Inevitably, Sergio Marchionne’s claim that Ferrari could quit F1 should the sport’s new owners proposals not suit it, were met with ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ and ‘bye-bye’ comments on message boards and forums.
And while Ferrari, like Red Bull and Renault, has history in terms of throwing its playthings out of the perambulator when it doesn’t get its own way, we should probably be taking this particular threat a little more seriously.
In the last year, the sport has already undergone one seismic change, with the departure, after forty years of Bernie Ecclestone, the no-nonsense, charismatic supremo who held it all together even if using dictatorial methods to do so,
There was much wrong with F1 under Bernie, especially his refusal to move into the 21st century, but there was also much right. And in a classic example of ‘better the devil you know’, fans may soon come to realise that compared to Liberty Media, Bernie Ecclestone was a good guy who at least had a passion for the sport.
After months of talk, Liberty Media is about to present its vision for the future of Formula One and the road the sport will take to get there; while the end result may well appeal it is the means of getting there that could well tear the sport apart.
Increasingly, rather than the governing body, it is the sport’s owners, under the guise of Chase Carey, Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn who are writing the rulebook.
While there was understandable criticism of the money CVC reaped from the sport, Liberty too is not in F1 for altruistic reasons, it is here to make money. Such things as passion, tradition and history do not figure in the Liberty vocabulary, unless as soundbites or potential revenue streams.
Liberty is seeking to make as much profit from as little outlay as possible, in its world it is quantity that matters not quality, ‘stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap’.
Over the years there has been much criticism of the way the sport has been manipulated to produce the right results, under Liberty this will only get worse.
While Sergio Marchionne has gone public, admitting that Ferrari could quit the sport if it doesn’t like the direction the sport is taking and the route it is taking to get there, don’t for a moment thinks that the Italian team is being a troublemaker, a lone voice of dissent, for Mercedes, Red Bull and others could follow suit.
Faced with having their bonuses withdrawn, their share of the prize pot reduced, told to shed a majority of its workforce, perhaps share technology with rivals and all with the hope of being upstaged by a Sauber or Haas, the big teams will tell Liberty to stick F1 where the sun doesn’t shine.
At this time, 2021 might seem a long time away and therefore much can change, but in the same way work is already well underway on the 2018 cars, so too the teams and manufacturers are looking even further ahead.
Though few will sympathise with Marchionne’s comments in terms of money, they will at least understand where he is heading in his comments relating to the NASCAR-isation of F1.
Until just a few years ago, talk of Ferrari‘s right to veto the sport’s regulations was thought to be an urban myth. But then it was revealed that while there had indeed been such an agreement it was essentially unwritten (verbal), until 2005 when (then) FIA president Max Mosley confirmed the veto in a letter to the company and subsequently had it included in the Concorde Implementation Agreement from 2013 in an attempt to stop it leaving the sport. It worked.
Under the agreement, Ferrari had “a right of veto in respect of the introduction/modification of any technical or sporting regulations (except for safety requirements)”.
As recently as last weekend, Maurizio Arrivabene was talking about the veto, a powerful weapon in the team’s arsenal and one it used as recently as 2015 when the FIA wanted to impose a cost cap on engines.
Previously, Ferrari had exercised its veto in 2009 when the FIA was attempting push through a $60m budget cap for teams due to be introduced a year later. The veto was rejected because it “could only be said to apply to changes to the Sporting or Technical Regulations which would require Ferrari to alter its car”, though the FIA subsequently dropped its plans for the cap anyway.
With an eye on the forthcoming meetings at which the engine and other plans for post-2021 were to be revealed, speaking in Mexico, when asked about the veto, Arrivabene said: “At a certain point we apply our right to do a veto for good reason at that time.
“With people who have a clear idea, people who understand what they are talking about, I think you don’t need any veto,” he continued.
“For us, if I have to talk for Ferrari, for us the performance is part of the DNA of our company so the performance is important because we are representing this brand. Then, if we able – as I’ve said, many times – to reduce the costs, to keep the performance with the same base in terms of engine architecture, fine. And then it’s important to understand how to do it and if it’s acceptable the way that it’s going to be proposed but we don’t need to apply any veto.”
Along with the Concorde Agreement, Ferrari‘s veto ends in 2020, and as sure as God made little apples, along with the various bonuses, Liberty will be seeking to ensure that any further contracts weigh heavily on their side not the teams.
Up until now, it’s been a fairly pleasant honeymoon, now however, all parties are going to discover that to make a marriage succeed you have to work at it, take nothing for granted and accept a certain amount of give and take.
Even before Liberty reveals its plans for 2021, as the ‘happy couple’ finally settle down to married life, it would appear that the marriage counsellors are needed… and fast.