Soon-to-be-former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo seemed to have the best job security in the auto industry. He presided over a brand that ranks with Google, Disney and Coca-Cola among the world's most powerful, and he's largely responsible for transforming Ferrari from an Old World, family-run business into a modern, global automaker.
Montezemolo "resigned," but his tenure at the helm will rank him among Ferrari's greatest leaders. It's Enzo, then Montezemolo.
But as of October 13, Montezemolo will be unemployed, after a stunning turn of events played out this week that toppled a man Italians hold in such high esteem. He was once rumored to be a candidate for prime minister.
How did that happen, and so quickly?
The answer to both rests with Sergio Marchionne. The CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – which owns Ferrari – clearly had a different view for the future of the Prancing Horse, which for 23 years has been steered exclusively by Montezemolo.
It's telling that Montezemolo is officially quitting Maranello Oct. 13, the day that the merged Fiat Chrysler will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Montezemolo has reportedly grumbled that "Ferrari is now American," according to Bloomberg, and obviously he was chafing at the loss of some of his company's autonomy.
Evidence of the fallout is apparent, even in the statements released by each of the men. By nature, press releases are as bland as skim milk. These pull no punches and invite you to read between the lines.
While Montezemolo countered:
Luca and I have discussed the future of Ferrari at length. And our mutual desire to see Ferrari achieve its true potential on the track has led to misunderstandings which became clearly visible over the last weekend [When Ferrari struggled at the Italian Grand Prix].
Marchionne appears to be pinning Montzemolo's exit on Ferrari's recent lack of success in Formula One. He has a point. Ferrari hasn't won a title since it captured the 2008 Constructors Championship, and it's in no position to win this year, despite having two former World Champions, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, piloting its race cars. The six-year drought is no doubt maddening for a team that's the oldest and most successful in F1 history.
Ferrari will have an important role to play within the FCA Group in the upcoming flotation on Wall Street. This will open up a new and different phase, which I feel should be spearheaded by the CEO of the Group.
This is the end of an era and so I have decided to leave my position as chairman after almost 23 marvelous and unforgettable years, in addition to those spent at Enzo Ferrari's side in the 1970s.
Still, eight of Ferrari's 16 constructors crowns have come since Montezemolo took over as chairman, and Ferrari endured a much longer title drought in the 1980s and 1990s before Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn reinvigorated the Scuderia.
Does Marchionne, or anyone for that matter, really believe Montezemolo has permanently lost his touch for the racing side of the business?
Conversely, Montezemolo's comments pointed to the Wall Street IPO, which will signal a "new and different phase" for Ferrari. Whether it's meant to or not, that sounds pretty ominous for Tifosi.
He also referenced his time as Enzo Ferrari's assistant in the 1970s, which led to his ascension to briefly head the racing team and more glory days for the Scuderia with Niki Lauda at the wheel.
Clearly, Montezemolo is casting himself as part of the "true Ferrari" lineage and is suggesting that the company is now a division of Marchionne's American empire.
Clearly, Montezemolo is casting himself as part of the "true Ferrari" lineage and suggesting that anything that changes for the worse after Oct. 13 is because the company is now a division of Marchionne's American empire.
In reality, everything both men said is true. Will Ferrari become less autonomous? Yes. Is Marchionne going to start making Chrysler minivans in Maranello? Of course not. Should the Scuderia have been more successful in recent years in F1? Absolutely. The team spends gobs of money and fields two of the most talented drivers in the sport. But rule changes – especially F1's move to new V6 turbo engines – have been hard on Ferrari. Still, teams go through slumps. Montezemolo wasn't the problem.
No, the real problem is Montezemolo held firm that Ferrari shouldn't make more cars. About 7,000 cars per year was his magic number. Marchionne, meanwhile, wants to ramp up Ferrari production to fulfill some of the pent-up demand – wait lists are notoriously long – and make more money.
History is written by the victors, and in the end, Marchionne and Montezemolo can both count this as a win. Yes, Montezemolo "resigned," but his tenure at the helm will rank him among Ferrari's greatest leaders. It's Enzo, then Montezemolo.
Marchionne will now get his way. More Ferraris, but realistically, not that many more. Marchionne knows Ferrari's value comes from its almost mythical status, and he won't compromise that. The road-car business will be fine. And if he can get the Scuderia back to its familiar position at the front of the F1 grid, Italians won't care where the stock is registered.
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