As Ferrari prepares to appoint its fifth Formula 1 boss in less than a decade, it feels further than ever from what a modern team should be.
Mattia Binotto’s impending exit is at least partly down to a faulty senior management structure that gives too much power to people too far removed from the F1 team itself.
The management of Ferrari has completely changed since Binotto became team principal. It was previously led by Sergio Marchionne, who held both chairman and CEO roles until his death in 2018 and identified Binotto as the person to replace Maurizio Arrivabene as team leader.
Marchionne was then replaced as Chairman by John Elkann, while Louis Camilleri became CEO. Binotto always spoke very warmly of Camilleri, who seemed to have a more direct connection to the team boss than Elkann and seemed to grasp the kind of reform within the F1 team that was needed to end a cycle. of self-destructive trigger happiness.
But Camilleri left at the end of 2020 after battling COVID. Last summer a new CEO was appointed, Benedetto Vigna, and within 18 months the new axis of power at the top of Ferrari recruits a new team principal.
Either Binotto’s ‘resignation’ is a smokescreen for a bigger power play, or Binotto felt pressured into an act that is far from voluntary. As he puts it, leaving Ferrari is a “regrettable” decision to make. Neither result is good for Ferrari.
Binotto’s downfall will be self-inflicted to some extent. Ferrari failed to improve in some key areas under his leadership. And that shouldn’t be taken as a particularly passionate defense of him in particular. But his exit is a symptom of a much bigger problem, which clearly still has deep roots in Ferrari’s organisation.
Ferrari’s history is littered with evidence that it has never quite functioned as a Formula 1 team should, with the obvious exception of the period of dominance led by Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher – at pretty much the only time on the team. story that the Scuderia was immune to any larger politics within Ferrari.
Now, however, Ferrari seems more out of touch with the demands of F1 than ever.
Ferrari aren’t alone in having an F1 team that’s simply part of a bigger empire. But he’s unique in how often he seems to be directly interfered with, and how his team leader is left vulnerable in a way that their contemporaries aren’t.
Ferrari’s leading F1 team must be exposed to volatile top power. It is impossible to imagine that a modern elite sports organization can truly thrive in an environment where the team leader is replaced every few years.
For example, Binotto’s immediate “equals” at Mercedes and Red Bull are anything but. Christian Horner is CEO of Red Bull Racing and other F1-related businesses that wear the Red Bull badge. Toto Wolff is not only CEO of the Mercedes F1 team, but also a shareholder. In reality, they have a security and autonomy that Binotto could only dream of.
Red Bull has been managed by Horner for its entire F1 history since 2005. Mercedes has been managed by Wolff since 2013. How many times have you heard of Dietrich Mateschitz meddling in Red Bull Racing’s management structure when the team struggled with the start of the V6 turbo-hybrid era, or Ola Kallenius rushing to install new people at Mercedes in early 2022?
By comparison, Ferrari is now gearing up for its fifth team principal in the V6 turbo-hybrid era. It’s an absurd number. Even Renault’s random factory team didn’t experience so much upheaval during this time.
At the same time, Mercedes won eight constructors’ titles and seven drivers’ titles, and Red Bull won two drivers’ championships and a constructors’ crown.
Ferrari haven’t won anything since 2008. Although Binotto didn’t make a cast iron case to hold it, chances are he would have had more time in one of Ferrari’s more patient rivals. .
He can point to some important victories trying to overcome the culture that has permeated Ferrari throughout its history. He restored the team to a competitive engine and chassis and helped shed the worst of the toxic fear culture that seemed particularly damaging during the previous Marchionne/Arrivabene era.
There are also arguments to be made that the specific issues of 2022 are beyond his direct control but could have been improved with time and support.
Pushing the blame onto the trackside team, the engine division, the finance department or whoever, would have been cheap arguments for Binotto, given that one of the cornerstones of his leadership at Ferrari n was not to point fingers.
But they could have been seen as the basis for Ferrari to accept that there was bigger, long-term work here to make the team a new title winner.
This is where the trigger-happy types in Ferrari’s upper echelons miss the point. They see an F1 team like any other of their companies, driven by the pursuit of short-term results and putting far too much emphasis on what other people – especially the Italian media – have to say about things. .
Binotto may not be the perfect team leader and maybe he would prove to be deficient, but time and autonomy are needed for any leader to truly impress themselves in an organization. After two (self-inflicted) years in the desert, Ferrari had a winning car again.
This season revealed shortcomings in strategy, engine reliability and car development. OK, these weaknesses are nothing new for Ferrari. But this is the first time Binotto has dealt with them. The best solution was certainly to give the team leader the means to try to solve them and to act if he failed.
Expecting a turnaround within a few months is foolhardy at best. The football club’s mentality of replacing someone and expecting that to be a solution can lead to a ‘new manager’s bounce’ as things look better at first, but it goes down the drain. defeats a much greater purpose because each time this happens the clock is reset and all the good work done so far is largely undone.
Stability is something Ferrari has not grasped to the same degree as its rivals, who have had much more success in the modern era of F1. And that will never be the case as long as the F1 team is partly independent of the wider business, but still at the mercy of people who ultimately don’t know what an F1 team has need.
Ferrari still seems to be its worst enemy when it comes to building an elite F1 team fit for the modern era.
If Elkann and Vigna get it wrong on their next date, Ferrari could pay the price for years to come.
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