Stefano Domenicali’s resignation as Ferrari Team Principal on Monday morning may have come as a shock to some Formula One fans. But, after a series of fruitless years for the Scuderia under his stewardship, has the 48-year-old long been working on borrowed time? Dan Paddock investigates.
Following a series of rumours amongst the Italian press on Monday morning, the confirmation that Stefano Domenicali would indeed be stepping down from his role as Ferrari Team Principal, to be replaced by relative unknown Marco Mattiacci, come somewhat as a surprise to the majority of the F1 world.
In a final statement released by the Italian, he explained that his decision came in response to the Scuderia’s poor start to the 2014 campaign, which sees them mired in fifth in the constructors’ championship, 78 points adrift of leaders – and only other manufacturer team – Mercedes.
The call to step down comes less than a year since Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo gave Domenicali a public show of support, following a less than stellar Hungarian Grand Prix for the Scuderia.
“When one talks about Domenicali, one truth is king: under his management we have won one Constructors’ title and come very close to three Drivers’ titles,” said Montezemolo. “Two of those we could easily have won and then people’s opinion of Domenicali would be very different.”
Di Montezemolo’s comments are not far wrong, but the fact of the matter is that under Domenicali’s stewardship Ferrari has won just a single piece of major silverware, the 2008 constructors’ crown, back in the Italian’s first year in charge.
In the fast paced world of Formula One, where victory – especially for a marque such as Ferrari – means everything, was Domenicali extremely fortunate to not have received the call to step down earlier? Looking back through the former-Ferrari boss’s six and a bit years at the helm, it’s arguably true.
Domenicali was first appointed as Ferrari Team Principal in 2008, taking over the supremo role from Jean Todt – now FIA President – as the Frenchman himself set off in search of the FIA premiership.
The Italian took charge on the back of a sterling previous year for the team, which, after two relatively barren seasons in 2005 and 2006, when an ascendant Renault had taken all four major trophies on offer back home to Enstone, the Scuderia returned to the zenith of Formula One, securing both the drivers’ title – Kimi Raikkonen’s first – as well as a record 16th constructors’ championship.
2008, Domenicali’s first full year in charge proved to be a success for the most part, with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen winning eight races between them on their way to the constructors’ title. However, the team did face the disappointment of seeing Felipe Massa have the drivers’ title snatched from in front of his very eyes by a memorable final lap, last corner pass on Timo Glock by Lewis Hamilton, the move handing the McLaren man the points necessary to clinch the title.
All-in-all Domenicali passed his first year at the helm of Ferrari with flying colours, and aside from some reliability issues the F2008 was a success. But 2009 was not to prove so kind to the Italian. With the development of the 2009 car – the F60 – disrupted by the team’s late push to beat McLaren the previous year, coupled with the new aerodynamic rules, as well as the introduction of KERs, the team entered the new era of F1 with some uncertainty.
Little did they know it would be four races before the team would score a point – Ferrari’s worse start to a F1 season in 28 years – or worse, that the team would have to wait until the Belgian Grand Prix, the 12th race of the year, to pick up its one and only win of the season, courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari’s dismal campaign was further stained by a life-threatening injury sustained by 2008 runner-up Felipe Massa during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, which saw first perennial test-driver Luca Badoer, and later Giancarlo Fisichella fill the Brazilian’s seat, but to no avail.
Ultimately, the team finished the season fourth in the constructors’ championship, Ferrari’s worse ranking since 1993. Blame was cast on the vagueness of the new aero rules, that meant Ferrari were forced to play catch-up with 2009’s technical revelation, the double diffuser, as well as on the lame-duck that was KERs, which the team have heavily invested in. Despite this, Domenicali survived the season, with Team Manager Luca Baldisseri instead falling on his sword early in the year.
With Kimi Raikkonen off for a taste of the WRC, Fernando Alonso joined the returning Felipe Massa at Ferrari for 2010. Fortunately for Domenicali, under pressure after the disappointment of 2009, the Scuderia started the year in perfect fashion, with a 1-2 finish in Bahrain, Alonso winning on his Ferrari debut.
The F10, bereft of either an f-duct, or a blown diffuser – 2010’s new aero exploitations – in the opening stages of the year, would not win again until the 11th race of the season, the German Grand Prix. Ferrari, despite a superb 1-2 finish, would be cast into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, after the stewards found the team had used team orders – at that time illegal in F1 – to influence the result of the race, following a radio call to Felipe Massa informing the Brazilian that: “Fernando is faster than you”. A year to the day after his Hungarian Grand Prix accident, Massa responded by slowing and allowing his team-mate to pass for the lead, and ultimately the win. To this day the Brazilian is still yet to add to his total of 11 Grand Prix wins.
Ferrari were fined $100,000 on the spot, and six weeks later were declared guilty of bringing the sport into disrepute. Yet, the team, and Domenicali – who had made the team order call – survived the ensuing media storm to win three more races that season, to go into the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi with Alonso atop the drivers’ championship. The Scuderia seemed set to secure its second title of Domenicali’s tenure, only for a disastrous strategy blunder during the race to hand the drivers’ crown to Sebastian Vettel.
2010 marked a second successive year when neither trophy came home to Maranello. In fact, despite Alonso’s title chances, the team only managed a distant third in the constructors’ championship. Despite this, Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo once again reaffirmed his belief in Domenicali’s leadership, as the team moved into 2011.
If the way the team had lost the drivers’ title at the last race of season in 2010 had been disappointing, then the only way to describe 2011 for the Scuderia would be appalling. The F150° – its name forcibly changed after a legal disputer with Ford – arrived in Melbourne 1.5 seconds adrift of Red Bull’s all-dominant RB7. As in the two previous years Ferrari would be left to play catch up throughout the season, and while the results did improve, in no small thanks to Fernando Alonso, who was superb, the team would win just once all year. The fact that the this win came at the British Grand Prix, when off-throttle blown diffusers were banned for the weekend, exemplified Ferrari’s major problem. Once again they’d missed a design trick and were made to pay for it all season long.
Third in the constructors’ championship, and another year without any major silverware would be scant reward for a team that still reportedly had the biggest budget in the sport. Yet still, despite media and fan pressure, Domenicali kept his spot as Team Principal.
With Aldo Costa replaced by ex-McLaren man Pat Fry as Technical Director, as well as a massive investment in their windtunnel, Ferrari had reason to be hopeful for better in 2012.
Yet, the F2012, with it’s new stepped nose, was a disaster out of the box, with only the brilliance of Fernando Alonso able to keep the Scuderia in the hunt early in the season, the Spaniard winning sublimely in China, Valencia, and Germany. Alonso continued his spirited fight into the later half of the year, but a series of wins for Sebastian Vettel, coupled with two DNF’s for the Ferrari man, ultimately cost the Spaniard and the Scuderia the drivers’ title at the final round of the season for the second time in three years. Still, bereft of either championship since 2008, Domenicali kept his job.
2013, was much like 2011 for Ferrari, as Red Bull once again dominated. In the team’s season review for this site, I wrote:
“It is difficult to see 2013 as anything other than an abject failure for Ferrari, as for a fifth successive year the Maranello-based outfit failed to take home either championship. Despite the fact that the team’s 2013 challenger was a substantial improvement over its much maligned predecessor, the Scuderia dropped to third in the Constructors’ Championship, while for a third time in four years Fernando Alonso had to play second best to Sebastian Vettel.”
For a fifth successive year, both major titles would elude the team. Yet, as mentioned above, Luca di Montezemolo moved to reinforce his confidence in the team’s direction under Domenicali, which pulled off two major coups in the summer of last year, in re-signing both Kimi Raikkonen, and designer James Allison from Lotus.
With F1 entering a new era this year, talk over the winter was of how Ferrari was set to re-establish itself at the forefront of the grid, with the major benefit of being, along with Mercedes, just one of two team’s that would design both its car and new for 2014 power units in house.
However, as already mentioned, the opening three races of 2014 have not been kind to Ferrari, who seemingly once again will be forced to play catch up throughout the year. Engineering Director Pat Fry has in effect already written off any hope of catching Mercedes, with the focus instead on Ferrari establishing themselves as the best of the rest this year. Enzo would not have stood for that, and so it appears no longer could Domenicali or the Ferrari establishment.
Ultimately, it is hard to describe Domenicali’s time in charge at Ferrari as anything other than a resounding failure. To rebuild, and move forward following the dissolution of the record-breaking Todt-Brawn-Schumacher triumvirate was always going to stand as a challenge for the Scuderia. But, despite a tremendous amount of Euro’s spent, as well as the best efforts of Fernando Alonso, the new breed at Ferrari have failed to even come close to matching the success of their predecessors.
With the appointment of Mattiacci, alongside the considerable talents of Pat Fry and James Allison, coupled with arguably the best driver pairing in the field, it is now time to see what a fresh approach can muster for Ferrari.
Images courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari