Changes at Maranello?

There are rumours coming out of Italy suggesting that Ferrari chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne could axe team principal Maurizio Arrivabene as the managing director of Ferrari Gestione Sportiva, and replace him with James Allison, the team’s technical director. At the moment these are just rumours and so may not be true as such a decision would need to be announced very quickly as Ferrari is now a listed company and changes can affect the share price.

I suppose it is inevitable that there would be rumours about changes in the management of Ferrari in the days after Marchionne was appointed CEO of Ferrari. Prior to his appointment, a few days ago, he was only the chairman and did not have the same executive powers.

Allison was hired by Ferrari back in 2013 by the then team principal Stefano Domenicali, before he departed in April 2014. Allison was able to start work in September 2013 because Lotus had broken his contract by not paying him properly and so there was no requirement for “gardening leave”, although he served six months, apparently as part of a settlement between the two teams. Many engineers today have contracts that specifically require a year between leaving one job and starting with a rival.

It was too late to have any real influence on the 2014 car but Allison went to work to change the mindset at Ferrari, working in much more of a management role. He admitted in 2015 that he had not designed a single part on that year’s car, but instead had directed engineers on the question of what the focus should be. Crucially, Allison was given overall technical control, including the engine department, a position of power that had not been seen at Ferrari since the days of Mauro Forghieri in the early 1980s.

As this was happening, things were moving fast at Ferrari. Marco Mattiacci was appointed team principal in April 2014, ostensibly an appointment made by Luca Montezemolo, the then Ferrari chairman. It was a very quick decision following the unexpected departure of Domenicali, who had realised that the team was not going to be successful in 2014 and decided to step down. Mattiacci looked to be doing a sensible job. He called Fernando Alonso’s bluff and let him go while quietly doing a deal with Sebastian Vettel that left Red Bull scrambling for ideas. He also began arguing for change in F1, notably in dealings with the fans.

When Montezemolo was pushed out of Ferrari by Marchionne in September that year, it might have been expected that Luca’s lieutenants would also be taken out. This seems to have been what happened to Mattiacci, although the Ferrari CEO Amedeo Felisa remained. At the time Marchionne felt the need to explain his decision to dump Mattiacci in favour of Philip Morris man Arrivabene, as this was a very odd appointment. Arrivabene had been around F1 for a long time, as a sponsor representative, but he did not have any experience running a racing team. The answer seems to have lain in the politics, because Arrivabene was close to Bernie Ecclestone and had been a member of the Formula 1 Commission from 2010 onwards, representing the F1 sponsors. Marchionne said that he was keen to maintain Ferrari’s strong position in the governance of F1 and Arrivabene fitted the moment in that respect. Mattiacci, as well as being a Montezemolo man, had had a less than comfortable relationship with Ecclestone.

Since he gained full control of Ferrari, however, Marchionne has played a bigger role in F1 politics, leaving Arrivabene in his shadow, and this may be why another change is now being suggested. While never a team principal Allison, working with Eric Boullier, played an important role in holding the Lotus F1 Team in 2012 and 2013 when the owners failed to deliver the funding that was required. In the end both would leave the team when better offers came along but they fought hard before throwing in their towels.

Running Ferrari is not an easy job because it is still a very Italian company, even if there are many non-Italian team members. Allison, it should be remembered, was there before, between 2000 and 2005, and so integrated easily into the team and the Italian lifestyle. He is a man who inspires team spirit with his hard work, his no-nonsense attitude and his passion for the sport.

Let’s see what happens… if anything.