MONZA, Italy — Ferrari’s fall from grace is no longer just a worry on the Formula One track. It’s a cause for concern in the corporate boardroom, too.
After six years without a title, the events at and around the weekend’s Italian Grand Prix appear to have set the stage as a tipping point for sweeping changes.
For the first time since 2008, Ferrari failed to a land a car on the podium in its home race.
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Fernando Alonso retired Sunday due to a mechanical problem on lap 30 of 53 and teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished ninth.
”In Formula One, as in sport in general, there are days to forget and this was certainly one of them,” said team principal Marco Mattiacci, who was installed in April when Stefano Domenicali resigned amid the team’s worst run in nearly 20 years.
But the results were only part of the story.
Speculation had been swirling even before the weekend that Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo was being forced out of the company four decades after founding father Enzo Ferrari brought him in.
On Saturday, Montezemolo held court in the Monza paddock and insisted he was happy to stay.
”In March I told the shareholders and especially the people at Ferrari, who I’m very close to, that I would be available for another three years,” Montezemolo said. ”If there is then anything new, I myself would be the first to say so.”
Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Ferrari’s parent company Fiat and Chrysler, may have interpreted Montezemolo’s words as a warning linked to how big of a payoff Montezemolo might demand to step aside before his mandate as president ends in 2017.
”We’re not talking about him quitting but nobody is indispensable,” Marchionne said in nearby Cernobbio on Sunday – about half an hour before Alonso’s retirement.
”There are two elements of Ferrari that are important for us: economic results, on which Montezemolo has done a great job, and the sporting management. Ferrari’s heart belongs to winning in F1. Seeing it in this kind of shape, without having won anything since 2008 – even with the best drivers in the world and great engineers – upsets me and bothers me enormously.”
Ferrari has not won all season and with only six more races remaining, the team risks going winless for the first time since 1993 – when Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger were the team’s drivers.
”It’s a tough time for the team and last six races won’t be much better,” Alonso said after pulling to a stop on the main straightaway and getting driven back to the paddock on the back of a scooter as tens of thousands of red-clad Ferrari fans looked on in astonishment. ”We’ll be behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams. We can’t win. And whether I’m fifth, sixth or retired doesn’t change much for me and my future. I want to win.”
A Ferrari car hadn’t retired for mechanical problems in 86 races and Sunday’s results dropped Ferrari to fourth in the constructor’s standings behind Williams in third. Mercedes, which posted a 1-2 finish with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, holds a massive 182-point lead in the team category ahead of Red Bull.
”We didn’t have the power or speed to pass on the straightaway,” Raikkonen said.
On Saturday, cars with Mercedes engines took the top six spots in qualifying and Honda is planning a major return to F1 next year with McLaren, which will give Ferrari another big supplier to do battle with.
And with Fiat and Chrysler set to list their new merged company on the New York Stock Exchange next month, Marchionne is also under pressure to provide results.
”We are at the service of the company,” Marchionne said. ”When a company changes ideas, or when goals become more centralized, things change.”
Alonso could be in for change, too.
The Spaniard won two F1 titles when he was with Renault and is still considered one of the top drivers in the sport. But his contract is set to expire in 2016 and so far there has been no word of an extension.
”I’ve always said that I want to stay with Ferrari and if there are no big changes I’ll stay for at least another two years,” Alonso told Sky TV last week. ”But we need to evaluate and work on maintaining this marriage in a winning manner.”