Formula One’s new American owners Liberty Media have big plans for broadening the sport’s appeal, but Ferrari isn’t quite sure about where this is going, reports ESPN. Now Ferrari chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne is threatening to quit if they change things too much and Ferrari doesn’t like it.
Liberty Media’s been working hard to change all the stuff F1 let go under its previous owners, such as a reasonable approach to online media and ways to rein in the costs of competing so smaller teams actually have a chance to survive, and new manufacturers want to come into the sport.
Marchionne, who not only heads up Ferrari but serves as CEO of the entire Fiat Chrysler Group, straight-up threatened to leave if all these tweaks turned F1 into something they don’t recognize anymore in a conference call with analysts on Thursday. Marchionne said, as quoted by ESPN:
Liberty has got a couple of good intentions in all of this, one of which is to reduce the cost of execution of the team which I think is good. [But] there are a couple of things we don’t necessarily agree with. One is the fact that somehow powertrain uniqueness is not going to be one of the drivers of distinctiveness of the participants’ line-up. I would not countenance this going forward.
The fact that we now appear to be at odds in terms of the strategic development of this thing, and we see the sport in 2021 taking on a different air, is going to force some decisions on the part of Ferrari.
I understand that Liberty may have taken this into account in coming up with their views, but I think it needs to be absolutely clear that 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.
It’s easy to see why Ferrari would call foul at any attempts to un-bork F1. Ferrari is a major beneficiary of F1's current system, getting a bigger share of F1's revenue because, well, they’re Ferrari.
Ferrari receives $180 million of Formula One Management’s $940 million in revenue distributed to teams this year despite finishing third in the constructors’ championship last year, Autosport reports—dramatically more than any other team. If that $940 million were distributed evenly among the teams, Ferrari would lose $86 million.
Of course, that’s the problem. Ferrari is a well-established juggernaut who should be able to pay for themselves. Smaller struggling team Sauber, meanwhile, only got $49 million, which dries up fast for these hyper-expensive F1 efforts.
Liberty Media is working to change things fast, though. Earlier this week, F1 unveiled a proposal to tweak the engine regulations in 2021. The heads of current engine manufacturers Mercedes and Renault have already voiced their doubts about those plans, ESPN notes.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul both hinted that Liberty is proposing a whole new engine that would take significant effort to develop—not mere tweaks as F1's powers-that-be describe—and doubted the plan’s effectiveness when it comes broadening F1's appeal and dropping costs. Honda hasn’t chimed in yet with any thoughts.
But Ferrari’s Marchionne chimed in with the ultimatum: if we don’t like it, we’ll leave. He continued with a dig at F1's new American owners, as quoted by Motorsport.com:
What I do know is that it [F1] has been part of our DNA since the day we were born. It’s not as though we can define ourselves differently.
But if we change the sandbox to the point where it becomes an unrecognizable sandbox, I don’t want to play any more. I don’t want to play NASCAR globally, I just don’t.
It’s hard to imagine F1 without Ferrari. They’ve been around the sport for so long—since its inception in 1950—that people joke about F1's governing body the FIA standing for “Ferrari International Assistance” from all the times they’ve (intentionally or not) helped the Prancing Horse out. Ferrari is by far the sport’s most successful team, with 227 wins, 15 drivers’ championships and 16 constructors’ championships.
Yet Ferrari’s commitment to F1 only runs through 2020 under the currrent Concorde Agreement they have with teams.
Marchionne has no qualms about being that guy who yanks the team from the sport, telling those on the call that it would actually benefit the marque’s profits and losses to quit F1. He said he’d feel “like a million bucks” to pull it, as “the board would be celebrating ‘til the cows come home.” Marchionne also said that he’d work on a “more rational” strategy to replace Ferrari’s F1 involvement.
Don’t panic just yet, Ferrari F1 fans. Marchionne also said that he doesn’t want to “prejudge” where Liberty is going with their new plans. He also assured those on the call that Ferrari would be attending next week’s F1 Strategy Group meeting next Tuesday where F1 is set to discuss this plan with representatives of its most prominent teams, as quoted by ESPN:
I’m attending this meeting on strategy because it’s important and it matters a lot to this business. The financial implications of the wrong choice for the moment going forward are pretty significant to Ferrari.
Yet Ferrari’s reaction is a classic example of why the current incarnation of the Strategy Group being consulted for decisions hasn’t worked out well for Formula One. Teams typically argue for their best interests over that of the sport. F1's smaller teams—those who would be for cheaper engines and F1 distributing its income more fairly for the health of the sport—have zero representation there. That’s probably what Liberty Media needs to fix next.