Outside Line: Arrivederci Maurizio

From hero to zero, Maurizio Arrivabene leaves Ferrari short of his ultimate goal, now it remains to be seen if Mattia Binotto can do any better.

First things first: happy new year to all of you GP247 readers, I hoped you enjoyed the holidays, and are as excited for the upcoming year as I am – it’s certainly off to a hell of a start.

Maurizio Arrivabene, a man who not too long ago was hailed as the breath of fresh air Ferrari needed, has been turfed out in favour of technical director Mattia Binotto, going in four short years from the solution to the problem.

As we now know, the continued improvement of the team over his tenure wasn’t enough to cover for the disappointment surrounding how the 2018 season ended, nor the tensions he’d created both in and around the Scuderia.It was either him or Binotto and with Ferrari chairman John Elkann choosing Binotto, he leaves Maranello with a complicated legacy.

On one hand, there’s no denying the turnaround that took place under his reign. In 2014 – the first year of the V6-turbo era and with Marco Mattiacci at the helm – Ferrari was essentially an afterthought. Not only were they behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams, but they weren’t even close, a full 104 constructor’s points behind that trio despite a budget that matched the first two, and possibly doubled the latter’s.

Then in 2015 Arrivabene – together with Sebastian Vettel and the late Sergio Marchionne – arrived, and the team was immediately on the up, winning at their second race in Malaysia, then going on to add a further 13 wins over the next four seasons.

Even as Mercedes remained on top, there was no doubting Ferrari had leapfrogged the others for the title of “best of the rest”, and indeed were the only team that at any point put the fear of god into the silver arrows, all under Arrivabene’s watch.

On the other, when you’re Ferrari, “best of the rest” can’t be where the journey ends, and that goes doubly so when you had the opportunities they did in 2018, and to a lesser extent in 2017. Both driver’s and constructor’s championships were in reach these last two years, yet strategy, reliability and driver error all cost them at various stages.

Was this Arrivabene’s fault? The way his exit has been received, we’ve been led to believe so, with much of the blame now falling on the Italian for the culture of fear he had his team operating under. Personally, I remain a little sceptical.

More likely I think this comes down to the old sporting adage that “winning cures everything”, and while Arrivabene was no less a “jerk” in 2015 than he was in 2018, it was tolerable when Ferrari “won” at its old goal of gaining ground on Mercedes, but is not so now when they are struggling at their current goal of overtaking them.

To be clear, I’m not saying he’s blameless, but I just wonder if the lack of unity would’ve mattered as much if things like the spark plug on Vettel’s car hadn’t failed at Suzuka ’17, or if the German hadn’t slid off this year at Hockenheim. Would Binotto et al still be pointing the finger if their hands were holding silverware?

In any case, Binotto has his wish, and now takes on a very different role to anything he’s done before. As team principal his job will be as much about balancing egos, navigating the media and generally ensuring the wheels don’t fall off as it will be about developing the car, and it will be fascinating to see how he handles it.

Technical boffins don’t have much of a track record running championship-level F1 teams in the modern era (Ross Brawn being a notable exception), and after the gains of ’17 and ’18, it seems the Scuderia is firmly in “win now” mode.

Maybe Binotto’s approach makes the difference, maybe it doesn’t – either way we’re about to find out!

Vettel: Absolutely Arrivabene is the right man for the job