Luca Di Montezemolo has a lot to smile about these days. It is almost certain that the 61-year-old Italian businessman and president of Ferrari probably flashes his pearly-whites at just about everyone.
And why not?
Since taking over at Ferrari in 1991, Di Montezemolo has not only revitalized the struggling company's road car endeavors, but also returned it to its once fabled position as the juggernaut of Formula One. With a personal net worth exceeding $400M, his accomplishments speak for themselves, and it's not going to stop any time soon.
He is particularly noteworthy when one considers that it is ultimately his word that dictates who slides behind the wheel of either of his multimillion dollar F2008 Formula One cars.
His word, thus far, has dictated that Finnish phenom Kimi Raikkonen pilot the first of the Italian squad's craft. Fresh from McLaren, the Finn's maiden season with the Scuderia in 2007 produced not only the WDC (World Drivers Championship) but the WCC (World Constructors Championship) as well.
The appropriately named Iceman delivered an unbelievable underdog performance in the second half of the season to drag the two McLaren-Mercedes of rookie Lewis Hamilton and then-reigning and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso all the way to the final race in Brazil.
When the smoke cleared Raikkonen stood victorious and proved what he and others had said all along: he always had the talent, he just needed the car.
Brazilian sensation Felipe Massa occupies the second F2008 cockpit, and after putting in his own strong bid for the 2007 WDC was content to play Robin to Raikkonen's Batman.
In doing so he enabled Raikkonen to win at the season-ending finale at Sao Paulo. The duo did it in grand style, completely dominating the competition.
Immediately following the race both were offered extensions to already impressive contracts: Massa through 2010, Raikkonen through 2009.
But it's lonely at the top, and being at the top of Formula One is no different.
During the offseason, Fernando Alonso, double world champion and the wayward son of Renault, returned to the French squad amidst rumors of a contractual caveat that would allow him to leave Renault at the end of 2008.
Media outlets, Alonso fan boys, and even Fernando himself all fueled the fire that he would join the Scuderia for the 2009 season. At the same time Kimi Raikkonen announced his hopes that Ferrari would be his last team in Formula One.
The beginning of the 2008 season saw a continuation of the Alonso-at-Ferrari rumor despite Di Montezemolo politely acknowledging that, while Fernando was a great driver, he wasn't exactly Ferrari material.
Nonetheless, the rumors persisted. For those who insist it's going to happen, here's a brief rundown on why it's not going to happen:
- Both Raikkonen and Felipe have already proved themselves worthy drivers behind the wheel of a Ferrari Formula One car. If you doubt that, I encourage disbelievers to take a gander at the three-way tie in the Drivers Championship. How many McLaren-Mercedes are there? Ferraris? Of the front-running teams, Ferrari is the only one to have both drivers in heavy contention.
- Raikkonen's contract with Ferrari does not end until the end of the 2009 season.
- Massa's contract with Ferrari does not end until the end of the 2010 season.
- Fernando Alonso has proved time and again that he is not a team player, a trait that landed Massa his contract extension following last year's season finale in his home race.
- Fernando Alonso teamed with rookie Lewis Hamilton. The result was epic failure. Pairing Alonso with either Raikkonen or Massa will produce different results? Unlikely.
- Di Montezemolo has already flatly denied any interest in Fernando Alonso. Instead, the apple of Ferrari's eye appears to be young Sebastian Vettel.
- Kimi Raikkonen has already plainly stated that while he will probably retire soon, his contract does not expire until the end of the 2009 season.
The 2008 season has been full of surprises and idle chit-chat.
Who would have guessed that Felipe Massa, anything but perfect at the season opener, would be tied for first place following the mid-season Silverstone race?
Who, also, would have wagered a guess that both Ferrari drivers would be tied for first at the same point?
And so it is that we enter the second half of the 2008 season with Ferrari holding a commanding lead in the WCC and both drivers gunning for that all-important WDC.
Could we see a repeat of the 2007 second half? Will Raikkonen and Massa once again paint the town (Ferrari) red?
That is a pair of questions that even Luca Di Montezemolo would be hard-pressed to answer, but one thing is abundantly clear: he has plenty to smile about.
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