When a man of 62 has tens of millions of dollars and can live happily on the interest he earns, after a very successful career, during which he has achieved all he can achieve – as his own boss – it is hard to imagine that he wants to go back to work in a stressful environment, employed by someone else. Yes, there is ego, but there is also the risk of failure and with a couple of beautiful houses to enjoy and plenty to do with a car collection, fishing and other peaceful pursuits, it is easy to see why one might think there is nothing left to prove. The man himself – Ross Brawn – says that he does not want to live his work 24/7 as he has done in the past.
“I’m quite content doing what I’m doing and nothing has come along that I would be motivated and interested in,” he said. But, and this is where the rumours leap in, he added that “you can never say never”.
So the possibility is left open and, it being the summer season, when there is not much real news about, there are instantly stories suggesting that Brawn could return to Ferrari, to work miracles and lift the team from the lacklustre performances of the F1 season to date. Down in Italy, they are scratching their heads (again), why is it that the team cannot win? It’s been nearly nine years since Ferrari last won a Formula 1 Constructors’ World Championship (2008) and coming up to a decade since Kimi Raikkonen took the last Drivers’ title (2007). It’s not the team’s worst run ever, but five Grand Prix wins in four years is none too spectacular for the team that gets paid $90 million more than everyone else because it is important. The lack of on-track success hasn’t, by the way, affected the company’s ability to sell its supercars, but it is not like the good old days when Michael Schumacher swept all before him. Ferrari tried a phase when everything was run by Italians and that did not work, so now it is back to having technical control in the hands of an Englishman, James Allison.
Outside Italy, we all know that, if given enough time and sufficient tools, James will do the job, but in Italy there is a tradition of shovelling out people if they do not perform but, lest we forget, Todt took over Ferrari on 1 July 1993. The team did not win a World Championship until 1999. Six years. During that time, Todt was given whatever was required to build a winning team, and he was protected by Ferrari chairman Luca Montezemolo. In turn, he protected Brawn and his engineers. The result was a team that won five consecutive titles between 2000 and 2004.
Brawn himself says that Allison is “excellent” and says that “if they give him the resources and give him the time and put the infrastructure around him, with great drivers, they’ll get results”.
Allison has been at Ferrari since August 2013. Much has changed since then and the team has moved forward, but there has still been a lot going on in the background. In April 2014 Stefano Domenicali, the boss of Ferrari’s sporting department, resigned and was replaced by Marco Mattiacci. In September Montezemolo was ousted as chairman and replaced by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne. Two months later Mattiacci was kicked out and replaced by Maurizio Arrivabene. Ferrari was then floated and it was only in May this year that Marchionne became CEO as well as chairman.
This is hardly a stable environment, and suggestions that there have been crisis talks at Maranello in recent days, adds to the feeling that it is all still a bit too unstable. That may not be the case, but the team’s public relations has been dreadful since Mattiacci departed. There seems to be little understanding that working with the media is better than treating it as an adversary. All this will ultimately do is add to the pressure on the team.
The problem, of course, is not that Ferrari is doing a bad job. It is that Mercedes is doing a better job. Red Bull is also now back in the hunt as Renault’s engines get more competitive and so Ferrari appears to be struggling. The optimistic noises that we have heard from Ferrari have a hollow ring to them. But is that a reason to change everything? It would be far wiser for Ferrari to underplay everything and not throw scraps of hope to the fans. “We are working hard but F1 is tough” is much better than “We think we can win”…