team’s current predicament has become an all too familiar one since they last won either championship in 2007 and 2008.
“As an Italian, the current results of Ferrari make me sad of course,” the 54-year-old told Germany’s Auto Bild.
“Ferrari really has everything it needs to win. They have no inferior a budget than Mercedes and certainly no less experience.”
Asked what is wrong, then, Tarquini answered: “They probably just don’t have the right people.
“In recent years, they have made many profound changes to the management and the engineers, but the results have not improved. Maybe they should think again about changing a few people,” he added.
But, today, news broke that James Allison, one of the two men tasked with returning the prancing horse to its glory days and who spent five years with the team, has now left and he is to be replaced by Mattia Binotto until a suitable replacement is found. Allison’s departure comes at a crucial time, when teams are in the process of finalising their car designs in preparation for the regulation change for the 2017 season.
There were speculations that the team had made an attempt to bring back former Team Principal Ross Brawn in anticipation of Allison’s pending departure. Brawn quickly dismissed any possibilities of him returning, stating; ‘he's happy fishing’. In the meantime, Christian Horner whose team now trails Ferrari by a single point in the constructors standings, upped the ante, just before last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix when his comments sparked rumours that 4 times WDC Sebastian Vettel may also be unsettled and could be looking to leave, with Mercedes being a possible option in 2018.
“I have a feeling that Seb is a bit rattled,” Horner tells German newspaper Sport Bild today.
“I know from personal experience that he has to feel good in order to perform well. And I’m not sure whether he likes the current pressure from Sergio Marchionne
“I can well imagine in 2018 Seb will switch to Mercedes, if he doesn’t start making progress with Ferrari,” … Horner you naughty boy…
Maurizio Arrivabene was quick to dismiss these rumours as nothing more than pure speculation and has now asked for his team to be ‘left alone’, so that they can ‘work in peace’. The chance of his wish being granted is slimmer than that of Manor GP winning this weekend’s German Grand Prix.
With Allison’s immediate departure, reports that Ferrari president Marchionne now feels it is pertinent to be present during technical meetings at the team’s headquarters, intensifies the pressure to deliver immediate results even more. Surely this cannot end well and we could yet see more changes being made in the off season, especially if Ferrari find themselves finishing third in the championship behind rivals Red Bull. Marchionne is a ruthless operator, something that previous incumbent Marco Mattiacci can attest to. So could Maurizio Arrivabene be the next major causality at Maranello come the season’s end?
Ferrari’s current shortcomings, I believe, can only be attributed to the influence of Sergio Marchionne. In the business world he is recognised as a genius who traditionally turns a business from loss to profit within two years. His fingers are in lots of pies and within a regular business environment that's probably okay. However, in F1 that approach is not suitable. McLaren and Williams are clear indicators of how difficult it is to turn a team's fortunes around. Ross Brawn was quoted as saying recently: "with F1 it's a 24/7 life", something that Sergio currently doesn’t have time for until he retires from his other duties in the next two years. For Marchionne, F1 and Ferrari are things he's not that passionate about, as evidenced by Ferrari’s flotation, hence why immediate success is so paramount.
In a sense he's very Enzo-like in that he instils fear in people, however that's where the similarities end, as Enzo lived and died Ferrari 24/7, as opposed to Marchionne, who doesn’t.