My friend and colleague Will Buxton has written passionately in recent days about the state in which Ferrari finds itself. He believes that through driving flaws and unreliable cars, not to mention picking Kimi Raikkonen as the second driver, the team has wasted a World Championship-winning car and, as a result, heads will roll. He also points out also that the team’s inexplicable communication policy (say nothing) is not very clever, something with which I agree wholeheartedly.
Ferrari as a brand is all about passion and to shut down communication and simply turn out trite social media messages (with American spellings) is not forward-thinking. The team staff seem frightened to be seen talking to media and, as Will pointed out, they seem frightened, full stop. Looking in from the outside can give a false impression, just as it can bring insight, but I sense the same thing.
Entire books have been written on the question of leading by respect, rather than by fear, and why the former is more successful than the latter. It’s basically Darth Vader versus Obi Wan Kenobi. The down side of the dark side is that people who are fearful of losing their jobs become defensive, they don’t take risks, they do all they can to shift the blame on to others. They don’t work for the organisation, they work to survive.
Great leaders lead with respect. They empower those around them, encourage them with enthusiasm and energy and allow them to make mistakes. Respect moves a company forwards, fear holds it back.
If one accepts the premise that the Ferrari problem is one of fear, one has to then work out from where this is coming. Logically, it comes from the top, and by this I mean Sergio Marchionne, the chairman, who is famed for his use of the corporate stiletto (and we’re not talking heels here), despite his avuncular jersey-wearing appearance. You tell Marchionne he’s wrong and you’re likely to be filleted from the organisation. The great leader is never wrong, unless he decides it himself. So if one wants to survive in this environment, you have to do as you are told. This helps to explain why Maurizio Arrivabene, who was a big marketing banana in a major tobacco company and is obviously no fool, now finds himself with the marketing policy of a medieval castle under siege. OK, he looks like a Sherlock Holmes villain, with his thunderous glares, but there must be more to him than that. Perhaps it would be wise to let the media (aka the world) see the man behind the Heathcliff mask?
But then does it really matter? Ferrari hasn’t won a World Championship since the days of Jean Todt, half a generation ago, and yet the road cars are still selling in ever-increasing numbers. To me, this says that the racing matters – but the results don’t – unless it is REALLY embarrassing. Every time a Ferrari blows up, I have a habit of saying: “Well, I’m not buying a Ferrari”, which is true for two reasons: the first is that I cannot afford a car with a price tag of $200,000 and, even if I could, I’d spend the money on other things that I consider more important. Don’t get me wrong, Ferrari understands road cars. It is incredibly successful in this respect. Successful men buy Ferraris because these red supercars are symbols of success. Their engines scream: “Ladies, I’ve got money and room in the passenger seat for a trim little derrière.” They are status symbols first, great cars second. You never go unnoticed in a Ferrari, and to me this is largely what they are about. Ferraris scream “Oi you! Shut your mouth and look at my wad!”
Formula 1 is different. It’s about clever engineers doing great things. But it is also about communicating, telling the world what you can do, delivering a corporate message. The racing team exists to give Ferrari more glitz than rival products from the tractor manufacturer down the road. It exists as an aspirational brand. Everyone wants to be rich one day, and for reasons which are quite unclear to me, this ambition translates into buying Ferrari-badged tee-shirts and hats.
But media of all kinds are not the enemy, they are your allies and while some can be irritating and self-important on occasion, they are an essential part of the sport, telling the stories, perpetuating the romance, building the legend and, now and then, delivering messages that teams don’t think about, but need to hear, popping the balloons of delusion, into which some teams disappear.
You do not win respect by building a wall around yourself and keeping the gates shut. Perhaps they debate these things within the keep of the Maranello Castle, but one gets the impression that geese can get away with saying “Boo!” to Ferrari folk at the moment.
Everyone with a brain knows that the last thing you should do when things go wrong in an F1 team is to fire everyone and start again, a cycle that Ferrari has been known to go through now and then. The best thing to do is to figure where the problems lie and redirect the energy in the right direction. It’s Management 101, not Harvard MBA.
The World Championship is not over yet, but it’s going to take some whopping good luck to pull this title from the fire.
Let’s see what happens and Ferrari’s reaction to it. It will tell us a lot…