|Luca di Montezemolo|
It appears that having bitten his lip since being ousted by Sergio Marchionne, former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo has been enraged by comments from his nemesis at Monday's media lunch in Maranello.
Marchionne was heavily critical of the former management and went too far, in the eyes of many in the Italian media. Saying that 2015 would be more or less a right-off, "due to strategic decisions made by others, who are no longer here" has certainly lit the blue touch paper with Montezemolo. This follows some behind the scenes dealings in which the F1 board did not appoint Montezemolo as its new chairman (after the withdrawal of Diageo's Paul Walsh) with some input into that decision by Marchionne.
The new Ferrari boss denied that he had flat-out vetoed Montezemolo's appointment, as Ferrari only has that right when it comes to Bernie Ecclestone's replacement as CEO of the F1 Group. But clearly he influenced the decision. Marchionne said on Monday that he does not approve of people with strong vested interests from their former roles taking on positions in administration. He noted that he would have objected to Jean Todt's candidacy as FIA President for the same reason, had he been around at the time.
As for the slights on his record by Marchionne, Montezemolo said, "I promised myself that I would not be drawn into polemics, due to the deep love I have for Ferrari and to the respect merited by all who work there and who have worked and won on road and track. In these last weeks I have witnessed repeated gratuitous utterances, which do not correspond with the facts. I don't intend to rise to such provocations.
"The sporting successes, which exceed anything since achieved by any other team as well as the strength and prestige achieved with the brand around the world, not to mention the financial results which have been fundamental for the Fiat Chrysler Automobile Group and which this year are the best in the history of the company – these things speak for themselves. I hope that Christmas will brighten the spirits and clear a few minds.."
Meanwhile Piero Ferrari, son of Enzo, who was present at Monday's lunch, has supported Marchionne today in the Italian media, saying that he has "many qualities. The more you get to know him, the more you appreciate him." And saying that his father would have approved of Marchionne as a steward for the business he founded.
There are two things to note from this polemic; first is that Marchionne is a very hard man who clearly intends to come in strongly and discredit Montezemolo's achievements. This is risky on one level because those achievements are significant, especially in terms of where he took the Ferrari road car business and the financial footing it is on.
His F1 achievements are in the past and there is no doubt that the team was on the wrong track and change was needed. But Marchionne's revolution has to produce better results or he will be seen to have failed.
He is a man who is not afraid to "rompere la barca" as the Italians call it, literally to "break the boat" in order to bring about change he feels is needed.
If he will do this so close to home, at Ferrari, then surely at some point he will do the same with the F1 business too. That veto right over the CEO is a powerful weapon in the hands of a man like Marchionne, as are all the other levers which Montezemolo negotiated into the F1 bilateral agreements with Ecclestone and the FIA to look after Ferrari's interests.
It would be interesting to know how much Ecclestone views Marchionne as an ally at this point or as a potential adversary, given that he now represents the most powerful team in F1 and he knows full well what a strong negotiating position he has.
Imagine if he went after Ecclestone and CVC with the same gusto with which he is attacking Montezemolo today. If, for example he wanted more from the F1 deal for Ferrari going forward towards a flotation, where might that end up? Could he take F1 to the brink, threatening a Ferrari withdrawal?
Will Marchionne want to go down that road, or will he focus on deriving maximum personal and professional benefit from the forthcoming Ferrari flotation and the FCA Group developments and leave the wider F1 piece alone?
Secondly we have learned that the division between him and Montezemolo clearly was very deep and this contributed to the split, in order that Marchionne lead Ferrari towards its own flotation in 2015. But did he need to discredit Montezemolo in order to manage expectations about Ferrari's F1 performance in 2015? Did he go too far and create an unnecessary polemic, which now swirls around Ferrari? Montezemolo had gone quietly and the new course was set, but now it's got messy.
So the current and past Ferrari chairmen are at war and the Italian media are all over it; this will surely overhang the company, if they allow it to.
So already, just a few months into the new regime, Ferrari is being dragged into a polemic with the resulting distraction and negative publicity that brings. Will that sort of behavior then extend into the racing team? Will Arrivabene get dragged into it?
This is the kind of thing that could sap energy and focus and keep Ferrari from returning to a winning force in the near term future, or indeed the long term. James Allen