One month ago, we reported that the head of Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo, was being forced out after 23 years at the helm of what may be the world’s most famous car company. Di Montezemolo was hired as Enzo Ferrrari’s personal assistant in 1974. He was appointed to head Ferrari in 1991 by then FIAT chairman Gianni Agnelli.
Lately the rumor mill has been churning overtime about di Montezemolo’s future. The famous Ferrari Formula One team, known to all as Scuderia Ferrari, has suffered through 5 dismal seasons. Even though it has 2 time World Champion Fernando Alonso as its lead driver and World Champion Kimi Raikkonen as its number two, the team has struggled mightily at the beginning of a new Formula One era that features hybrid power units. Just last Sunday, Alonso’s car failed to finish the race due to a mechanical failure and Raikkonen could do no better than 10th at Monza, the iconic race track outside Milan where Ferraris have won more times than any other manufacturer in history.
Earlier this year, di Montezemolo fired team principle Stefano Domenicali in a fit of pique after Alonso was passed on track by a Renault powered race car. Thereafter, longtime Ferrari engine boss Luca Marmorini was unceremoniously shown the door. Formula One in recent years has seen a heavy emphasis on aerodynamic performance. Enzo Ferrari once quipped that “Aero is for people who can’t build engines.” That its engine this year has been such a colossal disappointment was apparently too much to bear for FIAT boss Sergio Marchionne. And so di Montezelmolo’s head is the latest one to roll in Maranello, home to the Scuderia.
While team finances are private, it is believed Ferrari spends more than $200,000,000 a year – some say much more – on its Formula One racing program. By the end of the race at Monza, Ferrari had slipped to 4th place in the all important Constructors Championship, one place behind a Williams F1 team that operates on a third of Ferrari’s budget.
I sensed that di Montezemolo was leaving the team after the television coverage at Monza recorded a long, impassioned embrace between him and driver Alonso prior to the start of the race. I said to my wife at that moment, “That looked like a farewell hug to me.” And so it was.
Graceful in defeat, di Montezemolo had this to say at his final press conference:
“Ferrari is the most wonderful company in the world. It has been a great privilege and honor to have been its leader.”
Va bene, Luca.