September 10, 2014 / 6:59 PM / 3 years ago

Ferrari F1 team starts new era without Montezemolo

LONDON (Reuters) - Luca di Montezemolo’s resignation as Ferrari chairman on Wednesday severs an historic link with the company’s late founder Enzo and marks the end of an era for Formula One’s most successful and glamorous team.

Ferrari CEO Luca Cordero di Montezemolo waves to the media after the presentation of the new LaFerrari hybrid car on the Ferrari stand during the first media day of the 83rd Geneva Car Show at the Palexpo Arena in Geneva March 5, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Without him in Maranello, or followed by a media scrum on his rare visits to the F1 paddock, Ferrari may seem a little less flamboyant and the sport a little less colourful. But both will survive.

The Prancing Horse’s era of dominance on the track has been over for a while, however. The Italian team have not won a championship since 2008, or a race since May last year. Their last pole position was in 2012.

“I suppose we’re approaching the end of an era in F1, dear old Luca, it started back when we were all so young,” said former International Automobile Federation (FIA) head and old sparring partner Max Mosley, who stepped down in 2009.

“But in truth, Ferrari have never been quite the same since Jean (Todt) left. If they want to win races again they need to find another outstanding manager,” he told Reuters after Montezemolo announced he would leave on Oct. 13.

The same day, the newly merged Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is due to be listed in New York.

“I wonder if (Fiat chief executive and new Ferrari chairman Sergio) Marchionne should try and persuade Jean to return to Ferrari and if he did would Jean accept? Honestly, I doubt it, but they need someone of Jean’s singular drive and focus now more than ever.”

The suave Montezemolo - who combined a passion for racing with an elegant manner and extensive contacts among the world’s social and political elite - was in many ways the embodiment of the Italian sportscar maker.

“I first met Luca in 1973. So yeah, it’s a pity. We’re going to miss him,” the sport’s 83-year-old commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters.

“His leaving is for me the same as Mr Enzo dying. He has become Ferrari. You see him, you see Ferrari. You don’t see anything else. You don’t see Luca.”

One of the big personalities who strode the stage as the sport was transformed into a billion dollar global business from the 1970s onwards, taking over at Ferrari after Enzo’s death in 1988, he was also sounding increasingly at odds with the newer generation.

He had favored a return to the old and expensive days of in-season testing, and with Ecclestone had been a vocal critic of the new and much quieter V6 turbo hybrid engines favored by volume manufacturers like Honda and Renault.

Executives from the automotive industry call the shots now, with Montezemolo’s job taken by Marchionne and former Ferrari North America president Marco Mattiacci as team principal.

And while Montezemolo’s old rival Ron Dennis remains in overall charge at McLaren, and Frank Williams is enjoying a revival at his team, the landscape has changed with Mercedes and Red Bull the pacesetters.

LESS COLORFUL

Ferrari’s millions of fans will care mostly that their drivers are given the tools to be triumphant again.

“I think the big problem is that they haven’t been winning lately,” said Ecclestone.

How soon Ferrari can do that remains an open question, with the team having gone through plenty of upheaval already in the last few months and the cost-cutting Marchionne bringing a very different managerial style as well as already having huge responsibilities elsewhere.

Mattiacci replaced the likeable Stefano Domenicali, a lifetime Ferrari employee who was also close to Montezemolo, in April and engine head Luca Marmorini left shortly after.

There is already speculation that Mattiacci, who has spoken of the need for a change of culture, is destined for further promotion within the Fiat group. That would leave Ferrari searching for someone else to run the team.

Todt, Mosley’s successor at the sport’s governing body, can most certainly be counted out despite Mosley’s somewhat mischievous suggestion but former technical director and tactician Ross Brawn could be an option.

Under Frenchman Todt and Brawn, Ferrari won a string of titles from 1999 to 2004 with seven times champion Michael Schumacher.

Their arrival may well go down as Montezemolo’s greatest achievement on the sporting side, whatever the subsequent disagreements between Todt and the Ferrari boss.

Stepping directly into Enzo’s office when he became chairman in 1991, after a previous stint working as team manager in the 1970s, Montezemolo began the slow process of turning around a slumbering giant struggling to live up to a nation’s expectations.

The arrival of Todt led to the hiring of Brawn from Benetton, along with designer Rory Byrne and eventually Schumacher - then a double world champion.

Brawn went on to win championships with his own outfit, subsequently sold to Mercedes, in 2009 after the Ferrari ‘dream team’ had broken up.

The 59-year-old, who then led the Mercedes works outfit that is currently dominant, has already been mentioned as a possible recruit - should he be interested in taking on one of the most high-pressure jobs in sport, and that is also far from certain.

”Ross Brawn is an iconic figure at Maranello,“ Mattiacci told CNN television before last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza. ”Everyone would like to have Ross or would like to see Ross back at Ferrari.

“We are building a very strong team with a medium, long-term plan. My role is to shorten as much as I can this plan to make it effective as soon as possible. We are building the foundation for a very successful story.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ossian Shine and Toby Davis

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