At the Rochester Institute of Technology in Henrietta, New York, there is a plaque on the wall that warns students to never let themselves be carried away by their own egos. “Take a bucket and fill it with water,” it says. “Put your hand in up to your wrist. The hole that you make when you leave it, is the measure of how much you’ll be missed”. OK, not great poetry but these are wise words and rather similar in tone to General de Gaulle’s pointed remark about the graveyards of the world being filled with irreplaceable men. Times moves ever onward and empires rise and fall. It was ever thus. If one applies this thinking to Formula 1 it is clear that Ferrari needs Formula 1 rather more than Formula 1 needs Ferrari. The Italian super car manufacturer is a good brand to have in F1. The red cars incite passion, just as once the powder blue Bugattis did, but do no longer. Ferrari does not advertise its products, allowing the sport to do that on its behalf. In addition to providing incalculable free advertising, the sport pays the Italian team for the privilege of having its red cars running around in the midfield. It is wrong and will remain wrong until someone comes along and fixes it.
This underlying imbalance in finance is the root cause of many of F1’s stresses and strains. If all the teams were treated in a similar fashion, with their importance based on their results alone and none of them being favoured by a commercial rights holder who cares only about profit margins, then there would be a great deal more opportunity for unity and growth. Injustice is divisive. To hear that Ferrari boss Luca Montezemolo is now going around saying that it is his duty to fix the sport is galling. Yes, he can fix the sport if he gives back the estimated $120 million that Ferrari gets each year BEFORE any prize money is divided between the teams. That would be a good start. Then he could get his team performing on a level that does not make Ferrari fans feel awkward and finally, when he has achieved all of this, then perhaps his voice would carry more weight. All that he is achieving at the moment is annoying people who love the sport.
If he does not like what he has now – to which at some point he must have agreed, because Ferrari has also had veto rights to the rules for almost a decade – then he should do the right thing: pack up all the red paraphernalia and post it to Le Mans, where the Automobile Club de l’Ouest would laugh when the Ferrari begging bowl was thrust towards it.
Montezemolo has been banging on about the new rules all season and all it has caused so far is a red face. He complains that the drivers are being held back by fuel limits and tyres. Has not racing always been about driving to the limits of the rules and/or the equipment? It has never been about equal equipment. Did Ferrari dominate in the summer of 1961 because it had the best drivers? Why are the Mercedes not being held back by the same things? F1 is still about the best man winning in the best car.
The problem for Montezemolo is that Ferrari might have one of these but it certainly does not have the other. And the chances are that by the end of the summer it will have lost the former as well. It is deeply arrogant for Montezemolo to suggest that he knows the answers to fix F1. Firstly, the sport is not broken and a man in his position should not be saying it is. In other sports such a remark would result in a fine for bringing the sport into disrepute; secondly, it is not his job to fix F1. There is an international automobile federation that exists to perform this task and if the FIA is not doing that job then it should be replaced a regulator that will. Ferrari is a competitor, not a regulator. Thirdly, if he wants to find a fix then he must accept a better solution in economic terms as well as revamping the rules to suit what his engineers can achieve. Finally, he should remember that no-one likes a whinger. If you are on the top of the pile in F1 then you might win sufficient respect to get people to listen to your views, but spouting forth from the midfield is not the best way to get things done. in fact, it only draws attention to your own failings.