Does Ferrari Need Formula 1 More Than F1 Needs the Scuderia?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 08:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari drives on his way to finishing second during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at Autodromo di Monza on September 8, 2013 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Formula One without Ferrari would be like Major League Baseball without the New York Yankees or the English Premier League without Manchester United. Ferrari is the sport's most prestigious team, having won the most races and championships, by far.

Since 1950, the inaugural season of the F1 World Championship, Ferrari has used its privileged status to exact concessions from the sport's organisers. (And it really has happened since 1950—the Ferrari team did not show up for the first championship race in a dispute over the start money, according to James Allen.)

Generally, the FIA (the sport's governing body) and F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone have fallen over themselves to placate the Maranello-based team.

But are those compromises necessary? What if we flipped the proposition: What would Ferrari be like without F1?

JEAN-CLAUDE ERNST/Associated Press

Sure, the Italian company would still make and sell fancy, exceedingly expensive sports cars. It would not, however, possess the allure and stature that comes from more than 60 years of success at the pinnacle of motorsport.

In 1977, founder Enzo Ferrari told Car's Keith Botsford, "The racing cars are our most effective way of making the Ferrari way known, and selling what we produce." The company is built to race.

And, without its F1 triumphs, Ferrari would probably not be the most powerful brand in the world, as it was named by Brand Finance in 2013. 

Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari.
Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari.Associated Press

Yet there is a perpetual fear in F1, stoked by Ferrari's periodic sabre-rattling, that the Italian constructors will withdraw from the championship if this or that new regulation is not to their liking.

This fear has allowed Ferrari to build a list of benefits that its rivals are not privy to. These include a special payment from the F1 prize fund, and vetoes on Ecclestone's successor and on changes to the sport's technical regulations. 

In 2007, then-FIA president Max Mosley was asked in an interview with the official F1 website whether Ferrari was more important than the sport's other teams. Mosley responded:

Yes, firstly, because it holds a historically important position, as the team has been involved in Formula One since 1950. ... But should we find it necessary to impose our technical or sporting regulations, than Ferrari is treated like any other team. Should we find irregularities on a Ferrari—like the moveable floor after the Australian Grand Prix—it is removed and banned.

Of course, we now know that Ferrari is not treated like every other team. But Mosley's comments hint at another complaint of Ferrari's rivals: Aside from the explicit privileges accorded to the Italian team, there has often been the feeling that Ferrari has received favourable treatment at specific races or when judgements need to be made by the FIA on a particular issue.

Hamilton and Raikkonen at the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Raikkonen at the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix.Yves Logghe/Associated Press/Associated Press

A few examples: In 2006, the FIA was forced to deny allegations by Renault team principal Flavio Briatore that it was assisting Ferrari by banning an aerodynamic device on the Renault cars. Then, in 2008, similar complaints were voiced by McLaren when Lewis Hamilton retroactively lost his victory at the Belgian Grand Prix for cutting a chicane. The FIA again denied any favouritism.

Earlier this month, Ecclestone told City A.M. that the controversial new double-points rule has been introduced to help Ferrari. How the rule specifically helps Ferrari is quite beyond me, but the fact that the F1 CEO is openly trying to help one of the teams is simply ridiculous.

To go back to the original analogy, can you imagine English Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore announcing a rule change to benefit just one of the league's teams? Exactly.

Ferrari is not going anywhere. Its threats are designed to provoke a specific reaction—a particular benefit for the team. As recently as 2009, the Italian team threatened to quit over the imposition of a budget cap. The idea was scrapped at the time, but has been resurrected for 2015, so far without any Ferrari ultimatums.

However, we should still expect future bluffs from Ferrari. They have worked well for the team, so why change the strategy?

As long as F1's organisers demonstrate that they will give in to the slightest pressure from Maranello, Ferrari should continue to push for every advantage it can get. The only way it might stop is if all the other teams band together to oppose Ferrari's privileges. Unfortunately, the teams can rarely agree on what day of the week it is, let alone something important, so good luck with that.

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