Precious little time remains for the new Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto to grasp the reins of his singularly demanding prancing horse. Having been chosen to replace Maurizio Arrivabene on Monday, it is just five weeks before Formula One hits the ground running at the first test in Barcelona.
Nor is that his only concern, he takes on the most high-profile management role in the sport, under intense scrutiny and demanding the greatest results. A task compounded by inheriting a Scuderia that has been unruly, skittish and left once more licking its wounds after defeat last season. Yet Ferrari’s decision to go with Binotto was positive and bold, perhaps it is the best they have made in recent years.
Arrivabene’s dismissal in favour of Binotto represents a new start for the team and one it seems that will be roundly welcomed. Arrivabene has been in charge since 2014, he was the third team principal since Jean Todt stepped down at the end of 2007, since which they have won the constructors championship only once, in 2008.
Arrivabene’s background was as a marketing executive with tobacco company Philip Morris, dealing closely with the team through their long commercial relationship. He was not a racer but knew the F1 world and was expected to be able to manage it well. His removal reflects failure in that regard as his team proved unable to really challenge Mercedes for the past two seasons despite largely having the car to do so.
He brought a bunker mentality to the team, seen most clearly in a reluctance to deal with the media and an often combative and aggressive or incommunicative style when forced to do so by FIA requirements to attend press conferences. The atmosphere in the team reportedly reflected this in an intimidatory, critical culture, intensified by the pressure they were under. Sebastian Vettel made several costly mistakes in 2018 but that he was unhappy with some team decisions, albeit behind closed doors, was clear and just how well he was being handled must be questioned.
The Japanese Grand Prix last year could not have illustrated the contrast with the all-conquering Mercedes better. Their team principal, Toto Wolff, who engages with the media with remarkable openness, spoke honestly on the care with which he had to manage Lewis Hamilton and how his team had pulled together to turn their season around. After a difficult weekend at Spa he revealed he had sent a message to his staff urging them on to greater efforts, stressing teamwork in “analysis, mindset, work ethic, and fun”. By Suzuka it had made the difference and they were firmly ahead.
Ferrari had already made team order errors in Germany and Italy and after a poor strategy call on tyres in qualifying in Japan cost the team, Arrivabene turned on his own. “What happened today is unacceptable,” he said. “I am very angry. It is not the first time that these mistakes have occurred. I do not feel like pointing my fingers at someone in particular, but I’m very disappointed.” Finger pointing it seems is almost certain to have occurred in private but regardless such vituperative statements could not be further from Wolff and Mercedes’s philosophy.
After Hamilton had taken pole for the race, Wolff was emphatic about one of the reasons behind their continued success that now stretches to five consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships. “What we’ve tried to establish is a safe environment which is easier said than done,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure, but we are trying to channel it in a positive way.”
The culture they have established is inarguably working. Binotto has the pedigree to instil a similar atmosphere within Ferrari. The 49-year-old has a firm background in engineering and even more importantly with Ferrari. He joined the team in 1995 and has since gone through the ranks in a variety of roles. Put in charge of the power unit after a disastrous season in 2014 his management was crucial in improving its performance – such that it is now arguably the best on the grid – and beginning the Scuderia’s return to challenge for the title. He took over as chief technical officer, the head of car design in 2016 and for the past two years Ferrari have been resurgent.
In both key areas, engine and design, he has proved able to manage teams cohesively and successfully. He has placed trust in his staff, allowing them to think creatively, while ensuring they work collectively for common goals. This positive approach has paid great dividends, there is every reason to believe similar can only benefit the team as a whole.
Ferrari, as with any team, is a complex construction of individuals, that needs to be finely tuned. Management and motivation can be every bit as important as any inspirational drive or design. Where Arrivabene proved unable to coerce his team into success, Binotto, a racer in the Ross Brawn mould, has the credentials to build a Scuderia that dances to a much more harmonious tune.
McLaren appoint Seidl
McLaren have hired Andreas Seidl as the new boss of their Formula One operation in a bid to revive the British team’s waning fortunes. Seidl, who has worked in F1 for BMW and more recently as team principal for Porsche in the World Endurance Championship, is one of a number of senior changes by the team in recent times.
Seidl joins McLaren as managing director and becomes the face of their F1 operation. He will report to American chief executive, Zak Brown. It is unclear, however, if Seidl will be in place for the season-opener in Melbourne on 17 March, as McLaren have not reached an agreement with Porsche on his start date. McLaren, Britain’s most successful F1 team, have failed to win a race in more than six years, and are in the midst of the worst run in their long history. PA