Exclusive Q&A: Arrivabene on what's really going on inside Ferrari
Maurizio Arrivabene’s arrival as team principal of the Ferrari Formula 1 team at the end of 2014 has help usher in a new era at Maranello as the company moves on under Sergio Marchionne.
Arrivabene is not a man who likes to be in the spotlight – and very much prefers to see himself as just one cog in the huge Ferrari machine that is the focus of the tifosi.
But he has a huge passion for his employers and, 18 months in to his job at Maranello, he has witnessed plenty of highs and lows as sights are firmly set on bringing the world championship trophies back to Italy.
In a first face-to-face exclusive interview for a website, Arrivabene opens up about his painful foray in to motorsport, his views on Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, and why he is convinced that Ferrari’s 2016 title campaign is not over yet.
How has your life changed in the last year and a half?
"I do not know where to start... First, after 25 years I have returned to work in Italy. The change, more than life, which was quite stressful before, was in the type of work.
"This is a world where every day you learn something new, and it takes humility. You have to know how to deal with technical challenges, as well as issues related to group dynamics – because in the end a team is made up of many people.
"We are a predominantly Italian team, with the addition of a substantial group of professionals who come from abroad.”
When you took on this assignment, Ferrari was not in a winning position. Was it easy for you to accept the role?
"Each cycle, each season, has its own story. You don't need to look back and it is not part of my way of being. I believe that in this job you should not isolate people's skills, but think about how to use their experience within a group.
"When I talk I like to say "we," I never say "I will." In this sport one man does not change things, but he can make a contribution within a team to achieve results together.”
Is the role of Ferrari team principal a job where you have to be available 24 hours without hesitation?
“It's a full-time job for all those who work at Ferrari, in all roles. There are periods in Maranello where you work three shifts or around the clock. I confirm that there are a hard core of professionals who have the Ferrari blood.
“For those who occupy my role today, being at the company in person is not necessary because technology allows you to communicate with everyone wherever they are.
"But you have to be available at all times. You have to be present at the races, but it does not mean that there are problems in Maranello related to my absence.
"Last week I was at the factory and talking to the people there – and I felt the passion that these professionals have for the work they do. They are not just employees of a company – they are cheering for Ferrari.”
And sometimes we see you cheering on the pit wall during the race…
“I'm a pretty passionate person. I should probably be colder. But I feel I represent those who are not present at the races, but work at home.
"So sometimes I react with joy, other times with anger. I think this is, however, indicative of the spirit that in 2015 got us winning again and this year continues to push us not to give up.”
In 2015, did you think it would be possible to finish the championship with three wins?
“If I look back to before the start of last season, I remember that no one believed in the possibility that we could recover so much ground – especially on the engine front.
"But our chassis builders and engine department surprised everyone. Believe me, in Maranello they know how to work.”
When did Maurizio Arrivabene fall in love with motorsport?
“The story starts with a Vespa – with a tube placed on the frame to strengthen it. To be honest, I was fond of motocross, and my friends with a bit more money all had Malaguti Roncobilaccio bikes – something which for me was a dream.
"I just had a used Vespa, and I modified it in the hope of being able to make it a motocross version. But on the first jump it broke in to two pieces!”
And on four wheels?
“Let me tell you a story. As a kid, I liked to draw Formula 1 cars. I was committed and gave vent to my passion – and who knows, maybe I could have been a designer. It was a period of Formula 1 with the side skirts, and I drew mostly Colin Chapman's Lotus cars. But of course they were red instead of black!
"A year later I had the opportunity to participate in the Paris-Dakar with Klaus Seppi – and it was a wonderful experience.”
Let's move on to the current Ferrari drivers. Is your approach to them identical or do you try to reach out to two very different personalities?
“It's a compromise. I have a very direct and honest relationship with them, and vice versa. We face each other very clearly and very bluntly. There is never a need to impose anything, we simply get on with what needs to be done. The characters are different.
“Kimi is more introverted, but in the past year and a half he has begun to talk more, and is very accurate when he provides guidance. Sebastian is open, is meticulous, and is a detail freak.
"Both are great professionals, and you can see that when things are not going well. In certain situations you could become demoralised, but we look over what happens and move on. If you find yourself at dinner, they are nice guys, smart guys, and who have to deal with many issues.
"They read a lot and have eyes that go beyond the paddock.”
When Ferrari has a driver out of contact, there is inevitable speculation about what will happen for the upcoming season. Will Kimi Raikkonen stay or not?
“I have said many times that we have two world champion drivers. Sebastian wanted to come to Ferrari – it was his aspiration as it is for many other drivers. He is focused on his work and I think he wants to stay here for a long time.
"Kimi is giving his contribution to the constructors' championship, and in the first part of the 2016 season he has done well. When the car is there for him, I do not think that he is inferior to anybody.
"But it is too early to give definitive answers for next year – we still have two thirds of the season ahead of us.”
In 2015 it seemed that you got the maximum available out of the technical package – taking advantage at every opportunity. This year, for many reasons, the impression is that you have not done that.
“Our 2016 car is a big step forward, the daughter of a completely new design. But it is also a very sensitive car, and difficult to set up, which has yet to give so much. I am sure that with the work we are doing we will demonstrate its full potential.
"It's a thoroughbred: difficult to tame, which is yet to reach out. But with some small things it can be there 100 percent.”
Last year you maintained until the end of the year a working group to keep focused on the 2015 car until the end of the season. Will you do so again, or might you decide to switch all the team's focus to 2017?
“After eight races I think it is wrong to think of the next year, leaving aside the present. We are approaching the Mercedes, and we must not miss the chance offered in this world championship.”
F1 seems a bit of a closed shop at time, with complex rules that are difficult to explain to the general public. Do you agree?
“Our president, despite his many commitments, is devoting a lot of energy to this problem, both in the Strategy Group and the F1 Commission. He makes sure that his voice his heard.
“F1's rules, both on the technical and sporting side, are like a vicious circle. The more you do, the more complicated the changes become and the more you have to change things. Not all the rules are perfect, and then you need to make corrections.
"The cars have become more complex, the rules are more difficult to explain. I totally agree that they need to be simplified, both for fans and for ourselves.”
Is it a Formula 1 that is dominated by tyres?
“I remember that even in the days when there was Bridgestone and Michelin that we talked pretty much just about the tyres. Rubber is an element that can give you a big advantage if you can exploit it perfectly, and vice versa can punish you severely.
"Today we have many options for tyres – but they often end up complicating things a little.”
When you are stopped on the street by Ferrari fans, what do they tell you?
“There are times when you think that the fans will want to give you a piece of their mind after what I read in the media. But what happens on the street is exactly the opposite. I remain astonished.
"There are people that give you a pat on the back, who encourage you, and that is something I am really glad about. It inspires me and makes me clear that our duty is to go all out for success – especially for them.”
How long do you see yourself in the role you have today?
“I start by saying that I don't like the definition of being team principal. I prefer to be known as a team manager – I think it is more reasonable. At the end of the day, I work for a company and it is up to those who are at the top to decide what is best.
"Formula 1 is seen by the general public during race weekends, but when you turn off the television there is a company that has everyday problems which resemble those of other businesses around the world.
"It is not for me to decide how long I will be in this role: it is my superiors who will assess what I'm doing and decide accordingly.”
After a year and a half in your job, do you believe there is common ground with other teams to help Formula 1, or do you think selfishness prevails?
“It is important to keep our feet on the ground and maybe look at other contexts where there is greater cohesion among our rivals.
"Here's an example: during a race weekend Toto Wolff and I are supposed to 'hate' each other – we are antagonists. But when the track activity finishes we get together on many issues that affect F1 as a whole.
“What I regret is that when you try to do something in this direction, there is always someone who raises his hand and talks about conspiracies.
"There are those who still find it hard to understand that you can be adversaries on track but can work together for the benefit of the sport. A deal is not the same thing as a conspiracy – but it seems a difficult concept to explain.”
In 2017, you will lose the Ferrari supply deal at Toro Rosso. Was it a possibility you had prepared for?
“Last year Toro Rosso had the need of a power unit, being in a very difficult situation. When we discovered this, we added them at the last moment as a customer team.”
But it was a different situation at Red Bull?
“If I'm not mistaken, Red Bull asked before for the engines of Mercedes, and the answer was no!"
You have restored the Ferrari Driver Academy programme. If a young talent emerges, are you ready to give him a hand to make the jump to F1?
“The will is there. The collaboration with Haas will give us a hand on this front, and soon we will see Charles Leclerc, one of our young people, to drive for them in some of the Friday morning sessions.
"Going back to the Academy, we have reached an important agreement with the head of Tony Kart, Roberto Robazzi, which will help us complete a first selection of youngsters. Today, we have Massimo Rivola at the helm of the Academy, and he is working a lot in this role to follow closely our juniors.
"I am glad that Antonio Fuoco is coming through very well, and Giuliano Alesi and China's Guan Yu Zhou are growing too.”
Formula 1 has reached 21 races, but there are fewer and fewer tests.
“A compromise would be better for everyone. A few more tests would serve to develop the tyres better, and we could maybe organise promotional activities for the public that cannot be scheduled during the race weekends.
"I like the solution of MotoGP, where they remain on the track on the Monday and Tuesday after a race for two days of testing. It is a cheaper solution for the teams – and offers fans who for many reasons are not able to come to the track to see the grand prix, the opportunity to see F1.”
Do you believe that in the year and a half you have been in your job that you have received criticism you did not deserve?
“Yes, but I've also had too many compliments. We can say that the two things balance each other out, but if you do this work there are aspects that you have to take into account.”
If you could be given a guarantee of three wins over the remainder of the season, would you take it?
“No, absolutely not. I know the potential that we have, and of course I know the great job that is being done by Mercedes.
"At some tracks that gap has begun to get smaller, but we have to raise the bar with our ambitions and begin to look over it.
"If I answered your question with a yes, I would not represent the spirit that is in Ferrari and the DNA of its people.”
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Exclusive Q&A: Arrivabene on what's really going on inside Ferrari
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