Monday 24 November 2014

Mattiacci - brought down by his own fire

Divorce is rarely easy of course. Neither are goings-on within Scuderia Ferrari. Bring the two together and you have...well, you work out the rest.

And there has been a lot of Ferrari conforming to type in its latest big soap opera; the matter indeed that had smouldered throughout the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend. And today we received confirmation that as is often so there was no smoke without fire. Marco Mattiacci is out; Maurizio Arrivabene, brand manager for Marlboro Europe and one close to the Ferrari team for some time via that sponsorship, is there in his stead. The Scuderia has its third (count 'em) team principal in the space of just eight months.

Marco Mattiacci is out of the Ferrari team
Photo: Octane Photography
So - apart from the obvious - what does this in particular tell us? Well to start with there's one thing we can fairly safely conclude that it isn't. That being that Mattiacci's flying visit was always part of the plan.

When he first arrived earlier this season many indeed reckoned it was an interim appointment, particularly given his gaping lack of motorsport experience. But over time fewer and fewer felt sure on this point.

As the BBC's Andrew Benson noted by mid-season Mattiacci was 'making a good impression among senior figures in F1 as a man who means business and looks like he can deliver.' That Mattiacci reportedly was backing the highly-rated new Technical Director James Allison to the hilt looked spot on too.

But the main problem with the suggestion that today's events are simply a natural conclusion to the Ferrari strategy all along is that assumption was based on Mattiacci being a company high-flier ear-marked for a Luca Montezemolo-type role, and therefore that a bit of time at the F1 coal face beforehand would help him therein. But Ferrari's statement on the matter today made no mention of Mattiacci being moved to a new position within the company, which you'd imagine would have been confirmed simultaneously if that was the plan. Worse from Mattiacci's point of view the wording used made it sound a lot like he was out of the company altogether.

Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne was quoted thus: 'We would also like to thank Marco Mattiacci for his service to Ferrari in the last 15 years and we wish him well in his future endeavours.' And how else are we supposed to interpret that?

Adam Cooper for one thought he had the answer: 'Mattiacci fell out of favour with Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne' he said on his site, 'and his handling of the departure of Fernando Alonso - which led to a huge pay-off to the Spanish driver after the team was left with three World Champions under contract for next season - clearly did not help.'

Cooper expanded the thought on Twitter, first describing Mattiacci's 'clumsy handling of the Alonso departure' as a 'big black mark against him'. Before concluding that 'as he leaves, canny operator Alonso helps to take down the guy who pissed him off. You couldn't make it up...'.

And on top of the absurdity of paying Alonso a vast sum not to drive for you, if one is to be brutal about it - as Ted Kravtiz was repeatedly on television over the weekend - we can add also that Ferrari has ditched Alonso (arguably the best out there) and ended up for 2015 with two drivers trounced by their respective team mates this campaign. It doesn't look good.

Fernando Alonso said farewell to Ferrari in Abu Dhabi
Photo: Octane Photography
Possibly there is more to this though. Perhaps Mattiacci also underestimated the depth of feeling there is in Ferrari for Alonso. Perhaps as Cooper suggested he underestimated Alonso too.

A murmur indeed to emanate from the Maranello direction lately was that Mattiacci was wary of Alonso's power within the squad and was therefore a lot like a compressed spring waiting to be released, to face Alonso down in order to 'show who's boss'.

If this is indeed so then Mattiacci would do well to reflect on the words of the Chinese philosopher Confucius: 'Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.'

To think too that just a few weeks back there was some rather smug reporting to the effect that Alonso had been played in this, and masterfully, by Mattiacci. Make a note never to play poker with Nando.

But whatever is the case the denigration of Fernando Alonso from the Ferrari direction in recent weeks - and after everything he had put in for them - was for me by far the hardest part of this affair to take. Betraying apparently a rather grubby way of doing things.

Suggestions started to emanate a few weeks ago that Alonso was a disruptive figure in team; that he was bigging himself up too much in public at the squad's expense; that he was too old for Ferrari's new long-term project. One claim from therein moreover stretched credulity to breaking point by saying that Alonso - yes, Alonso - wasn't putting the required effort in these days. Fernando in Singapore indeed was heard to complain that he reckoned elements within the team were seeking to undermine him.

And if we had constructed a hypothesis about this we could have speculated that these murmurings were sourced from near the top of Ferrari, maybe to cover itself in order to make the loss of Alonso seem in fact noble and for the team's good, rather than Alonso himself deciding to up sticks. And, perhaps inadvertently, Mattiacci during the Abu Dhabi weekend seemed to rumble himself to this very thing.

As in his statement in which Alonso's departure and Sebastian Vettel's accession were confirmed finally he referred implicitly and at some points explicitly to the very matters that the anti-Alonso whispers had covered. Thus bringing the trail of suspicion for the mysterious negative briefings rather close to himself. It might be a (non-criminal) example of classic criminal psychology - being brought down by one's own ego. A desire for credit for the dark deeds.

Do not play poker with this man
Photo: Octane Photography
In welcoming Alonso's replacement Mattiacci said: 'In Formula 1 terms Sebastian Vettel is a unique combination of youthfulness and experience and he brings with him that sense of team spirit which will prove invaluable'. Something which Martin Brundle called 'a plain dig'.

And as if we needed confirmation Mattiacci added: 'We need to thank Fernando for all he has done for us, what we have done together over the last five years. But at the same time, it is clear to everybody that we want both to open new cycles, but it was important to do it with the utmost motivation and commitment.'

Alonso too seemed to have worked it all out.

'I heard the comments and I don't think they were very good' he retorted. 'If he tried to mean that I was not motivated, he arrived at Ferrari too late.

'He's only been here for a few months and has not seen the five years that I've spent here and how I've fought every single race.

'Probably I was too old when he tried to renew me until the Monza race, and he kept pushing, and pushing and having talks, and even in the last moment we had a lot of phone calls and e-mails that I still have in my computer.

'Probably at that time I was not so old, but when I took my decision I guess he had to find another driver.'

The last bit didn't seal Mattiacci's fate most likely, as word was already by that point that he was a dead man walking as mentioned.  But I'd like to think that the apparent attempts to trash in public by far the best thing about the Ferrari team in recent times formed part of the rap sheet. At the very least in my view it ensures that Mattiacci shuffles off from his brief spell on the F1 stage with his reputation rather sullied.

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