Ferrari ready to put pieces in place for return to top in F1

Fernando Alonso of Ferrari returns to the team garage during practice ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix on August 22, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Ferrari endured a tough Italian GP weekend against a background of continued speculation about the future of Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, which only intensified after critical comments emerged from Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne.

Marchionne is tipped to take over the presidency of Ferrari himself, possibly as an interim measure, although there are also suggestions that his end game is to eventually quit the Fiat job and run Ferrari as a ‘project’ as he eases towards eventual retirement.

Meanwhile, Marco Mattiacci made it clear that the pieces are being put in place for a return to form in the future.

“We have a very clear picture about where is the deficit, and about the assets,” he said. “I can say definitely the assets are that we have a lot of talented people, but it’s evident in which areas we are lagging behind, and we are already working for a few months in order to address those issues. I’m definitely not going to make public giving my competitors an advantage about where my weaknesses are. We know and we are already working to address those issues. As I said and I keep saying this a medium/long term project, because we are talking about engineering investments, so it takes a while.

“The strong points are the drivers, the brand, the company, the heritage, the culture, the people who work every day from 7 a.m. to midnight. There are many, many assets to start from. And there is the tradition of winning, we know how to win, and we are obsessed to go back to the top. There is a huge motivation and hunger to go back to the top because we belong there. My role is to shorten as much as we can… that kind of curve.”

Mattiacci said that the Italian GP was a valuable experience for him.

“First of all I think for me it was important to experience the impressive love and passion that there is around Ferrari, and to understand the relevance that Ferrari is much more than just a racing company, it is an institution, and we have an obligation to fans. And this gives me again a lot of motivation towards the team, to make sure that this frustration is going to end. I still believe that we had a good pace, the car confirmed an improvement, but definitely we had a deficit in qualifying.

“If you start lower on the grid, it’s going to be difficult, if you don’t have a strong power unit. But I think we had the same pace as Red Bull, and some of the others, and we could have done better. Unfortunately we started too far behind to have a normal race.

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Mattiacci said that Alonso’s rare retirement at Monza was inevitable, given the long streak of good reliability the red cars have demonstrated.

“So far we have been good in terms of reliability, but statistically we had to face something. We had an issue with the ERS. We never had this issue before, but it happened. Everybody was having reliability issues this year but Ferrari, so we joined the group.”

Regarding the performance of the power unit he said: “As you know there is this great regulation which does not allow you today which to improve what could be absolutely improvable, but it’s as it is. I keep saying we have been doing small but consistent improvements on the car.”

The name of former Mercedes technical director Bob Bell has also cropped up in connection with a future role at Ferrari, as Marco Mattiacci continues his restructuring program.

Speculation first linked Bell with Maranello when Mercedes announced on April 14 that he had resigned his position in December 2013, and would leave the team at the end of November. He is still employed by Mercedes, with one senior team source confirming that he is working on “non-F1 projects.”

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A Ferrari spokesman would only confirm that new boss Mattiacci is still on a recruitment drive as he tries to bolster the team.

An aerodynamicist by training, Bell’s résumé includes spells at McLaren, Benetton, Jordan and most famously at Renault, where he played a key role in Fernando Alonso’s 2005-2006 World Championship campaigns. He was briefly team principal of Renault at the end of 2009, and later served as the team’s managing director, until he joined Mercedes.

Bell would be a good fit at Ferrari in a Ross Brawn-style technical management/overview role, especially given that he has worked with both Alonso and James Allison in the past. In such a job he could allow Allison to focus more on the car rather than organizational aspects. He would also bring with him substantial knowledge of how Mercedes developed its successful 2014 package.

Looking further ahead, one could speculate that Bell could make a good team principal should Mattiacci ever be promoted to the role of Ferrari President. Having run Ferrari Asia, Ferrari North America and the F1 team, Mattiacci appears to be working his way towards a position he is surely now eminently qualified to fill…