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The Ferrari challenge - exclusive Marco Mattiacci Q&A

29 Aug 2014

It’s been almost six months since the enigmatic Marco Mattiacci took on one of the toughest jobs in Formula One racing - team principal at Ferrari - tasked with returning the Italian team to winning ways.

Ahead of the Scuderia’s home race at Monza next weekend, we spoke to Mattiacci about his honeymoon period, Alonso’s leadership, Raikkonen’s revival and more…

Q: Marco, in politics you tend to get a ‘honeymoon period’ of 100 days before the media really start grilling you. Your 100 days are up, so can you talk us through your Ferrari adventure since the Chinese Grand Prix?

Marco Mattiacci: What I can say is the future is bigger than the past. These 100 days were full of enthusiasm and a lot of curiosity, and now, knowing F1 a little bit better, I can say this is a fantastic world, this is a fantastic sport with great talents, great personalities and a lot of adrenalin. I respect the fact that I am entering a very competitive world and that I work for the most powerful brand/franchise/team in the world. My mission is to bring Ferrari back to the top and these 100 days have been extremely useful for me to understand where we excel and where we don’t. The feeling is extremely positive.

Q: Taking over a team like Ferrari is always a rough ride, but it must be even more so when the team is in a down period and you are constantly shadowed by the unrealistic expectations of others?

MM: Ferrari’s obsession is to be number one. And what down period? In the last couple of years Ferrari has always been at the top - not in wins, but always in key positions. So what I’m asked is to give leadership and a new vision to Ferrari - and to establish a different model of what will be the Scuderia in two to three years down the road: definitely to be successful, but also to be at the right level to capitalise on what is the most powerful franchise in the world.

Q: You were parachuted into the position. If you had known then what you know now, would you still have accepted?

MM: For sure. I am so much more motivated. I’ve always been ‘parachuted in’. In my very brief career journey, overall every two to three years I’ve always been called in to what is called a ‘difficult situation’ in order to turn it around. So I am happy that the company is keeping me in that kind of responsibility. I am so excited. The more I receive criticism, the more my team receives criticism, that’s like an energy recovery system - we get more motivation out of it! Every day I get more motivation so I am 100 times more motivated than when I started the job in China.

Q: Speaking in football terminology, are you the Ferrari sweeper?

MM: No, no.

Q: Historically, team principals without a racing background have rarely succeeded in the F1 arena. Are you an exception to that rule?

MM: I am convinced that I am going do a very good job. I am very confident.

Q: So what are the qualities you think you have that will be the most crucial to this job?

MM: I can’t say what qualities I have. I don’t want to give flowers to myself. In general you have to have leadership and vision and be able to create talent. You need to foster innovation. I think these are the needs of a leader to create a successful group.

Q: You see Formula One racing with fresh eyes so can probably spot shortcomings and areas of potential change that more seasoned F1 personnel are blind to - what are the most obvious?

MM: In order to succeed in life - whatever business you are involved in - you have to act like an entrepreneur. First my main focus was to understand the team - how to move it back to the top. If you refer to Formula One, in general it is important when you’re entering a new business to first identify assets. That has been my focus - in both the team and Formula One. You surely don’t start out by first looking at the negative. It’s the positive from where you build and Formula One is an impressive platform. It is the most exciting and enticing sport in the world with an amazing potential. There are clear responsibilities, but as a key player Ferrari is definitely here to support. We have a great relationship with Bernie (Ecclestone) and the FIA, and I believe when you move all together I see a big potential ahead of us. This is one of the biggest sports platforms in the world, so we don’t need a revolution - we need an evolution with good fine-tuning.

Q: One could say you are still an apprentice team principal. Who is your teacher?

MM: Everybody! I look around. I am like a sponge. (laughs) I have a role model in terms of people - they are not in the Formula One world - that I have been benchmarking all my life: people that are accepting certain kind of values, may they be managers or not. Here in Formula One I am absorbing things every day from everybody: from people that open the gate in the morning to all the members of the team. I am bringing my skills to the table and I think Formula One is evolving so much - it is an impressive business - so it is good to look at it from the business side. And I see profiles similar to mine around that are quite successful.

Q: Is that the future leadership model in the paddock - more business acumen and less petrol in the blood?

MM: Be careful - I have a lot of petrol in my blood! I have been working for Ferrari for 15 years and I have breathed Formula One ever since I was able to switch on a TV. And in the end it’s all about personal skills. You can succeed in many businesses in your life - and not necessarily in the same industries. It’s the qualities of people that are the most important thing.

Q: Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said recently that the foundations for the next cycle of success are now laid. What are these foundations exactly? Where are they?

MM: We are working very hard to make sure that in the future Ferrari will remain the authority in motorsport that it is now. And that this will be a winning team in every aspect of motorsport - and naturally excel in Formula One.

Q: Is there a timeline attached to becoming a winning team again?

MM: We have a very clear strategy and a very clear timeline. Like all serious managers you have to try to do the utmost to shorten this scenario. But Formula One is not soccer. It’s not a case of changing one or two players and the coach and the next season you are winning. This is a very competitive environment with the most sophisticated engineering in the world and with great talents to contribute to it. We know that we have a lot of work to do, but we are starting from a very solid platform. I have found incredible assets in this company. We have the most talented couple of drivers, we have a tradition of over 60 years, and an impressive obsession to come back and win.

Q: A simpler question then - when will you start winning again?

MM: We have to work very hard and will find many tough days along the way, but we will get back to the top. I like to deliver rather than overpromise.

Q: Some people would have us believe that Fernando Alonso is running the team - a virtual team principal. What is the reality?

MM: It’s true - everybody is a leader at Ferrari. Everybody is running the team - including Fernando - in the way that everybody has to bring ideas. Yes, we have a very clear organisation structure - and at the moment I am at the top of that organisation.

Q: Kimi Raikkonen’s form this season suggests it’s taking him quite some time to reacclimatise to the team…

MM: I love Kimi. He is one of the most talented drivers. We have had a bit of an issue delivering an outstanding car, but the team is all behind him and we have seen from his races in Hungary and Belgium that he has arrived.

Q: So you will stick with the two drivers you have for 2015?

MM: Sure.

Q: The power unit is still something of an issue…

MM: I don’t want to talk about individual parts of the car. We don’t have a competitive car.

Q: After Belgium, Williams are just 10 points behind Ferrari in the standings. Will they deprive you of P3?

MM: You have to ask them. We look at all the competitors and I am not really obsessed with what Williams is doing. We will make the best out of our car and then we fight on the track.

Q: …but will you be able to return to Maranello after the season finale in Abu Dhabi if you have finished fourth in the constructors’ championship?

MM: I can return to Maranello any time.

Q: What are your personal goals for the season?

MM: If you talk about personal goals, that’s my family - that is number one. Second is Marco - I am a curious person, so I want to learn as much as I can from everything that I do. And then it’s to bring the team back to the top.