There is a sort of parallelism between the changes Ferrari and McLaren have both gone through, although one was at the top of the grid and the other at the bottom.
McLaren has been in the eye of the storm over the past four years, as its competitiveness level dropped dramatically as a result of a general loss of focus added to the Honda gamble. The British team has not recovered from the uppercuts on and off the track and subsequently entered a spiral of disorientation, which has deeply affected their performance.
Ferrari did not have to endure such a significant decline, but the issues the team was facing almost made it impossible to plough forward without making a number of much-needed changes. As the Montezemolo era drew to a close, the outfit appeared to have conquered its stability, having brought a breath of fresh air to Maranello, from the leading driver to the management. However, the cracks of this flawed team soon came out in adversity on numerous occasions. When 2019 began, the internal conflict that was plaguing Ferrari finally ceased, owing to a decision from president Elkann, who prompted a revolution from the helm to the junior programme.
Both teams went on seeking the coveted stability and cohesion every winning team possesses, resulting in countless failures and frustrating terms. Jost Capito’s incredibly short stint at McLaren in late 2016 or Ron Dennis’ sudden departure were all part of a painful resemblance of revolution, although the team had not yet encountered a proper direction to follow. The point of breakthrough was reached once Zak Brown took over as CEO and defined both the sporting side and the marketing strategy of McLaren Racing, emerging as the sole leading figure ahead of the project. The bulk of the work encompassed getting rid of what was dragging the team down, including Honda and the horizontal engineering structure with Morris, Goss and Prodromou leading the design of the car. Morris and Goss were axed, while James Key from Toro Rosso was hired as their new technical director, although he still has to serve his gardening leave and will officially join the team in late spring. It is definitely a long process, but the key (pun intended) features have been detected and McLaren might have finally found its feet.
As for Ferrari, James Allison dropping the ball and Sergio Marchionne’s passing were undoubtedly the toughest blows to react to. Mattia Binotto had to walk alone on this path, carrying all the load on his shoulders and making up for every little fault, and in the end his abnegation towards the team prevailed over Arrivabene’s approach. In the meantime, Ferrari was in for some recruiting, starting with FIA’s Laurent Mekies (who was a former Toro Rosso engineer) and Marco Matassa from the Faenza-based squad. The Frenchman made his first appearance in Abu Dhabi as sporting director, after Massimo Rivola moved to the FDA and ultimately to MotoGP’s Aprilia. Therefore, Mekies will coordinate the Ferrari Driver Academy along with Matassa, who is now Head of the junior programme’s technical area.
About last week, the junior programme has been implemented with Mick Schumacher, whose arrival stood for a symbolic gesture and a golden opportunity to the young German, who will be competing in the F2 Championship. Following Leclerc's promotion to a Ferrari drive, the FDA has acquired the importance it needed and deserved for far too long, and hiring Mick confirmed that the Academy is seen under a different light as of now. In fact, it has been founded to forge the drivers of the future and to make things happen.
And here is where Ferrari and McLaren cross paths. Press officers have acquired more and more importance over the years, as they are tasked with building bridges between the media and the insiders. Both PR teams have faced a significant makeover, culminating in Silvia Hoffer Frangipane leaving McLaren to join the Maranello-based squad. After nine years spent in Woking, the Italian is ready to embark on a new opportunity, after Alberto Antonini and Stefania Bocchi reportedly ended their Ferrari term in January. Moreover, Hoffer’s arrival is associated to another prominent name in the sporting PR industry: Bernd Fisa. The Austrian previously worked at Ferrari with Michael Schumacher from 2000 to 2001 and was later involved in several journalistic and PR endeavours, including at FIFA.
The Arrivabene entourage has therefore been removed from Ferrari, which is willing to add valuable assets to this disruptively positive revolution in the making, fertilized by a selection of skilled figures. The conservative approach the former Ferrari team principal used to apply is completely opposed to Silvia Hoffer’s British ways, suggesting that the Italian team could significantly improve its relationship with the press. No more ‘silenzio stampa’ or hostile attitude would mark the beginning of Binotto’s era, based on a more open and truly endearing philosophy. Now that the Philip Morris bulwark has been overthrown, continuity is the ploy for Ferrari. Genuine continuity with Sergio Marchionne’s will for the future of the team.