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The Marlboro man

Since Maurizio Arrivabene has taken the helm at Ferrari, the Scuderia is continuously reducing the gap to dominating Mercedes. What’s his secret?

Until a few weeks before Ferrari dropped Marco Mattiacci, there were no visible signs the Scuderia’s team boss would be sacked. Originally, Chairman Sergio Marchionne had stated that the planned, massive restructuring needed time. Consequently, dropping team boss Marco Mattiacci after just eight months in favour of Maurizio Arrivabene stunned almost everyone in the paddock. Particularly, as Mattiacci had seemed to make the right changes by agreeing to part from Fernando Alonso, by hiring key technical personnel such as James Allison, and, of course, by luring Sebastian Vettel to Maranello.

Ferrari has a hang for eccentric team bosses – from founder Enzo Ferrari or Luca di Montezemolo to Jean Todt. All of them were highly controversial, but also successful, different to highly likeable, but seemingly too soft Stefano Domenicali or Mattiacci, who was regarded unable to cope with the task in Italy.

The right person

Hence, Marchionne was looking for a more charismatic man with more background knowledge on Formula 1’s sports politics and found Arrivabene. Actually, finding him was not that easy. “I rang him, and he was on the motorway driving back home to Switzerland. Since he didn’t know my number, he didn’t pick up. So I tried a second time later in the day and then he did”, the FIAT boss laughed. The former Philip Morris Motorsport manager is best mates with Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone for ages and has been sitting on the F1 Commission for years. The 57-year-old is well aware how the sport works and knows the best ways to influence its future shape, different to Mattiacci, who has spent most of his Ferrari years away from the race tracks, pushing sales figures in Asia and the US. Thus, it only appears logical that Marchionne explained his decision to replace the team boss ahead of the 2015 F1 season by saying it had nothing to do with poor results, but that it was based on his commitment “to ensure Ferrari maintains its position of influence in the governance of F1. Maurizio brings a unique set of experiences with him. He has a thorough understanding of the governance mechanisms and requirements of the sport, the level of competition and the challenges of the circuit. He has also been a constant source of innovative ideas for the revitalisation of Formula 1. In Maurizio, I see the qualities of someone who leads by his strong personal example, his professionalism, and the integrity of his decisions – in short by the type of person he is”.

Fighting for the championship is a bit too much. To be honest, I was hoping for three race wins and I believe this is achievable.

Having been given such peerage by Marchionne, the expectations in Arrivabene are high, a fact the Formula 1 veteran is well aware of. “Working in Formula 1, and especially working for Ferrari, always means a lot of pressure. It’s a multi-million-dollar sport and everybody involved wants to see immediate results”, his rough looks remind more of a reincarnation of famous Italo-Western protagonist Django than a racing team boss.

Maurizio’s hardest task was not finding a deal with Marchionne, “but more so with my wife Steffi. I hadn’t asked her first, and when I told her, she was furious and slammed down the phone. But she is fine with it now”.

The pressure is on

After working in marketing and promotion in his native Italy and abroad, Arrivabene joined Philip Morris – based in Lausanne, Switzerland – where he worked his way up to Vice President of Marlboro Global Communication & Promotions for Philip Morris International in 2007. In addition to his role at the tobacco giants, since 2010, he has sat on the Formula 1 Commission, representing all the sponsors in Formula 1, and since 2012, he has been an independent board member of Juventus Turin. Knowing his responsibility and feeling the pressure, the Italian wasted no time casting his net and it was no surprise to see Formula 1’s commercial supremo visiting Marlboro’s Madonna di Campiglio ski camps.

At Ferrari’s Christmas dinner, Arrivabene, without any suit or tie, appeared in a bright orange jumper and jeans, as well as his obligatory trainers. “He wants everybody in Maranello to know that he is one of them. It seems that he is close to everyone, always lends an ear to their problems and gives them a pat on their backs. He holds the team together and motivates everyone”, former Formula 1 driver and TV expert Marc Surer analysed. There are 60 new staff members on Ferrari’s F1 team and Arrivabene has been able to form a unit in the shortest possible time. “Following their triumph in Malaysia he sent chief mechanic Diego Ioverno to the podium instead of collecting the trophy himself saying: “Our guys have been acting like Swiss clockwork. They had deserved to celebrate, so one of them went to the winning ceremony. The emotions I felt after Sebastian had crossed the line on P1 were for him, for the team, and for Ferrari”.

Over the years, the dedicated Juventus Turin supporter has also become a Tifoso of the Scuderia, and now he is bringing in all of his passion to make it theirs. However, this also means criticising, when necessary. “Kimi (Raikkonen) has a problem and it’s called qualifying. In the races he absolutely matches Seb’s pace, but he needs to improve on Saturday. Were he a school kid, I would have him write ‘I must be better in qualifying’ onto the blackboard a hundred times”. And the “Iceman” is not offended by his new boss’ direct approach, rather the opposite. “I like his way to talk about things. He just gives you a straight answer. It’s yes or no, nothing nebulous and empty. Maurizio is exactly the guy that Ferrari needed. He is working hard and he is always fair to you, but if he is unhappy about something, he comes up to you and tells you straight in the face. There is no secret politics. If there is a problem, we sit down together, also with Sebastian, and work it out”.

Catching up quickly

On the sporting level, Arrivabene has really enjoyed “a good arrival” – which is the literal translation of his name into English – with the red racers being much more competitive in 2015 than the previous season. Not only has the team’s new number one driver, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, won the Grand Prix of Malaysia, Ferrari has also leapfrogged Red Bull Racing and Williams F1 in the teams’ pecking order to become dominating Mercedes’ main challenger this season. All too fast people forget that much of the know-how and driver boost in the team is Mattiacci’s heritage. However, Arrivabene’s key achievement was to bring back the perfect mix of this highly professional pool of knowledge with a casual, shirt-sleeved working ethic living out positive emotion and Italian temper. “The kind of spirit that can only come from a group of people who believe strongly in a project and are prepared to share the commitment, sacrifices and results is what Maurizio will bring to us”, Marchionne had predicted and was proven right.

When Vettel overtakes an opponent, the whole pit crew watching on CCTV jump up from their chairs again, when a pit stop goes well, Arrivabene clenches his fist, and when Vettel won in Sepang, Marchionne was the first to congratulate. “Ferrari is a team again, from the fitter in the Maranello factory to driver in the cockpit”, says former Ferrari ace Gerhard Berger, who expects to challenge the Silver Arrows even harder in the near future. “They seem to be working in the right direction now and Sebastian is a driver who knows how to push a team. Kimi is also still an excellent driver, so more wins may follow in 2015”.

Arrivabene himself is “content with the team’s rapid turnaround”, but although Sebastian Vettel feels he is still in the title hunt (“I’m still in the fight. We are able to improve our car”), his boss does not believe his team can really challenge Mercedes for the title this season. “Fighting for the championship is a bit too much. To be honest, I was hoping for three race wins and I believe this is achievable, but there is nothing that you can achieve without working hard and this is what we have to do. I don’t really care about being on the podium. What I care about is the gap and the numbers tell us that the new solutions are good,” he conceded.

 

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