CAR interviews Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo (2010)

Published: 03 December 2010

CAR recently interviewed Luca di Montezemolo, chairman of Ferrari. He's one of the most established names in the supercar arena, having started with Ferrari in 1973 as founder Enzo’s assistant and grand prix team manager. After winning two world championships with Nikki Lauda in 1975 and 1977, he left to head the organisation responsible for staging the 1990 football World Cup in Italy. Three years after the death of Enzo, di Montezemolo was invited to return to Ferrari as chairman and CEO in 1991 and he's presided over one of the most successful periods in the company's commercial history. Di Montezemolo gives CAR the lowdown on Ferrari’s future strategy, environmental pressures, that Ferrari World theme park, Formula One and Michael Schumacher.

CAR: Talk us through the way you structure the current Ferrari road car range

Luca di Montezemolo: 'We have created three very different sports cars. Each is very, very good. Prices, positioning, marketing - each is aimed precisely for what kind of ‘Ferrarista’ we want to attract. Performance, emotion of driving, technology – they are very different.'

In what way are they different?

'I wanted to do a Ferrari with the engine at the front [550/575] because I don’t want all Ferraris to have the same architecture [348/Testarossa]. With the California, 458 and GTO, our clients are now driving three times the annual mileage that they used to. All of those cars are less than two years old, and they have completely different characters. My wife doesn’t like me going out in the 599, so I found a solution with the California: a GT with four seats. I have two young daughters, you see. But in 30 seconds it becomes a convertible. Then there’s the 458: with two seats, it's like a go-kart. The GTO has the engine in front: around Mugello, it’s quicker than an Enzo. It’s very driveable and has very innovative technology. Don't forget, the 599 GTO sold out before we even presented it. I’m very pleased with the product range.’

If you had your way, which Ferrari would you drive every day?

'If I was a bachelor I’d buy a 458.'

The Califorinia is the first Ferrari to feature a stop/start system. Do added environmental pressures mean Ferrari has to alter the way it operates?

'With the California our target was a 40% fuel consumption improvement over the old eight-cylinder car. We have to work on CO2 and consumption because this is the future, although the car is the best example of freedom. We are fully aware of this, as demonstrated by our hybrid 599. This is a working project, a laboratory car. But in three, or a maximum four years, we want to be ready on the market with a 12-cylinder hybrid. It’s different with the V8: we’re confident we can achieve very aggressive targets through innovation, electronics and technical solutions.'

>> Click 'Next' to read more of CAR's interview with Luca di Montezemolo

Does Ferrari plan to release any new models soon?

'We will continue with one new model a year, and variations on our existing range. What we have done with names is significant too. Scaglietti can in future be a brand like Dino. Scaglietti is not for only one model. It’s been an important name in the past, it’s an appropriate name for a 12-cylinder. Added to numbers, Italia, Monza, Maranello, Fiorano give a more human element to cars.'

The Scuderia version of the 430 was very successful. Any plans for a Scuderia version of the 458?

'I have no intention of doing a Scuderia version of the 458 because I can’t create an aeroplane! It would be hard to do it better...'

Fair enough. What does Ferrari take into consideration when looking into the design of new cars?

'I want to look ahead but maintain links with the past. The 456’s rear wasn’t so far from the Daytona’s, while elements of the 599 are reminiscent of the GTO. I want to look ahead with gearboxes and electronics, but I don’t want to lose Ferrari’s specific characteristics. We have called back Manzoni from VW to run the design centre and to collaborate with Pininfarina.'

Are you satisfied with the success of the 612 Scaglietti?

'Our 2+2 has always represented exactly 10% of volume: the 612 is exactly in line with this. It has a very precise client base which wants a roomy, front-engined car. The only country in which the 612 has underperformed is Japan: maybe they want Ferraris with two seats!'

And you must be replacing the 612 soon...

'Of course we are thinking of a new one, but this is not a current project. The Scaglietti is the least young car in our range: so we are thinking of something in the future. When will be the right time to do something different in terms of design and characteristics? It’s not today or tomorrow. When we have a V12 hybrid, we will maximise its use: in a two-seater, as a 2+2.'

What do you make of the McLaren 12C?

'I have a lot of respect for McLaren, because apart from some problems in the past, McLaren has been an important player in F1 for many years. I like competition. McLaren can do as it pleases and I’ll say welcome: I like the competition and I like to win! Competition is good, I want to win. This is good for our people because in road cars they need to be under pressure on technical ideas, on creativity. In the last 10 years, our competitor map has really changed. It’s impossible to single one out: it could be Mercedes for some cars. The AMG SLS, I respect Mercedes and I like Dieter [Zetsche], although I didn’t like so much seeing Michael [Schumacher] advertising with a red Mercedes... Mercedes has never been red! Aston Martin is theoretically a competitor, and of course Porsche for the eight-cylinder Ferrari. And the Honda NSX, but it disappeared. In the last 20 years I have seen many competitors: I saw the McLaren with three seats up front. I like competition but it's important Ferrari continues to win!'

Will there be a new Enzo supercar?

'Yes, but not in the next three years.'

>> Click 'Next' to read more of CAR's interview with Luca di Montezemolo

Okay, moving away from new models and your competitors. The world is in a recession at the moment. How has Ferrari found things?

'It was tough in February, March, April [2010], with cancelled orders. Then month by month, the order book has became more balanced. The California has been absolutely crucial, it was perfectly timed: it’s not too much of a show-off, and the same price as some Porsches and Mercedes. Initially the crisis was global, and then the Far East recovered, then at the end of 2009, the first positive signals from the USA. We closed 2009 having sold 6250 cars. We were down 5% but that’s fantastic when some luxury car makers were down 30%, 40%. Europe was not so good, down 10-12%. This is why it’s important to have a presence all over the world. And the model mix? We sold more eight-cylinder cars than 12.

'The world has changed so it’s difficult to plan long-term strategies. But I think we will sell the same number of cars as last year [in 2010]. Our policy is to make fewer cars than there is demand, but also to reduce the waiting lists. This can create a big problem. Our competitors say we can deliver a car in a week or a month, and we say you have to wait 18 months for a 458. They say: “That’s too long; I might not still be alive in 18 months!” We need waiting lists of a maximum of one year. In some countries, we currently have a three-year waiting list.’

The commercial side of the business appears to be going from strength to strength too. We understand Ferrari will be opening in India before the end of the year?  

'Yes. Then we will be present in 90% of the world’s car markets, everywhere except central African countries. I’m very pleased with our Chinese performance too. A few years ago I wanted to personally meet the first Ferrari customer in China. This year, we will sell more than 200 cars in China despite very big taxes. We are also doing well in the Emirates and the Far East, and we’ve just opened a shop in Johannesburg, South Africa. There are now 38 shops worldwide, with Macua the number one and Dubai, Milan, London and Las Vegas.'

It’s not just shops these days though is it? What do you make of Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi?

'I spent a day there, it’s fantastic, unbelievable. It is an attraction for every age group. The rollercoaster is the quickest in the world; it reaches 240kmh, like a Ferrari! It’s the perfect location: a fantastic golf course, the sea, the F1 track are all within a mile away.'

Can we expect to see more Ferrari Worlds popping up around the world?

'Theoretically there could be more than one, but we have no firm plans yet. I think there’s room for one more. In the Far East, Europe, South America? We will see.'

But doesn't some Ferrari merchandise push the boundaries of good taste? You can have too much of a good thing...

'I was pissed off with the replica trade: Ferrari didn’t make any money and we had no control over the stuff put on the market. So we made licensing agreements with key worldwide companies: Puma, Mattel, Electronic Arts or Sony for computer games. It’s up to them to police the market to avoid replicas. You can’t imagine how many people want to buy something for the children, and why should we give this money to someone else? Perhaps three to four years ago, we had too many licences and products: we are dramatically reducing this. We don’t spend €1 on advertising; merchandising is an indirect way to promote the brand.'

How does Ferrari’s revenue streams rank?

'Our merchandising adds €40-50m to the bottom line, that’s 20% of our margin. Then it’s cars. For us, F1 is a huge cost: for companies like Mercedes and Renault, it’s a small percentage of a big number. For us, it’s all about reducing the cost with sponsorship and also new rules to reduce cost.'

>> Click 'Next' to read more of CAR's interview with Luca di Montezemolo

You have been quite outspoken about the rules currently in place in F1, particularly about the lack of testing allowed, how would you like to see things changed?

'F1 is the world’s only sport where you’re not allowed to train. This is unbelievable, because it can be dangerous. An up-and-coming driver needs to become familiar with the car. When Michael wanted to return (following Felipe Massa’s injury in 2009) we had to use a five-year-old car for him to practise in.'

What would you do differently?

'I want F1 to be competitive, with teams having a third car. We currently have teams that are lapping 3-4 seconds slower than the best, which can also be dangerous. I would rather give another team a car and say: "You have to be competitive. Use [Moto GP legend] Valentino Rossi or a young driver to give us a show." Virgin, Campos lag behind – it’s a joke. F1 is like soccer: you need the heroes, the big teams: you can’t equalise things by dragging everyone down.

'We have to look at the problem. Why do we race at 2pm when we could race at 6pm? And maybe we should have shorter races: in the last 10 to 15 laps you have to save the engine. I would prefer to have short, tough races and use the engine for two to three races, not four. I’m unhappy because we've also lost important players like Toyota and BMW, we have lost technology like KERS, and we have lost competitiveness.

'And we need tracks like Monza or Spa, not to race inside the Colisseum or Eiffel Tower. Monte Carlo? One of those is enough! People want to see overtaking. In a very constructive way, Ferrari will show its team spirit as we look ahead.'

What do you make of Schumacher’s comeback?

'For me, it wasn’t good news. We have received a lot from him; he will remain a key person in Ferrari’s history. And he has received a lot from us; he would never have become a worldwide hero without Ferrari. But we wouldn’t have won as much without so good a driver. Maybe I was the person who convinced him to come back. Two days after Felipe’s crash, I said: “Michael, we need you.” He was well tanned, like a retired guy, and for 45 minutes said: “No way.” Then he came out of the room convinced. We organised the first test and he was enthusiastic, but when the car touched the kerb he felt pain. He went to see his doctor and was told he wasn’t allowed to race for three to four months. He was always on my mind but I couldn’t offer him anything, like a third car.'   

His first season with Mercedes didn’t go as well as he'd hoped. Do you think Michael Schumacher can be a star of the sport again?

'F1 has changed a lot in the last few years. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets better. But to come back for a big, big hero is always a big risk. If he wins, people will say it’s normal, but if he doesn’t win... I like Michael: together we had a fantastic run. From 1997, except 2005 and last year, we either won the championship or lost it with the last race.

'Schumacher was fantastic but you can’t win a world championship without a fantastic car. The world champion always has the best car, particularly in the last 15 years. You can have Superman but without a great car; a medium driver can win the championship if you have a great car... In the '70s, the driver and car was 50:50. Today it’s 70:30 car and driver. It needs to get back to 50:50.'

>> Click 'Next' to read the final page of CAR's interview with Luca di Montezemolo

You have been quite outspoken about the rules currently in place in F1, particularly about the lack of testing allowed, how would you like to see things changed?

'F1 is the world’s only sport where you’re not allowed to train. This is unbelievable, because it can be dangerous. An up-and-coming driver needs to become familiar with the car. When Michael wanted to return (following Felipe Massa’s injury in 2009) we had to use a five-year-old car for him to practise in.'

What would you do differently?

'I want F1 to be competitive, with teams having a third car. We currently have teams that are lapping 3-4 seconds slower than the best, which can also be dangerous. I would rather give another team a car and say: "You have to be competitive. Use [Moto GP legend] Valentino Rossi or a young driver to give us a show." Virgin, Campos lag behind – it’s a joke. F1 is like soccer: you need the heroes, the big teams: you can’t equalise things by dragging everyone down.

'We have to look at the problem. Why do we race at 2pm when we could race at 6pm? And maybe we should have shorter races: in the last 10 to 15 laps you have to save the engine. I would prefer to have short, tough races and use the engine for two to three races, not four. I’m unhappy because we've also lost important players like Toyota and BMW, we have lost technology like KERS, and we have lost competitiveness.

'And we need tracks like Monza or Spa, not to race inside the Colisseum or Eiffel Tower. Monte Carlo? One of those is enough! People want to see overtaking. In a very constructive way, Ferrari will show its team spirit as we look ahead.'

What do you make of Schumacher’s comeback?

'For me, it wasn’t good news. We have received a lot from him; he will remain a key person in Ferrari’s history. And he has received a lot from us; he would never have become a worldwide hero without Ferrari. But we wouldn’t have won as much without so good a driver. Maybe I was the person who convinced him to come back. Two days after Felipe’s crash, I said: “Michael, we need you.” He was well tanned, like a retired guy, and for 45 minutes said: “No way.” Then he came out of the room convinced. We organised the first test and he was enthusiastic, but when the car touched the kerb he felt pain. He went to see his doctor and was told he wasn’t allowed to race for three to four months. He was always on my mind but I couldn’t offer him anything, like a third car.'   

His first season with Mercedes didn’t go as well as he'd hoped. Do you think Michael Schumacher can be a star of the sport again?

'F1 has changed a lot in the last few years. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets better. But to come back for a big, big hero is always a big risk. If he wins, people will say it’s normal, but if he doesn’t win... I like Michael: together we had a fantastic run. From 1997, except 2005 and last year, we either won the championship or lost it with the last race.

'Schumacher was fantastic but you can’t win a world championship without a fantastic car. The world champion always has the best car, particularly in the last 15 years. You can have Superman but without a great car; a medium driver can win the championship if you have a great car... In the '70s, the driver and car was 50:50. Today it’s 70:30 car and driver. It needs to get back to 50:50.'

>> Click 'Next' to read the final page of CAR's interview with Luca di Montezemolo

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