Last year, NBCSN and Silent Crow Arts afforded my F1 producer Jason Swales and I an incredible opportunity, when we embarked upon the making of a television show which would become known as “The Road to Ferrari.”
After a week on the road driving a Ferrari FF from the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest to Maranello, the culmination of the experience was a rare, private audience with Luca di Montezemolo. I’ve rarely been more nervous for an interview. We had so much ground to cover and so little time. Known as a brilliant speaker, an incredible politician, and given the sheer honour of the opportunity it was one I didn’t want to ruin.
I have never seen the transcript back, until today.
All the talk in Monza had been that di Montezemolo was days away from being forced out of those large red gates at Maranello. Today, he fell on his sword as Fiat moves towards flotation and the man who has given his life to Ferrari became ever marginalised within an ever growing corporation.
With thanks to NBCSN for permission to publish the interview in full, and to Silent Crow for digging the transcript out of their archive, I hope you enjoy my full interview with one of the most incredible businessmen, politicians and sporting managers of our time…
WB: I think, although we’ve been here a day and a half… not long we’ve only just scratched the surface… I finally understand what makes Ferrari so special. But what makes it so special for you?
LdiM: Well, as you can imagine, this is a good question. That is a question that I’ve received many times in the past years, because I think it’s a key question.
Well, Ferrari’s a mix of different ingredients, different elements; very complementary of each other, but crucial to give you the idea. First of all, history. History means a car with heritage, with tradition; in competition, on the tracks. It means that these, again, are very complementary traditions. And on the other hand, looking ahead, innovation—new technology; extreme technology. You have driven the FF; that has been the first Ferrari four- wheel drive. It’s the first Ferrari with four seats, but 660 horsepower.
If you go in the other room, you see LaFerrari, the first hybrid. So it means that in this is an example of the last two years we have very innovative technology. It means competition. We are the only one in Formula One since 63 years. In the good moments, in the bad moments, all our competitors [have] been back and out and back in, out. And anyway, we are there since 63 years. It means beautiful design. I always think that Ferrari has to be, first of all, good-looking; beautiful. With innovative design, but to the classic approach. So I want a design that can survive for many years. And this is one of the many reasons of the success of so many cars in the international auctions.
It means exclusivity. I say that Ferrari is like a woman. You have to desire her. You have to wait months… years… and this is the reason why we have decided, a few months ago, I told to my people, “We have to produce less cars, to maintain the value on the used cars market.”
And last, but not least, emotional driving. All these ingredients means emotional driving. And it’s easy to say, difficult to explain, unless you drive the car and you feel something in the car; the music of the engine. I remember, very important… one of the most important… a classic music director came here. We deliver the car to him, directly to him. And he was driving the car to Salzburg in Austria, for a very important reason. I want to drive alone, this car. Because when I drive, the music of the engine is for me the inspiration, the best inspiration for my job. So, you know, these are the Ferrari ingredients.
WB: Those are the Ferrari ingredients, but what does it mean inside you, in your heart? When you think of Ferrari and the number of years you’ve been here, when you see a Ferrari road car, when you see the Scuderia win, what does it mean in your heart?
LdiM: Well, Ferrari is a part of my life. I have to say that immediately after my family, there is Ferrari. I’ve been here as a chairman since 23 years. My age is exactly the same age of the Ferrari company, because the company was born 65 years ago. I’ve been here as a young team manager of competition. And I’m looking forward to see this movie, Rush, because this is when I was here with Niki Lauda, at the time mid 70s, I was lucky enough to win– three world championships. I was the personal assistant at the beginning for Enzo Ferrari. And then team manager. So for me, in my life, Ferrari is important. It means to have a responsibility, to have a fantastic relationship with my people. I always repeat that behind the fantastic car, there are fantastic people. And I am proud when we have received the prize of The best place to work in Europe.
Because my biggest patrimony are the women and the men that work in the company. It means to be strong enough in the difficult moments. We have got difficult moments. 1993, one year after I arrived; there was the biggest work for a car market in crisis. We have got difficult moments in competition. But we have to be cold, from one side; to control your passion. But also to have the possibility, to have the capability to look ahead.
For me, my main job is to look ahead. To have what we call continuous improvement. Look at the details. The details are very, very important for us. And also I am happy enough and I thank God, because every single year, every single day, when I’m entering my office, I have motivation, ideas, and this is very, very important.
WB: You entered Ferrari as chairman at a very difficult time, as you say, it was terrible for the car market. Ferrari, in competition, was not doing so well. The car company was in difficult times. How did you turn things around to create the Ferrari of today? And how did you, as a businessman, but also as a passionate man, manage to allow your heart not to rule your head?
LdiM: That was a really, for me, one of the more difficult moments of my life. Because I came back, as chairman and CEO, after 17 years. In Formula One, 17 years means 100 years in the normal activities. [LAUGHS] And we were a little bit too much in the prison of the past, in term of organization, mentality, typology of products. I used to say, “I don’t want to do a gadget for rich people. I want to do fantastic cars that you can enjoy with, drive, emotion.” And I was very lucky to have worked for a few years with Enzo Ferrari.
And from him I took a very important lesson; to look ahead.
I didn’t want to be in the prison of the past and the prison of too much, how can I say, tradition. I want to maintain tradition, but looking ahead. So, first of all, I tried to vocalize few but important priorities.
Number one, complete innovation the way of work; organization. Second, to have a clear view of what kind of products I want. And I wanted to start to do different Ferraris for different cars complement each other, cars very innovative, cars with a lot of new technology, coming from Formula One; the gearbox, the aerodynamics, the electronics. A lot of technology.
Then to renew completely the organization in the team. We’re talking about Formula One. Because when I arrived, it was 1991. And since 1979 we hadn’t won any championship.
And Enzo Ferrari died in ’88, very sad, without a win for the last ten years. So it was important to be very vocal on the priority but on the same time, at the same time, I was worried because this doesn’t mean to solve the problem in a few months. It means medium-term.
So it was tough work, but now I’m very, very pleased. Also because Ferrari is a strong brand; Ferrari is present in 62 markets in the world. We have won a lot of championship title for drivers. Now it is time to win again. But this is the first step anyway.
We have won a lot of titles with Michael Schumacher, with Kimi Raikkonen. I want Ferrari always in the top. I want to win, but the sport is unpredictable.
WB: The future of the sport. How positive or negative are you about the future of Formula One?
LdiM: Well, Formula One is in our blood, in our D.N.A. I told you before, 63 years in Formula One. For me, Formula One, today and tomorrow, is important as an advanced research center. And this is something crucial for us. If this will not be the case, there is no reason for us to be in Formula One. Because I am in Formula One for new technology, for extreme technology.
If I see all the cars together, the same engine, or as today (2013) in which aerodynamic means 90% of competition. I don’t do satellite, I don’t do airplanes; I do cars. So aerodynamic is important. But for me is important electronic, gearbox, engine, suspension.
And today this is not the case. I hope next year (2014) something will change. Today, it is a tyres competition, it is aerodynamic competition; okay. But this is not exactly what we are looking for.
So I think that we have to push the rules that can give you the possibility to have more advanced technology for cars; not for airplanes. And second, a loyal championship. In the last years, I’ve seen something that I didn’t like, in which somebody’s cheated and in which the federation sometime was not strong enough to maintain a loyal approach to the racers. So I hope that Formula One will improve the technology research for us. Also with less cost. But less cost doesn’t mean to not have the possibility to have research and to have loyal approach of the competition.
WB: You know Jean very well…
WB: Of course. When you talk about the F.I.A. and the president, and the F.I.A. not standing for, as you said, the correct approach, why do you think Jean hasn’t done that? Because you know him. He’s a strong individual.
LdiM: I don’t think so. I think that there was something not clear what happened with the Mercedes [tyre] test. Because this is very clear. In the rules it’s written you are not allowed to test with the car of the year. So it was very clear. And I haven’t seen any strong position on this.
I’ve seen that an external tribunal asked to the F.I.A. to pay some of the cost. So if I’m in this position, I will say, “No.” I’m not in to do so. I do appeal because it means that there is something that maybe was not 100% perfect in the F.I.A. approach.
So I’m not happy for what happened. Because I think that the solution was gray; I prefer white on black. And that case was very clear, in which it’s impossible to have gray because the rules are very clear. And I expect far more decision from F.I.A. Having said that, Todt is a person that knows and is a loyal person. He’s a hard worker, and he’s a person that knows very well Formula One.
And I expect and I’m looking for a strong F.I.A. in which we share, as I’m sure we will do, as we have already done, more possibility to test. Because Formula One is the only one professional sport in which you are not allowed to exercise, like in the tennis, in the soccer, in the basketball… everywhere. You are not allowed to give the possibility to young driver to be familiar with Formula One.
This could be very important for the future. And also testing means promotion, means the possibility to do events for us, for sponsor, for everything.
And Todt… I think, I trust him at the end. Even if I didn’t, I was not happy for what happened. And I’m sure that in the future we will have a more clear approach in these matters.
WB: From a commercial perspective… CVC, Bernie Ecclestone, the relationship will not last forever. We know this. Bernie won’t be around forever. What do you see in the future without Bernie? Because there was talk that you might have taken over at some point. But now CVC says it’s going to be somebody from outside motorsport.
Motorsport’s a very intricate world. Do you think somebody from outside can ever truly feel… or can ever truly be loyal and understand the sport?
LdiM: I think that, as in every business in every sport, when a very important cycle would finish, and this would be, for me, here. For Bernie, in Formula One. I hope I can arrive at the same his age (LAUGH) in some good condition.
I think you have to change completely the page. I think that Formula One has unbelievable potential all over the world. But I think that you need to approach Formula One even in a far [more] modern way in the future, in term of many things.
WB: Talk to me about the emotion of Monza.
LdiM: The great moment of my life was in 1975, September, when after 12 years [without a title] I was a young team manager. I was responsible of the team. We won the race in Monza with Clay Regazzoni, and Niki… Niki Lauda arrived third, and he became automatically, in Monza, the champion of the world, after 12 years. That was, for me, unbelievable emotion.
If I remember… now, I’ve got emotion.
Monza is history. Monza is Italian crowd. Monza is passion. Monza is, for us, big pressure and big (LAUGH) responsibility. Since now I already started to tell my people, “Listen, you have to prepare Monza in the proper way. We have to be concentrated.” And Monza, the atmosphere is unique. This is the reason why, when we talk about the future Formula One we have to protect something important; that is history.
I’m in favor to race in Korea, in India, but I don’t want to lose Monza. I don’t want to lose Spa. I don’t want to lose fantastic tracks like Interlagos, in Brazil. We have to maintain something important. And I’m looking for one more race in United States, because this is important. The last year in Austin was a very good success.
WB: I’ve got to wrap it up now, I’ve been told. But I just want to ask one final question.
There’s always talk that you’re going to go into Italian politics, (LAUGH) and– and one day leave Ferrari. Would you ever leave this company, knowing, I guess, in one way, you have a 100% approval rating, when you are chairman of Ferrari. And in politics you’ll never have a 100% approval rating.
LdiM: You [want to] know the answer?
Thank you very much, [but] no. (LAUGHTER)
And yet today, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, did just that. He left the company he said he never would. The company which just three days ago he had pledged his future to. He had dedicated his life to Ferrari, to the men and women employed at Maranello, to the racing exploits of the Scuderia and to the millions of tifosi around the world.
In reading back through the transcript of an interview I have not seen or heard in over a year, it is interesting that some of the very reasons we believe he has reached an impasse with the FCA bosses seem to be included within the answers he gave me that August afternoon.
Yet also in clear evidence is that passion. And whatever Sergio Marchionne brings to the table, it is that passion that will be almost impossible to replicate.
“His leaving is for me the same as Mr Enzo dying.” Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters today. “He has become Ferrari. You see him, you see Ferrari. You don’t see anything else. You don’t see Luca.”
“Road to Ferrari” is next re-broadcast on NBCSN on November 6 at 7pm Eastern