Inside Line: Montezemolo and his underperforming team…and taxi drivers

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

Luca di Montezemolo made a grand entrance in Bahrain, having sent an advance warning to all and sundry that he was attending round three of the championship and seeking urgent talks with the powers that be of Formula 1, as he (and the thousands of Ferrari fans polled) wanted rules changed as “the sport was in dire straits”.

The melodramatic Ferrari capo di tutti capi was in fine fettle surrounded by a posse of eager beaver journos as he spewed forth words of wisdom with typical abandon of which ultimately the words “taxi drivers” ended up nabbing the most headlines.

Of privileged upbringing and the proverbial ‘la bella figura’ of Italian business (and politics apparently) Montezemolo showed contempt for arguably the hardest workers of the transport industry, namely real taxi drivers – but that’s another story.

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

What the Ferrari big boss was alluding to was that the modern era Formula 1, with fuel conservation and other nuances required in the cockpit, is turning our heroes into taxi drivers.

This was not the first time he has made mention of this, as in March he sent a letter to Ferrari tifosi in which he stated: “It will also be a difficult championship for the spectators to follow. The drivers will have to take care that they do not wear out the tyres and save fuel. I have already said that I hope that they don’t turn into taxi drivers.”

In Bahrain he dug out a similar analogy: “If an engine drinks less fuel, good, it means you can do a race on less fuel, but a public doesn’t like a taxi driver that has to respect the fuel. This is not Formula 1.”

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

I happen to agree with Mr Montezemolo that we should not overly restrict Formula 1, but at the same time the sport at the pinnacle cannot remain stagnant and must grow with the times. Certainly, the new rules are not ideal, but an array of new regulations for any sport seldom are plug-and-play.

However having said that, the ones in place right now are pretty impressive as they regulate a technology  which is almost science fiction. Granted the engines are not noisy enough, but it is early days and the flaws will be tweaked no doubt,  in the end we will have a mighty formula.

I digress because this piece is not about the new Formula 1, but rather the audacity of the Ferrari President who is only whinging because his team is yet again chasing. Had his army of engineers delivered a half decent car, a half decent engine and if it was his drivers battling for first and second there would be no bleating.

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

I am probably in the minority and admit that Formula 1 for me is not so much about the cars, but more about the drivers since I picked Ferrari driver Jackie Ickx as my hero all those years ago. I am not and have never been a Ferrari fan (or fan of any other team for that matter) however I do realise the importance of the Reds in Formula 1 – the reasons are obvious.

Thus I find it quite outrageous that because he knows that his team have the power, Montezemolo capitalises on this to blur the fact that Ferrari have simply been underachievers for some years now and despite luring some of the finest minds in the sport to Maranello, they – who build some pretty nice road cars, cannot build a decent Formula 1 car.

When they lured Fernando Alonso to the team for 2010, they had emerged from a torrid season with the terrible Ferrari F60 – the car that destroyed the careers of both Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella in the matter of a few months, and did little to entice Kimi Raikkonen to stay with the team for another year.

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

Since then they have built cars that have been decidedly second-best and only Alonso in his unique feisty manner could squeeze anything out of them.

Remember the excuses at the time: the wind tunnel calibration was out. This excuse they used for a couple of years. All which prompted Montezemolo at the time to go off on a tangent and lament mournfully how Formula 1 was now an aero formula and how he desired the sport to be based on engines.

In 2011 Montezemolo said: “The current Formula 1 is still too dependent on aerodynamics. What is not so good is that 90% of performance is now based exclusively on aerodynamics and another negative is that ours is the only sport where no testing is allowed. We are building cars, not helicopters, rockets or planes.”

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

Fast forward to March this year. Just before the season started he reiterated: “The design of the new powertrain was very demanding, but it’s really fascinating. It is vital that the factors that make the difference are rebalanced: it’s impossible for Formula 1 to keep going with aerodynamics counting for 90% of the story.”

So he got what he wanted for the sport and, I say cynically, for his team too: a reduction in aero dependence and focus on sci-fi engine technology.

Hence his tirade in Bahrain is perplexing, or was it his last stand ahead of some major changes – make that a revolution – which is sorely needed at Maranello.

Maybe the penny has dropped and he is at last realising that Ferrari in its current state is not going to return to the top of the Formula 1 heap. Once again, this time starting from scratch with the new power units, they failed to deliver despite the enviable resources and expertise at their disposal.

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

They have all the players, the best of the best, in key positions yet on the field of play there is no evidence of greatness – now or in the forseeable future.

If I were a Ferrari fan I would be demanding a change of the guard, and they have every  right to do so because Ferrari fans are the most passionate and most powerful as a collective, more so than in most sports.

Should the reign of good guy Stefano Domenicali persist? Is he the man to continue to lead them? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? From where I sit it is NO on all three counts.

Ferrari have the blueprint to model the team around the most succesful outfit in the history of the sport: their Jean Todt led era of 2000 to 2004 is the benchmark.

How they achieve this transformation from losers to winners is a big boss decision, and the reason why he gets paid the big bucks… But truth is many feel nothing short of a McLaren style revolution is required at Maranello.

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

And the sooner the better. I might be wrong, but it is highly unlikely they (or anyone for that matter) will recover the deficit to Mercedes this season. So act now, wield the axe and put in place a new structure with the sole mandate to seek the path to consistent victory, devoid of excuses which have come to characterise the proudest team in the sport.

In the end Ferrari can blame the rules and point fingers, but the truth is that, for a team with such an immense legacy, such substantial resources, a hefty fan base and such massive importance in the sport – they have simply under-delieverd too often for most of the past decade.

In closing, it was hugely ironic that the only drivers who looked to be driving taxis, on the glorious night of wheel-to-wheel racing in Bahrain, were the duo at work in those red cars. How two of the sport’s most respected drivers can be reduced to such mediocrity, through no fault of their own, is not only a waste, but simply scandalous.

As for Montezemolo’s disparaging remarks about taxi drivers, I only wish I can be around when he is forced to hail a cab one day… (Inside Line by Paul Velasco)

Subbed by AJN.

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