Stop and think about it for a moment: have you ever seen a Ferrari advertisement in a newspaper or a magazine? You won’t find one, because the company policy since the very beginning has been NOT to advertise. Enzo Ferrari was not really interested in building or selling road cars. As far as he was concerned the production lines were there solely to fund his beloved racing cars. This is why back in 1969 he sold the car business to Fiat, on the understanding that he would go on running the racing team until he no longer wanted to do so. He remained in charge until his death in 1988, at the age of 90.
After Enzo was gone Fiat took full control of the business and its favoured sporting manager Cesare Fiorio was put in charge of the team. That lasted until June 1991 when Fiorio was dropped, amid much politicking by driver Alain Prost and the engineer Claudio Lombardi replaced him as sporting director. Lombardi soon fell out with Prost and fired him after he called the Ferrari 643 “a truck”. Fiat then decided that more change was needed and a few weeks later Gianni Agnelli appointed Luca Montezemolo as Ferrari chairman and CEO. His brief was to rebuild the car company and the F1 team. To start with Montezemolo decided to re-hire Englishman John Barnard, but he then hit on the idea of taking on Jean Todt. Barnard would continue with the team, working for a design office in England until 1997. At the start of 1996 Todt hired Michael Schumacher from Benetton and then, at the end of the year, they were joined by Ross Brawn. The Todt-Brawn-Schumacher triumvirate would finally make Ferrari successful again. There was a Constructors’ title in 1999 but it was 2000 before Michael win the Drivers’ title. The team then won five in a row. Montezemolo had done his job. During this period of success, in 2003, Agnelli died at the age of 81. His brother Umberto took over Fiat but within 18 months he too had died and Montezemolo, who had just been appointed head of the Italian employers’ federation Confindustria, was asked to be the next Fiat chairman. The Agnelli heirs were too young for the job.
As a result, in June 2004 Todt was appointed CEO of Ferrari. The success began to wane as Renault F1 came on song in 2005 and 2006 and by the end of 2006 the Ferrari dream team was falling part with Schumacher retiring and Todt edged out in the course of 2007. In the Spring of 2008 Montezemolo gave up his Confindustria role and returned to Maranello full-time, his goal being to make Ferrari more Italian. The decision to appoint Stefano Domenicali resulted in Brawn departing and Todt resigned in March 2009, his new ambition being to become FIA President.
Montezemolo would remain in his role at Fiat until 2010 when Agnelli’s grandson John Elkann took over the company. Montezemolo then began dabbling in politics, with the Italia Futura political movement. Ferrari remained a problem. The team won the World Championship in 2007 when McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton took points off one another, and it clung on to the 2008 Constructors’ title when Felipe Massa just missed out on the Drivers’ title, but since then the team has failed to beat Red Bull Racing. And that is a problem.
Why? Because Ferrari is more than just a racing team. It is a legend. It has been involved in the Formula 1 World Championship since the start, it uses the sport to showcase its technology, but it requires success in F1 because it has no other advertising. Ferrari MUST win from time to time – for the good of the company. It is also more than just a racing team, being revered in Italy in much the same way as the Italian national soccer team. It is, in effect, the national racing team. It does not matter if this success is achieved by hiring the best people from all over the world. Montezemolo wanted to go beyond that and turn the team into a dominant force with an Italian face: Domenicali replaced Todt, Aldo Costa replaced Ross Brawn and on the engine side Gilles Simon was replaced by Luca Marmorini. There was massive investment in facilities to back up the project but the results did not come. In 2011 Costa was moved aside and a new generation of foreigners began to appear: Pat Fry, followed by James Allison.
The word from Italy is that the pressure has been increasing on Montezemolo. He has recently handed over the leadership of Italia Futura and there has been speculation that the Agnelli’s are ready to replace him with 38-year-old Andrea Agnelli, currently running the Juventus soccer team. Montezemolo is 66 and at retirement age for most people. The Ferrari road car business is doing well, but there has not been success on the track. Domenicali was very close to Montezemolo and while it is not clear whether he jumped or was pushed, it is entirely possible that Stefano decided his own fate. He has been with Ferrari for 23 years, working his way up the ladder, learning every aspect of the team and leading from the front. It is entirely possible that he decided to stand down because he was disappointed by what he had achieved and felt that it was best to go.
None of this will ultimately detract from the big game of the Agnellis and Montezemolo. It is clearly a case of watching and waiting.