CAR interviews Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo (2011)

Published: 10 October 2011

Fiat will not sell a stake in Ferrari, Formula 1’s governing body should stop knee-jerk rule changes and Lewis Hamilton is a top driver – those are the views of Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, expressed in conversation with CAR Magazine. CAR’s October 2011 issue – on sale now – contains a VIP tour of Ferrari and interviews with the company’s top brass: president di Montezemolo, Ferrari CEO and engineer Amedeo Felisa and design chief Flavio Manzoni.

We covered so many fascinating topics that some great material could have finished up on the cutting room floor. Instead we’ll publish the full transcripts of the interviews this week. Luca di Montezemolo was on great form, cracking jokes and holding court in typical charismatic fashion, in his private Maranello dining room. Read on for the full conversation, and for the pictures of our access all areas visit, pick up the October issue of CAR (free digital preview here).

Luca Di Montezemolo: 'I have seen your test drive with McLaren and Ferrari...'

CAR: 'Good!' [followed by trepidatious laugh]

LDM: 'I don’t like too often when our competitors, particularly in F1, they talk too much about us, “Ferrari has the biggest [such and such]”... I don’t want to do the same with them. I like the road cars competition. Fifteen years ago I said I don’t want to be the last of the Mohicans, apart from Porsche. Jaguar in the shit, McLaren did just one car with three seats, one shot then nothing. I like for my people, little bit presumptuous, to say we want to be the best. But to be the best on our own is self-service promotion. Having said that, there are a lot of newcomers both in Formula 1 and in road cars.

'In Formula 1 I like to have a polemic with somebody who has won half of what Ferrari did, it’s impossible to say but at least half, in road cars everybody is welcome. In my opinion, one reason I have a lot of respect for Porsche, is history. It doesn’t mean if you don’t have history you’re not allowed, but history, emotion of driving, personality, a little bit of dreaming around the problem are important ingredients for a successful car. Not just in sports cars, the Mini, Renault R6, Fiat Cinquencento, so welcome to some newcomers but with respect.'

Have you also seen our CAR Racing supplement, with some bloke called... ahem... Lewis Hamilton on the cover?

'Lewis Hamilton is a fantastic driver. I like him because he’s a fighter, I like him because he has a lot of determination, for me he’s by far, together with Alonso, he’s the best driver in the world at the moment, and I know that he has a very good taste in cars [Di Montezemolo winks], as many F1 drivers of the present the past and I’m sure of the future. I like him.'

Would you be happy if a Ferrari driver was as critical of the team as Lewis has been on occasion?

'Let me be coy. Let me talk about Ferrari. We are in a good moment, even in Formula 1. I was very unhappy at the start of season for the simple reason of losing the [2010] championship in an unbelievable way, at the last race, it was easy to get a fourth place. If earlier in the season, they told me we get a fourth place I would say, “Listen Ferrari has to win, not a fourth place” then in the the only race it was necessary just to get a fourth place and...[Di Montezemolo claps his hands loudly]. I still wake up [in the night about it]!'

[CAR’s photographer, Jamie Beeden, enters the room]

'Who is this guy, he’s a paparazzo? Be careful!'

Jamie Beeden: I last photographed you in 2003, at the Maserati Quattroporte unveiling. You haven’t changed!

'I change, no you haven’t changed! I’m very proud to be so close to a good-looking women instead of just a car! [Di Montezemolo gestures to Federica Marchionni, Ferrari director of brand and LDM’s lunch appointment.]   

'Last week I said that next year I want a car that’s competitive from the start of season; last year for different reasons we were not very strong at the beginning and this year I was extremely disappointed, all the Tifosi not only me. I told all the people I want more, a strong, strong, strong reaction in terms of method, more determination. Formula 1 as I said before regarding Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1 is not a sport for a big corporation: you need to have rapid decisions, no bureaucracy, to have people who can work day and night, I always tell my people and myself we have to be more unhappy when I win than when I lose. When I win I don’t want the people thinking...

'This is our helicopter arriving, red for Ferrari, half red I have to go tonight to Rome.

'I’m very pleased at the reaction despite the unclear situation with the rules. Sooner or later I will say something because patience has its limits; I see at the Silverstone race something I haven’t seen in 30 years, even more, to change the rules on Friday then on Saturday – I haven’t seen it: I was used to change thing rules before every three seasons, then every season, then in the middle of the season, but I’ve never seen it [during a race weekend]... anyway, this is not the place to talk about it but sooner or later the Ferrari voice will come out...'

>> Click 'Next' for more of CAR Magazine's interview with Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo

CAR: And how is Ferrari's road car business doing?

Luca di Montezemolo: 'Regarding the company, I’m very pleased, despite big investment, last year we came out with two special series, the GTO and SA Aperta, and this year a huge success with a brand new car, the FF. It’s completely innovative, not an evolution, four-wheel drive, four seats, big room for the luggage, 660hp – unbeliveable! And we are in the process of coming out with the new Spider 458 too. You will see a surprise at the rear where it doesn’t have [so much] overlap with the coupe. It’s the first Ferrari sports car – not GT – with a hard top.

'Despite these strong investments we are in the middle of a fantastic year, your country [is doing] very very well, I tell you not because you are English, but for me when I win in the UK it is double satisfaction. The UK is the country where Formula 1 was born, the country with more attention to detail and automotive passion, the country where history means something – not only in cars – and the country in the world where sport is sport. When we won in Silverstone it was important; I remember my time with Niki Lauda and also with Michael [Schumacher], the bad time in 1999 when Michael crashed first lap. And to have success in London with road cars is important: when I see a very clean, very well managed red Ferrari in London, I’m very proud!

'China is unbelievable. Next year we will celebrate 20 years in China and China, Taiwan and Hong Kong is becoming the second largest market. The US is good too, so I’m very pleased. Before your arrival I was discussing with Mrs Marchionni new internet initiatives, the site is in eight different languages, it’s a huge success. Without being presumptuous I think we have many areas to be pleased. I hope to win races between now and end of the season in Formula 1 and I’m sure that the new [458] convertible will be a big success because I love this car. It’s one of the most ‘edonsitic car we ever did; ‘edonistic this is the word; in which dream, in which passion, design, beauty, performance are crucial. I like it very much. I’m very pleased with the success of the FF. Three years ago I said to my people, we had the 456 2+2, then the 612 Scaglietti: I don’t want evolution, I want revolution.

'Now in the Ferrari history, the 2+2 has been always there with about 10% of overall production, when I was young here working with Enzo Ferrari he used to drive a 2+2 every day. But as we did with other cars, it was time to look ahead and that’s what we did with the FF. We have achieved two goals, as we did with California with the V8, to do a Ferrari that can be appreciated not only by Ferrari clients but also to enlarge the Ferrari target [market], and to do a Ferrari you can drive in every condition. But a Ferrari is not a Jaguar or Alfa Romeo – it has 660hp! Three years ago I told my people I want a car with four seats, not 2+2, we can do a big trip together, in the back we can even watch television; not with traditional heavy [4wd]; and third a car that you can enjoy with but can have the same peformance as the 599. They said "What! You want more, a satellite?" They did a fantastic job, you have to drive it, maybe today?'

My guys have already driven it. In fact, I’m afraid we crashed it... (Phil refers to Jethro's coming together with a kerb, caught unfortunately on video)

'They touch with their own hands! How safe is the car!

'Here’s where Ferrari is today: we’ve put our flag in India, we are again competitive in Formula 1 [this interview was conducted earlier this autumn]. In the last three races, except Canada when we had the crash between Button; Button was lucky, Alonso was unlucky because if it was vice versa Alonso was in position to win. We lay second in Monte Carlo six laps to go, we were sure to win the race without the interruption and change of tyres. We had problems in Canada, we came second in Valencia, first in England and second in Germany. To be honest, in Germany with a less cold temperature when Fernando went out of pits in front of Hamilton... with the tyres we are still paying a big price in those conditions; I hope with a hot temperature we can even more competitive. Now I’m pleased because I see where Ferrai has to be. Win, don’t win: this is a nice element of the sport – but Ferrari has to be there on top.'

Can anyone catch Red Bull Racing?

'I think so in terms of the possibility of winning races. Vettel is a good driver, the team is very strong, sometimes in life and sport, sometimes it’s good to dream but sometimes it’s better to be realistic. Our goal is to try to win a few races between now and the end of the season but even more, have a competitive car at the start [of next season].

'I’m sorry I have to go. At the moment, I’m working a lot in the design centre for the car of the future, we have a lot cooking in terms of technology, new models, although I have to say that our range of products is extremely new with California, FF, 458. But we have to look ahead. One important project is the hybrid car: in a couple of years, I hope we’re ready with the quickest hybrid in the world. Work, feet on the ground, passion.'

Thank you for giving CAR Magazine so much of your time!

'You’re a magazine that represents history, for me every page is history, it’s very important: I respect brands like yours; vice versa I’m sure you respect brands like Ferrari. I told Domenicalli [F1 team boss] that I wanted Alonso to make one lap of Silverstone in front of the UK public and a lot of Ferrai Tifosi in the [375] of Froilan Gonzalez [that won the 1951 British grand prix]. Life is strange: we hadn’t won one race this year, but at Silverstone we won very well, not because they stopped a lot of cars but because we were competitive. It was the same month on the same circuit where Ferrari won its first race in 1951. I spoke with Froilan Gonzalez, who is 91, and he was crying on the telephone. I told him two hours before the race that Alonso [would] make one lap with the 375, and he did and we won and you see what Ferrari is – 60 years, always there, always a red car in the good moment, the bad moment, in the tragic moment without fail. This is the reason why I think why the Ferrari merits respect from everybody particularly from the [FIA], respect from newcomers in Formula 1, they think to be the owners of the world – respect!'

Let me ask one last question: there is speculation about a stake of Ferrari being sold to raise cash.

'I can answer in this way: a few days ago i read that the Fiat CEO said that Ferrari flotation is absolutely not, the project of Ferrari flotation, is not on the table. Full stop.'

>> Come back tomorrow for further interviews with Ferrari top brass

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine