Some of my colleagues in the Formula 1 media have been less than kind about Maurizio Arrivabene, the departing head of Gestione Sportiva at Ferrari…
Arrivabene is a very shy man and was reserved as a result. But his friends, of whom I am not one, say that he is a much better leader than perhaps he appeared to be. I can understand that because you do not get to be as high up in a company such as Philip Morris without having some very special qualifications for the job. These are very clever people and should never be underestimated.
The way I see it, Arrivabene has been removed from his role before he can really make much of an impact. That may sound absurd given that he was appointed to his position in November 2014, However, it is a bit more complicated than that. Arrivabene had to tread very carefully because there were constant political battles going on and then he was under the orders of Sergio Marchionne, a man who allowed him no real room for manoeuvre.
It was not Arrivabene who imposed what amounted to a ban on talking to the media (which is why they were upset) but rather Marchionne. After Marchionne's death in July, that policy was reversed although by then Arrivabene, not surprisingly, was very wary of the press as there were constantly reports that were simply not true. People in Formula 1 assumed that Arrivabene was an idiot, which is simply not true.
Perhaps, for some, the problem was that his grasp of English was not very good and while he tried hard to articulate his beliefs, these thoughts rarely came across well.
One of the most important keys to success in Formula 1 is stability and Ferrari has once again upset the apple cart, in the hope that Mattia Binotto is the answer. Perhaps he is, but it is going to be a struggle whatever happens.
Ferrari has not won a World Championship since Kimi's lucky title in 2007. Since then the team has been runner up on four occasions and third on a further four occasions. In the same period it has won 26 races, but has been beaten first by Red Bull and most recently by Mercedes. Perhaps last year the team should have won the title but it was inconsistent and Sebastian Vettel was very disappointing, as he kept making mistake after mistake.
Arrivabene did the right thing and said that it was his fault that the team had not won. As team principal, his job is to protect the team and allow it to act without fear of whatever the media is reporting. If the truth be told, the World Championship was fundamentally lost by Sebastian Vettel's errors. Arrivabene might have said that, but he didn't. He wanted Vettel to feel less under pressure and then he would (in theory at least) make fewer mistakes. Yes, Ferrari also made mistakes but so too did Mercedes and the deciding factor, as far as I am concerned last year was that Vettel messed up.
Having said that, I am impressed by what Binotto has done on the technical side since he was put in charge in the middle of 2016 when James Allison departed, chased out of the team by Marchionne because he was unwilling to focus on the team 110 percent after the death of his wife and the need to spend more time with his children. From a human point of view, I feel for Allison, but Marchionne did not seem to care. I hear that Arrivabene was much more of a human being and that perhaps without Marchionne things would have been different. But Marchionne did not let humanity get in the way of getting the job done. If Allison could not give 100 percent then he should not be where he was. It was as simple as that. In the circumstances, Allison was probably better off out of it…
What Ferrari needs more than anything is an atmosphere in which people can work without fear of losing their jobs, where one can have an opinion about what is wrong without fear of being fired for saying the wrong thing. A blame culture is the biggest hindrance to success in F1. Ferrari has long suffered from this, with the team forever being focussed on what is written in the Italian media from one day to the next, rather than on getting the job done and taking the risks that one needs to take to make it to the very top in the sport.
Ferrari has now had four team principals in less than five years, which is perhaps something that the team owners need to think about in the future. In the same period, Mercedes has been run by the same person, Toto Wolff, who joined the team in January 2013. There is a lesson in that…