Why Ferrari is Formula One
One month on, and it appears to be all over. Ferrari won. In the war of the brands, it was no contest. And, in the end, it was Bernie Ecclestone who saw the writing on the wall for F1, too.
After a Paris breakfast with Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo on Wednesday, he told FIA president Max Mosley it was over. No more crusades, no more rows over rules and no more daft outbursts. Ecclestone had to save the F1 brand, protect the investment of CVC Capital and his own interests, and make sure his old friend and ally knew what to expect: Game Over, Max.
Even if Mosley is now threatening to stay in his post after being angered by some team comments to the press, really, we should have all seen his exit coming.
This is what Ferrari wrote on their own website on Monday: “Maranello, 22nd June 2009 – The British magazine SportsPro published a list of the world’s 200 most valuable sports properties. The Team Ferrari is the highest ranked European team property, place seven overall, behind the big US-American organisations such as NFL, MLB and NBA. Ferrari is followed by Manchester United Football Club and Formula 1. The classification has been set up using various factors such as the balance, the brand name’s prestige and other factors.”
And this is what they announced on Wednesday: “Maranello, 24th June 2009 – Today the FIA World Council accepted the proposals formulated by FOTA for the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship. A Championship, which will be held, as suggested by FOTA, in the spirit of sporting and technological competition, with clear and fixed rules and transparent governance, handled by the F1 Commission.
The objective is to avoid continual changes decided on by one person alone and to gradually reduce costs, to get back to levels of spending similar to those of the early Nineties within the next two years. The FOTA teams constantly promoted these objectives in the interests of motorsport and all its protagonists, first and foremost the fans.”
Oh dear. Oh dear. I just can’t stop laughing. The smoke and mirrors have left me feeling gassed and deluded. Funny, isn’t it, how the word MONEY is absent everywhere? And what’s that word scrawled on the mirrors in scarlet lipstick? Ah..yes: Déjà vu.
In all of this mess, there were echoes of 1980-81. Then, Ecclestone was the rebels’ leader. His organisation, the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA), was fighting an autocratic French leader of the ruling body, then known as the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA).
His name was Jean-Marie Balestre and, believe it or not, he was just as controversial and extraordinary as his successor in his heyday.
In early January 1981, Ecclestone announced the creation of the World Federation of Motor Sport and a new championship series. Who was Ecclestone’s intellectual lawyer sidekick in those days? Yes, the rebels’ brainbox, Mosley.
Their ploy forced Balestre to concede ground (he wanted to keep total control of F1) and negotiate with the upstarts. A few weeks later, on January 19 1981, a news conference was held to announce a peace settlement. No breakaway, no more splits and wars.
Instead, following 13 hours of talks in Paris, they created the first Concorde Agreement in which, effectively, FISA was given control of the sport’s rules and administration and FOCA took over all the commercial rights, including television deals, the calendar, promotions and sponsorship, plus the distribution of the revenue. It was the start of Bernie’s empire.
And where was this major announcement made? Ah, not in Paris… No. Instead, a very rare news conference took place at the Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, Italy, where the secretive Enzo Ferrari, he of the dark glasses, sat centrally flanked by Ecclestone and Balestre. Such symbolism, even in those distant old days, told its own story.
Many years later, Ecclestone told me that the deal was not done through all the talks in the FISA offices at the Place de La Concorde, in Paris, or during weeks of long negotiations.
It was done in one night… “It was a shady nightclub… where we met the head of Philip Morris (the company that owned Marlboro cigarettes), Jean-Marie and myself. He (Balestre) was enjoying all the publicity so much we agreed the deal and then kept it quiet for a while. Nobody knew.”
Which proves what?
It proves that, in the end, Ferrari is integral and all-powerful in Formula One and Ecclestone, even 28 years later, remains the supreme deal-maker.
The only things to have changed are that Ecclestone does his deals in daylight hours and, presumably, sleeps at night. And Enzo Ferrari has been succeeded by an equally-astute political manipulator in Montezemolo. The power rests in Italy with F1’s greatest brand, just as Ecclestone has always known. Ferrari, as many say, is Formula One.
Tim Collings is a freelance journalist and author with long experience covering most major sports and with a number of books on Formula One and football to his name. The views expressed in this blog are his own and not of Reuters.
PHOTO: International Automobile Federation (FIA) President Max Mosley (C), Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo (R) and Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone attend a meeting in Paris June 24, 2009. REUTERS/Gareth Watkins