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Exclusive Maurizio Arrivabene Q&A: Ferrari not looking at other driver options right now

10 Jun 2015

With a win and four other podium finishes from his first seven races with Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel’s maiden season with the Scuderia could hardly be going any better. By contrast team mate Kimi Raikkonen has just one 2015 rostrum to his name, and as a result rumours have swirled about the Finn’s future with the team. So what is the truth of the matter? Are Ferrari evaluating other options for 2016? We put that question - and many others - to Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene in an exclusive interview…

Q: Maurizio, there is the saying that whoever is sat in the chair of the Ferrari team principal is in the ‘hot seat’. What is your experience so far? How ‘hot’ is it?

Maurizio Arrivabene: It is different. In the way that everything around you is talking about passion, history, the colour red and the best brand around the world. And when you are concentrated on your job a chair is just a chair. It could be comfortable or uncomfortable - it depends on the way that you are working - and how you are sitting! (laughs)

Q: So you don’t feel the pressure breathing down your neck?

MA: No - or let’s put it this way: of course I feel the responsibility. That is for sure! But if you remove for a second the pressure that is given by the media it is a wonderful job. My dream for years was to one day come back to Italy to do something for my country, and now I’ve been lucky enough to find the best job that Italy can offer. For that I am very happy. Yes, I am surrounded by pressure, but I am also surrounded by good people, and that helps. I try to lead them in the right way without changing myself. I am listening a lot to our president - Mr. (Sergio) Marchionne - who is giving us suggestions, support and who is someone who has a lot to give when it comes to the business side.

Q: What are the most important skills that you need to have to get Ferrari back on winning street?

MA: Working hard and being nice with people - if they deserve it!

Q: Did you get a crash course of the technical side of F1? How technically-minded does a team principal have to be in reality these days?

MA: The team principal is not an engineer. Probably many years ago, but when I think of Jean Todt, Flavio Briatore, Christian Horner or Toto Wolff, they’ve all won a lot but none of them is an engineer. You have to have a 360 degree approach, you have to have a clear picture of what is going on and find a good balance between the engineering side and the budget! (laughs) If you let the engineers go wild you will soon find yourself in bankruptcy. In this respect it is actually better not to be an engineer!

Q: But right now one could argue that F1 is very much run by engineers. Shouldn’t there be a shift more to the entertainment side as fans hardly understand the diminutive differences they are focusing on…

MA: If you take other sports - for example NFL, NHL, NBA - they of course have rules and certain regulations, but they are focusing mainly on the commercial aspect of their sports and we most likely are a bit too one-sided. So in the future we have to find the right balance between the genuine commercial interests of Formula One and the technical regulations.

Q: Speaking about technical regulations, you are the new kid on the block of the strategy group. What was your first impression?

MA: Well, I knew most of them as I’ve been in F1 for many years. And at the moment I have never been there alone. Mr. Marchionne was representing Ferrari and I was sitting there and listening - and learning. The way he has repositioned Ferrari again as a big player was good to witness. As I said: right now I am learning and listening to him. My personal impression? Sometimes we need to be thinking more about the commercial aspect instead of the technical aspect. Right now the technical aspect is driving most of the meetings. But I think we all got more conscious about that and will get there.

Q: How much is Mr. Marchionne involved in the day-to-day business of the team?

MA: In the first six or seven months of my assignment - knowing the responsibility it holds - he was always there for advice. This shows how much passion he holds for the sport.

Q: How do we have to imagine the routine between the two of you? Are you reporting back to him on a daily basis?

MA: Of course I keep him informed about everything that is going on. He is my boss, actually. But how intense the communication is, is dependent on the situation. Sometimes we don’t talk to each other for three to four days, sometimes we talk three or four times a day.

Q: Would you have ever guessed in your wildest dreams to hold the Ferrari team principal position one day?

MA: When I was much younger, probably yes. But in reality I was always very closely connected with Ferrari - and when the question came last year I immediately said yes, without even discussing the financial aspect. I immediately said: ‘yes!’ No second thoughts.

Q: Does it help that you ‘inherited’ a team that is catching up? That the position is slightly more comfortable than it was last year…

MA: I don’t think that we are in a comfortable position. But I am pleased that you say so as I am not really somebody who thinks this. If you take the plain results - yes, it’s true. But I see it as a situation of a lift that is falling!

Q: Ferrari is again second in the pecking order. You frequently say that it is not podium places that you are focusing on, but closing the gap to Mercedes. That looks a bit of a long-term project right now. What is your time frame?

MA: I was very clear at the beginning of the season that for 2015 our aim is to win at least three races - and next year to compete for the championship. There is no doubt in my mind that we will be there - we are working hard for it.

Q: When you hear Fernando Alonso’s quotes that he left Ferrari because he didn’t want to be second forever - what do you make out of that?

MA: I am thinking about (Sebastian) Vettel, about Kimi (Raikkonen), and about the team. The team is above everything. And people can say whatever they want. I know that what he said is not polite, but I don’t care.

Q: The saying goes that a new broom sweeps clean. This not only goes for you but also for Sebastian. Is his signing making a significant difference? Is he crucial for the team?

MA: Everybody is crucial. Sebastian is one of the key players, yes, and the fact that he was able to integrate himself in a very simple and nice way is of course helping. Yes, it is crucial that a driver behaves like this. For him it was of course also easy as with joining Ferrari he made a dream come true that he had since he was a kid. But the fact is also that everybody has to play his part rightly - Sebastian, me - everybody in the team has to give his best.

Q: After you took over you looked under every stone to find the reasons why Ferrari lost competitiveness with every year. What were the crucial points?

MA: The team spirit! When I first came I saw a team that was quite divided - most of the guys were very defensive and I thought to myself: this is not the team that I recognise. My first task was to put them together again.

Q: Was your notion that Kimi’s 2016 contract depends on his performance a wake-up call for him? Could you imagine running with the same driver line-up also in 2016?

MA: As I said: that’s dependent on the results. If he is achieving the objective that I gave to him - why not?

Q: What were these objectives?

MA: A good performance. To add points to the team tally. I am working for a team with a strong tradition and Enzo Ferrari dictated this tradition. For Enzo Ferrari the constructors’ championship was always of greater value than the drivers’ title. So for us the constructors’ championship is very important. To win this title you need both drivers delivering. I talked with Kimi straightforwardly, and he knows very well: the more points he can deliver, the better his chances to stay!

Q: Are you already evaluating other options than Kimi?

MA: I am concentrating on our two guys right now and I know very well that if needed you can have a driver that is ready to jump in a Ferrari any minute. That is not a problem. The problem is to work with the driver that we have and make sure that he is giving us the best performance.

Q: More than one third of the season is already gone. If you could set a timeline where would you want to be after another third - and where at the end?

MA: Ha, I am not here to look up in the sky for signs for the future, but of course I don’t like to lose and the team doesn’t like to lose - so we want to win, of course. But Mercedes have done a great job, so they deserved the championship last year and they deserve the position that they have now. We have to be realistic, but with a strong commitment we have to try our best to make them unhappy as much as we can. (laughs)

Q: Do you wake up every morning still thinking: it’s a fantastic job that I have?

MA: I usually wake up very early in the morning as I don’t sleep that well…

Q: Because of the job?

MA: No, no. this is a job. Life is bigger. When I see bad news around the world - that is what makes a bad day. There is a big difference between the job you are doing and life.