This past weekend was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the High Holy Days of racing. As tradition demands, the race started at 3 o’clock local time, with a waving of the French flag and ended 24 long hours later with a waving of the checkered. This year, the person waving the flag was none other than Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, Chairman of Ferrari and Fiat.
What the hell was that about?
Well, you could say that it was all about waving the company flag as well as being the starter. Ferrari is heavily involved in the GT2 category (a Ferrari won again this year), and you know, car sales and all that, but you can also look at it as being a SERIOUS warning shot fired at Max Mosely, Bernie Ecclestone and the other people who run Grand Prix racing.
To catch you up to speed, there’s been a HUGE dispute brewing between the GP governing body, and all of the major grand prix teams, most vocally Ferrari. These teams have literally threatened to quit F1 racing because of a rules dispute (in this case, a criminally stupid budget cap), and for an organization like Ferrari to threaten that, an organization that has competed in EVERY Grand Prix race for the past SIXTY years, is akin to the Boston Celtics saying “Screw the NBA!!” and walking.
Nothing is set in stone yet, and everybody says that cooler heads will prevail, and that teams like Ferrari and Renault and McLaren and both Red Bull squads et al will be on the grid at Melbourne come next March, but nobody seems to be heading that way for sure at the moment.
So Ferrari is MONDO pissed, and threatening to walk away from the thing they do better than anyone else, for one thing, and the only thing they are designed to do (i.e. race), and a lot of people, half calling their bluff, have been heard to say, “Where’s Ferrari going to go?”
The answer might just have been seen on the flag stand at 3 o’clock local time at the little rural town in the middle of France. Not only was di Montezemolo there, but so was Scuderia Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicalli.
If, and this is a huge, giant, massive IF with many, many caveats, if Ferrari bolts from F1, the logical place for them to go would be Le Mans. First, realize that they will have to go somewhere. The last time I looked, the Ferrari F1 team, both at the track and back at the factory in Maranello, employed about 1200 people. They also have a budget reputed to be way North of 400 MILLION dollars a year. All that force, energy and money HAVE TO go somewhere.
Second, although Bernie and Max keep trying to, and squawk very loudly, about Grand Prix cars having relevance to road cars, the current place to do some serious race track R & D for your high tech road car is in big time sportscar racing, like they do at Le Mans. There are HUGE forces demanding that racing become more relevant to production cars AND more green and environmentally friendly.
Who responded quickly to these pressing needs back when they were merely suggestions? The Automobile Club d’Le Ouest. The guys that run the Le Mans 24 hours more than TWO YEARS ago wrote a whole new set of rules to encourage the use of alt-fuels, and since then, Audi has been stomping the terra with a bio-diesel fueled monster of a car that was just beat this past weekend by ANOTHER bio-D fueled racer, this one fielded by Peugeot. And next year, Peugeot will run a diesel hybrid car.
So, what’re the two guys that run Ferrari doing at Le Mans? That should be obvious. And what should also be obvious is that Max and Bernie better damn well pay attention, or they’ll end up looking like the dumbest businessmen since Decca passed on signing the Beatles.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons