Since Formula One began in 1950, Ferrari has been the only team to compete every single year. The incredible passion, perhaps more aptly described as an obsession, Enzo Ferrari had for motor racing is the driving force behind that.
The only reason ‘il Commendatore’ began manufacturing road cars was to fund his aspirations on the track, and even then he did it with such reluctance. 67 years on and the Scuderia are the most successful team in history, winning 15 driver’s championships and 16 constructor’s championships, no other team comes close.
After his death in 1988 it all changed. No longer is Ferrari a powerhouse of the track with a side arm of producing supercars. The F1 team is now nothing more than elaborate brand advertising, and unless something changes, they may walk away from the scene altogether.
Sergio Marchionne, the Ferrari President is well aware of how pivotal his team is to the economic viability of the sport. “Unless we find a set of circumstances the results of which are beneficial to the maintenance of the brand, and the marketplace, and to the strengthening of the unique position for Ferrari, Ferrari will not play.”
These remarks came after a recent announcement about the direction the F1 will take the car engines from the 2021 season. The aim is to reduce cost and improve noise but ultimately to level out the playing field. Ferrari’s issues obviously don’t stem solely from this; it has been brewing for a long, long time. The change in the engines is the catalyst. They believe that their brand and relevance outweighs that of F1 as a whole, and whether or not you believe that to be true their threat is very real, and very dangerous.
The new owners of F1, Liberty Media, announced that they will reduce the amount of annual prize money Ferrari receives. Currently there is a guaranteed annual prize of $100 million before a single race has even begun. This doesn’t include the money for each race and for their position in the overall standings.
Libery’s chief executive Greg Maffei said “If you’re Ferrari, you have enormous sponsorship revenue that goes directly to you. That’s going to be impacted more positively by great races. So thinking about balancing the team payments, so they’re a little more balanced and creates more fairness, has to be weighted, in Ferrari’s mind, I would expect, by the fact that creating a great platform helps out sponsorship revenue, too, so there’s a give-and-take.”
It could be argued that if the Scuderia break away, Formula One may fall into obscurity. The multi-billion dollar industry that Bernie Ecclestone has worked so tirelessly since the 1970’s to create could become just another average branch of motorsport. Ferrari’s iconic red race cars exude class and style, their historical legacy gives another dimension to the sport and viewers may switch of without them.
This isn’t the first time Ferrari, or even Marchionne has raised their displeasure but there is a difference this time, and Ecclestone knows it. A strategic meeting was called on 7th November with each team, the FIA and the Formula One Group all present.
“They [Ferrari] don’t want budget caps and all that”, Ecclestone told The Independent, “they want to spend what they can afford to spend and I’ve always said the same thing. If people can’t spend they have to go.”
“If there are then only three or four teams something would have to be done but until that actually happens nobody is going to do anything.”
Ecclestone hints at a larger issue than simply Ferrari alone. Don’t have budget caps and see the smaller teams drop out, have one and see the bigger teams get frustrated and perhaps leave. They are walking a tightrope, and everything is in a fine balance. Lean to far one way and the everything could come crashing down.
Marchionne suggested that leaving F1 would be a great idea financially, saying it would be “totally beneficial to the profit”, adding “the board would be celebrating here until the cows come home.” This says a lot about how Ferrari feel about their motor racing past, that it should stay just that.
Enzo Ferrari once said that “the most important victory is the one that is yet to arrive.” The greatest race that has ever taken place in F1 is going on right now, off the track, and if, when the dust settles, Ferrari has walked away, the fire of his passion, Ecclestone’s passion, and that of millions of fans will be extinguished.