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Luca Di Montezemolo's Departure Is Good News for Ferrari

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2014

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 06:  Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo is seen in the paddock before the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 6, 2014 in Sakhir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Luca di Montezemolo has announced he will leave his position as President of Ferrari, bringing to an end weeks of speculation over his future.

In a statement on the team website, Montezemolo said:

Ferrari will have an important role to play within the FCA [Fiat Chrysler Automobiles] Group in the upcoming flotation on Wall Street. This will open up a new and different phase which I feel should be spearheaded by the CEO of the Group.

This is the end of an era and so I have decided to leave my position as Chairman after almost 23 marvellous and unforgettable years in addition to those spent at Enzo Ferrari’s side in the 1970s.

As indicated in the statement, his replacement as chief of company will be Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of the FCA Group. 

During Montezemolo's reign, the team rose from the doldrums to dominate Formula One. Michael Schumacher won five world championships with the team as they swept all before them in the early years of the millennium.

But that was a long time ago, and things have changed.

Montezemolo remained in charge as Ferrari returned to the ranks of the also-rans, failing for six consecutive years to produce a title-worthy car.

Even considering all he did for the teamand the Ferrari company as a wholehis departure was long overdue.

Montezemolo (left) early in his second spell in charge of Ferrari.
Montezemolo (left) early in his second spell in charge of Ferrari.LUCA BRUNO/Associated Press/Associated Press

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo (the English-speaking media tends to drop the Cordero from his surname for the sake of brevity) was born into an aristocratic Italian family in 1947. His father was a Marquis, as is Luca, but titles of nobility lost their legal status in Italy in 1948.

They didn't lose their usefulness, though.

His well-heeled family had ties to the founders and owners of Fiatthe Agnellis. Luca's father Massimo was a close friend of Gianni Agnelli, the grandson of company founder Giovanni.

Gianni became president of Fiat in 1966, and three years later oversaw the purchase of a substantial stake in Ferrari.

In 1973, Montezemolo returned to Italy from the United States. Per ESPN, his family connections helped him into his first role within the Fiat family, working at Ferrari.

But while his name opened the door, it didn't do his job for him. Montezemolo quickly proved himself to Enzo Ferrari, and after just a year working for the company he was placed in charge of the F1 team.

Glory for Niki Lauda in Montezemolo's first spell in charge.
Glory for Niki Lauda in Montezemolo's first spell in charge.TROVATTI/Associated Press/Associated Press

World titles for Niki Lauda followed in 1975 and 1977, and Montezemolo was promoted into the higher echelons of Fiat.

It seemed he had left Ferrari and F1 behind. During the 1980s he occupied a number of positions within Fiat and worked on a wide variety of projects. But while Montezemolo was gone, the jewel in Fiat's crownFerraribegan to struggle both on and off the track.

On the F1 side, Ferrari had not won the drivers' championship since 1979. Williams and McLaren had emerged as the dominant forces, leaving the Scuderia to pick over their scraps.

The road-car business was doing even worse. Unprofitable and inefficient, Business Week reported it came close to bankruptcy towards the end of the 1980s.

The death of Enzo Ferrari in 1988 could have been the beginning of the end, but Gianni Agnellistill president of Fiat, which still owned a large slice of Ferrarihad other ideas.

Montezemolo with Gianni Agnelli, 1994.
Montezemolo with Gianni Agnelli, 1994.LUCA BRUNO/Associated Press

He turned to an old hand from the past, and in 1991 Montezemolo was appointed as president of Ferrari. His task was twofoldrebuild the flagging road-car business, and return the F1 team to winning ways.

The changes he made took time to bear fruit. By the end of 1995, Ferrari had won just two races under Montezemolo's leadership.

But in 1993, he had brought in Jean Todt to run the F1 team. Together, Todt and Montezemolo convinced Michael Schumacher to come to Ferrari for 1996, then added the remaining pieces of the "dream team"technical director Ross Brawn and aerodynamicist Rory Byrne.

In 1996, the team won three races. In 1997, Schumacher took the title fight to the final race of the year. He went close again in 1998, but 1999 was the watershed moment.

Ferrari's dream team celebrating one of many 2002 victories.
Ferrari's dream team celebrating one of many 2002 victories.CHRISTIAN LUTZ/Associated Press

For the first time in over 15 years, Ferrari had built arguably the best car on the grid. Schumacher would surely have been champion had he not broken his legs in a horrific Silverstone crash; team-mate Eddie Irvine took up his mantle.

The Ulsterman couldn't quite wrench the drivers title from McLaren's Mika Hakkinen, but he led Ferrari to their first constructors' championship since 1983. It was the start of a period of dominance unmatched in F1 history.

Ferrari won five drivers' and five constructors' championships between 2000 and 2004. Ferraris won 57 of the 85 races in these five years, scoring 23 one-two finishes.

Only four races in this period had a Ferrari-free podium.

Four men are usually credited as the driving force behind this incredible eraSchumacher, Todt, Brawn and Byrne. But the input of Montezemolo, from his perch overseeing the entire operation, cannot be ignored or overstated.

It wasn't among those inside Ferrari. For dragging the team from the midfield to the summit of the F1 mountain, Montezemolo was rewarded in 2004 with the Chairmanship of Fiat.

But all fairytales have an ending, and not all of them are happy.

Times are tougher at Ferrari these days.
Times are tougher at Ferrari these days.Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

After five years of dominance, Ferrari were beaten to the titles by Renault in 2005 and 2006. Schumacher retired at the end of 2006, Brawn departed as well and Todt went a year later.

With so many senior figures going elsewhere, Montezemolo's influence within the team grew.

At first, everything went smoothly. Kimi Raikkonen brought glory back to Ferrari in 2007, and though Lewis Hamilton claimed the crown the following year, the Ferrari was the best car on the grid.

But sweeping changes to the regulations for 2009, coupled with drastic reductions in testing allowances, saw Ferrari lose their way.

Slow to react and reluctant to embrace the advanced simulator and wind tunnel technologies of their rivals, the Scuderia have not produced a championship-worthy car since 2008.

In response, scapegoat after scapegoat has been sacrificed on the Maranello altar. Designer Aldo Costa departed in 2011, team principal Stefano Domenicali left in April this year and engine chief Luca Marmorini's head rolled in July.

But perhaps the axe should have been aimed a little higher.

Speaking early in August to Italian journalist Leo Turrini, Costanow of Mercedes, where he helped create the all-conquering W05spoke of his experiences at Ferrari. He said (h/t ESPN for the English translation):

Strategic mistakes were madeI'm talking here about errors of visionvery serious ones.

I'll give you an example: In 2008 we in the racing department put in a request to construct a new wind tunnel. We considered it essential to remain competitive. We were told that this was not the case and that there was no need.

In Ferrari all the decisions, on strategy and people, have always been taken by the president, Montezemolo. To be fair, he took them when Ferrari was winning everything and he also took them when Ferrari stopped winning.

Montezemolo deserved to receive credit when Ferrari were sweeping all before them. By the same token, blame must also fall upon his shoulders for the team's recent slump.

And a general can only throw so many foot soldiers onto his enemies' swords before he has to face the music himself.

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Along with Todt, Brawn, Byrne and Schumacher, Montezemolo formed part of one of F1's most formidable teams.

He also transformed Ferrari's road-car business. Per Business Week, sales in 1993 were just 2,289; in 2012, Ferrari announced 7,318 cars were delivered.

And in 2013, the BBC reported Ferrari's profits had hit $363 million. In 1995, they were a paltry $2 million.

But nothing lasts forever. While Montezemolo's business acumen is undimmed, his methods and decision-making style were no longer suited to the ever-evolving landscape of F1.

His presence, overseeing all the Scuderia's operations from on high like an omniscient, omnipotent, axe-wielding hawk, had become suffocating for those under his command.

He'll go down in Ferrari folklore as a legend of the past.

But it's right that other men be given the opportunity to create a brighter future.

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