The biggest poisoned chalice in modern day Formula One has to be the role as team principal at the iconic Ferrari team. Maranello is steeped in Formula One history though as each year comes and goes, the memories of Ferrari success fade just a little more.
Kimi Raikkonen was the red team’s last world champion back in the year Lewis Hamilton joined F1 as a rookie in 2008 and Ferrari was most recently constructors’ champions the following year under the guidance of newly appointed Jean Todt successor, Stefano Domenicali.
Ferrari success elusive
The last 15 years without a title has been Ferrari’s second longest drought in its 74 year Formula One history. The previous period where the annual trophy cabinet in Maranello was bare stretched from the constructors’ title of 1983 won by Patrick Tambay and Rene Arnoux and the beginning of the Schumacher years in 1999.
Yet through all the dark times, the lure of Ferrari in Formula One was inescapable for drivers and engineers alike.
Back in the day the Ferrari Formula One team was always led by an Italian and the makeup of the workforce in Maranello would be almost 100% Italian.
Thirty years since last rebuild
It required the foresight of Ferrari president Luca de Montezemolo to break this ‘cartel’ mentality in the early 1990’s by appointing Frenchman Jean Todt as team principal. He in turn recruited Ross Brawn and South African design wizard Rory Burn to Maranello and the dream team eventually completed six consecutive constructor titles (1999-2005) and five drivers’ championships for Michael Schumacher (2000-2005).
However, over the past quarter of a century, the heartland of England has become the location for the most successful modern Formula One teams. McLaren, Red Bull Racing, Mercedes and Aston Martin are all within 75 kilometres of each other and of course together with the other three English based teams they have formed F1’s version of silicon valley.
The exponential growth in team personnel from the Schumacher days means the ‘regular’ team staff build their family lives around their work base and no longer is F1 the domain of footloose and fancy free globe trotting mechanics.
Ferrari brain drain begins
Hence its more difficult for the likes of Swiss based Sauber and the two Italian teams to prise personnel away from their homes in the English shires.
Its no secret that Ferrari is once again in turmoil. The team has created a reasonable F1 car on a par with the other second tier outfits but is struggling to recruit and retain staff for its Formula One project.
Following the exit of team boss Mattia Binotto his replacement Fred Vasseur has had a large pile of resignation letters to wade through.
After a decade with the Italian squad Ferrari’s head of vehicle concept, David Sanchez, decided in March he was quitting to return to McLaren.
More and more senior personnel leave
Iñaki Rueda, last year’s strategy chief, is also rumoured to be exploring his options elsewhere along with Gino Rosato and Jonathan Giacobazzi.
Then in the week prior to the Azaerbaijan GP Alpha Tauri announced they had poached Ferrari’s sporting director Laurent Mekies to replace the retiring team principal Franz Tost.
The revolving door in Maranello appears to contain staff moving in one direction only and that is the way marked “out.”
An irritated Fred Vasseur felt the Alpha Tauri announcement had been over “agressive” because Ferrari have not yet discussed the terms of Mekies exit.
Ferrari “recruiting massively”
Yet the Ferrari team boss did reveal, “We are recruiting massively — that we are not communicating but we are recruiting massively — and we will do step by step.”
“You know perfectly the system of recruitment in F1, it’s quite long and painful but we are working on it.”
Yet today Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport reports on how Ferrari failed to close a deal with one of Red Bull Racing’s most high profile designers who since joined Aston Martin instead.
“The negotiation was at an advanced stage, there was already an agreement in principle,” the report states of Dan Fallows.
“But everything broke down because Ferrari did not want to meet the economic demands of the British engineer.”
Hamilton’s hopes one 10 year Ambassador deal dashed
Ferrari fail to capture Red Bull talent
Ferrari also targeted Red Bull’s head of aerodynamics, Enrico Balbo together with the team’s equivalent of Mercedes James Allison – Pierre Wache. Yet the report indicates both were disinclined to leave the UK for Italy.
The author blames the repeated sackings at the top of Ferrari for the team being a less attractive option for the best F1 engineers.
“The many earthquakes at the top that the team has experienced during the last few managements do not reassure those who have to move there.”
Instead Ferrari a reduced to recruiting only, “mid-level figures”.
The loss of David Sanchez` means the task of designing and building the 2024 Ferrari F1 challenger will fall to Enrico Cardile (chassis), Diego Tondi (aerodynamics), Enrico Gualtieri (power unit) and Fabio Montecchi (chief designer).
It appears these will also be the brains behind what will be Ferrari F1’s big new project coming for 2026.
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What on earth were they thinking when they let Binotto leave after he had delivered them a car that was capable of challenging for the championship if it had not been for some dreadful strategy calls.