The news has been officially confirmed on Monday, but it comes as no surprise that team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has been relieved of his Ferrari duties ahead of the 2019 Formula 1 season. In March last year, after the Italian side had lured senior FIA engineer Laurent Mekies to join the fold and with CEO Sergio Marchionne preparing to step down from his Fiat Chrysler Alliance duties to devote himself fully to overseeing the team’s commercial and political matters.
However, what no one could foresee, of course, was the tragic and unforeseen loss of Sergio Marchionne in July last year. But the subsequent arrival of Louis C Camilleri – a former long-time colleague of Arrivabene’s at Marlboro owner Philip Morris – did not grant Arrivabene a long-term reprieve. This is likely because the Maltese’s interim CEO position is under threat, if our high-placed Italian sources, who believe Camilleri is unlikely to survive, are correct.
It has been widely reported that Maurizio Arrivabene’s departure was simply part of Sergio Marchionne’s master plan, albeit now executed by John Elkann, the chairman Ferrari/FCA’s owner Exor, with a total asset base of $24bn. In much the same way, Charles Leclerc’s arrival in place of Kimi Räikkönen and the elevation of Mattia Binotto formed part of the uncompromising Italo-Canadian’s grand strategy for Maranello. Some have also linked Arrivabene’s downfall to his oft-gruff manner and unfriendliness towards the media, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Marchionne encouraged, indeed dictated, such a style. After all had there been issues with Arrivabene’s modus operandi then Marchionne, a long-time Philip Morris board member who had known the Italian for two decades, would surely not have appointed him, or demanded change.
Arrivabene’s departure, albeit within the timeframe envisaged by Marchionne, remains highly significant for it leaves Ferrari without a heavyweight to fight its corner in the upcoming negotiations with Liberty over F1’s post-2020 landscape. This is crucial for the Scuderia, as it stands to lose the most from the planned introduction of a budget cap, equitable distribution of revenues and a participatory regulatory structure which does not include Ferrari holding veto powers.
Without Maurizio Arrivabene, who will go in to bat for Ferrari? Louis Camilleri faces major issues on the road car side: Share prices have fallen from heights of $140 prior to Marchionne’s passing to around $100; sales downturns are forecast in China, its second-largest market; and the brand has no major model introductions slated for 2019 in segments where it faces increased competition from Lamborghini and McLaren. Therefore Camilleri is unlikely to devote much time to F1 politics. Elkann has a full plate, what with FCA’s restructure and Exor, while Binotto will surely spend the next six months – the crucial Liberty negotiating window – learning the team principal role. The Swiss is, in any event, a technician, not lawyer or accountant as was Marchionne.
Arrivabene’s exit points to fall-guy politics at Ferrari following their downturn in the final third of last season, rather than falling in line with the orderly, structured retirement planned for him by Marchionne. The short-term winner, once all the machinations have played out, is Liberty Media. The longer-term implications for Ferrari and F1 remain to be seen.