Fiat chairman Umberto Agnelli died of cancer yesterday, a year and a half after his brother Gianni succumbed to the same illness. After Gianni died in January 2003, Umberto took over Fiat, which owns Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, along with Chief Executive Giuseppe Morchio. Umberto's illness was announced by the company only three weeks ago.

With the news, it was a difficult day for Ferrari as the team prepared for the European Grand Prix. "This is no ordinary day as the tragic death of Umberto Agnelli has touched us deeply," said team principal Jean Todt. "This morning the whole team got together to ensure we could focus on doing the best job possible, but naturally our thoughts were with the Agnelli family."

Michael Schumacher added: "I was shocked this morning to hear of the death of Umberto Agnelli. Our thoughts are with his family, especially his son Andrea. I have so many memories of Mr. Agnelli, who always supported us and with whom I spent many happy times."

Teammate Rubens Barrichello said: "Over the years I have been with Ferrari, I have come to know the Agnelli family and I have a good friend in Andrea. News of the death of his father hit me hard, so at this difficult time my thoughts are with Andrea and his family."

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo mourned the loss of a friend. "With the passing of Umberto Agnelli I have lost a great friend, someone with whom, for over thirty years, I shared both pleasant and difficult moments of my life," he said. "He was always there to support me. He always valued the family and had a great sense of what was just."

"He was inspirational in the work field and was not afraid of making courageous choices. He had the strength of character to cope with immense family trauma and did not hold back when he had to be there in person for FIAT. I am happy for the sporting, football and motoring satisfaction that we shared over the years. I would like to thank him, also on behalf of everyone at Ferrari, for the support he always gave us. I will really miss him."

Italy's Deputy Finance Minister Mario Baldassarri told Reuters: "It's the end of an era, but I don't think this will have any impact on Fiat. Still, with the passing of Gianni, and now Umberto, for the first time in over a century there is no longer a central point of reference."