Despite securing $35 million as he walks away, Luca di Montezemolo had a tear in his eye on Wednesday as he said farewell to Ferrari. Although he was president, and although his presence at Maranello dates back decades, the 67-year-old is just the latest head to roll amid Ferrari's spiralling crisis. "Our common desire to see Ferrari express its true potential on the track led us to some misunderstandings," admitted Fiat chairman Sergio Marchionne, Montezemolo's successor.
Charismatic and controversial, Montezemolo has secured a EUR 27 million parting fee, including a pledge he will not work for a Fiat rival until 2017. He admitted on Wednesday that it is possible he will go on to run the Italian airline Alitalia. In his wake, he leaves the Ferrari team run by a F1 newcomer, Marco Mattiacci, and a lead driver in Fernando Alonso who in the space of a single day lost not only Montezemolo but also another crucial ally, the late Emilio Botin.
But Montezemolo and Marchionne on Wednesday singled out Ferrari's turbo V6 engine as the biggest problem to solve. "It is absolutely clear that we have an engine problem," said Marchionne. Montezemolo concurred: "We underestimated the importance of the new engine system."
But with McLaren calling loudly, might this week's alarming news be the final straw for an increasingly frustrated Alonso? "He has been very loyal to Ferrari, staying through the difficult times," rival Daniel Ricciardo told Austrian Servus TV this week. "This is obviously a decision that Fernando has to make himself, but he has been very patient with them," he added.
Toni Vilander, however, a close friend of Alonso's current teammate Kimi Raikkonen, thinks Wednesday's news would not have been a shock to the red-clad pair. "I believe they were aware of the issue for some time," he told the Finnish broadcaster MTV3. "I don't think it's going to affect their situation an awful lot."
But others see Ferrari's spiralling situation as endemic of the current regime at Maranello. "I believe that the structure that they had in the past with Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, Nigel Stepney and the rest of them is very, very different to what we see now," said Caterham team advisor Colin Kolles.
Montezemolo's exit is another big blow, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone admitted. "His leaving is for me the same as Mr Enzo (Ferrari) dying," he said. "He has become Ferrari. You see him, you see Ferrari."
Former FIA president Max Mosley, however, never quite saw eye-to-eye with Montezemolo, and he thinks Wednesday might now be a turning point for the fabled team. "In truth, Ferrari have never been quite the same since Jean left," he told Reuters. "If they want to win races again they need to find another outstanding manager."
One thing, however, was left undoubtedly clear on Wednesday -- Ferrari itself is going nowhere. "Montezemolo explained to me that we are bound by contracts with Ecclestone to stay in F1 at least until 2020," Marchionne told Italian reporters, "but for me it should be much longer. If it was up to me it would be 120 years." (GMM)