Laurence EdmondsonNate Saunders 375d

Does F1 really need Ferrari?

Formula 1

The blueprint for Formula One's engine regulations after 2020 looks set to be the first significant political battleground of the Liberty Media era. 

Ferrari, F1's most famous team and the only competitor to take part in every world championship season, has been crystal clear in its opposition to the proposals tabled last month. Company president Sergio Marchionne was unimpressed with the plans, saying: "If we change the sandbox to the point where it becomes an unrecognisable sandbox, I don't want to play anymore."

The implication was simple: if F1 continues with the plan put forward by FOM, which has also been criticised by Mercedes and Renault, the Italian team will walk away from the sport when its contract expires at the end of 2020. The prospect of F1 losing Ferrari is hardly new ground -- the Italian team threatened to quit in 2009 during a row over budget caps -- but raises a serious question: how much does the sport need its most famous participant?

Our F1 editors have different opinions on whether the sport needs Ferrari on board to ensure a successful future. See their arguments below. 


Laurence Edmondson (@EdmondsonESPNF1)

Although Ferrari is unlikely to follow through on its quit threat, the sport has to take Sergio Marchionne's comments seriously. The Italian sports car manufacturer is the best-known brand in F1's history, and without it the series would not have the same global reach as it has today. McLaren, Red Bull and even Mercedes can't hope to compete with Ferrari in terms of mass appeal, and a grid without two red cars would damage the sport significantly. Put simply, Ferrari draws in new fans from all corners of the globe and represents the ultimate aspirational brand in the motor industry -- no one can compete with that.

It also helps elevate F1's drivers to another level of popularity. It's no coincidence that four of the five most well-known drivers in F1 (according to a recent fan survey conducted by the sport itself) have driven for Ferrari at some point in their career. Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel were all big names within F1 before they joined Ferrari, but it was the prancing horse on their overalls that made them superstars outside it. Lewis Hamilton is the only exception within that top five, but that's because he is an exceptional driver who has worked harder than any other at developing his image.

It's also dangerous to assume Ferrari needs F1 as much as F1 needs Ferrari. Although the brand is built around its motorsport heritage, the main reason customers buy one of its cars is rarely because of the F1 team. The majority of those rich enough to own a Ferrari consider doing so because it fits an image. The marque's history in F1 adds to that image, but the lack of a current racing team would do little to damage it -- especially in key markets such as China where F1 has yet to connect with the masses. Porsche is a prime example of a rival manufacturer with a brand built on rich motor racing heritage (in its case at Le Mans), yet it enjoyed one of its strongest periods of growth while it was away from the top level of prototype racing between 1998 and 2014. On its current trajectory, Ferrari could easily do the same. Maranello's coffers might take a hit in merchandise sales if it leaves the sport, but its brand is big enough to exist comfortably without F1. A new commercial deal after 2021 without the huge bonus payments the company is used to might also make it harder for Maranello to justify F1 as a marketing expense.

Even if F1 can attract the likes of Porsche and Aston Martin for post-2021, the loss of Ferrari would devalue the sport not just for its owners but also for all those competing in it. Winning the first F1 title without a Ferrari would be seen as a downgraded achievement after 70 years of racing alongside the prancing horse.

That's not to say F1 should bow down to Ferrari's demands, but it's clear that the sport is significantly stronger with its most famous brand than without it. If Liberty Media wants to grow its business, it needs brands like Ferrari on board.


Nate Saunders (@natesaundESPN)

Undoubtedly, if Ferrari ever did follow through with one of its many quit threats, it would be a significant blow for Formula One in the short term. But the idea that somehow F1 would be unable to survive without the Italian team is ridiculous -- there is much more to the top level of motorsport than having two red cars on the grid every year.

F1 has been guilty of treating Ferrari with far too much reverence for a long time. It currently gets a ridiculously good deal for being in the sport. It gets paid (very well) just to show up and can veto proposals it doesn't like. All of that comes guaranteed regardless of where it finishes -- it has not won a title in a decade despite the favourable terms of its deal.

As for the idea that a title won in an F1 without Ferrari would lack value: an energy drinks company has won eight F1 titles in the 10 years Ferrari -- the team supposedly bigger than the whole sport -- has failed to win one. History has demonstrated that fans will watch F1 regardless of how Enzo Ferrari's team is doing. F1's golden era of the late 1980s and early 1990s also came during a barren spell, one that saw the team go 21 years without a drivers' championship -- that lack of success hardly diminished the value of the championships won during that time. The biggest star of that era, Ayrton Senna, became a global icon despite never once driving in its iconic red colours. If you take away its dominant spell of the early 2000s, Ferrari's on-track performances in the past few decades hardly warrant the mythology that always comes with the Maranello team.

Away from F1, Ferrari holds a very prestigious place in what is still a niche and elite market: selling supercars. F1's rule makers have unveiled an engine blueprint for beyond the 2020 season that, among other things, hopes to lure new manufacturers. That includes the likes of Aston Martin and Porsche, while fellow supercar maker McLaren uses F1 as the main platform for its own multifaceted company. As driver-turned-TV-pundit Martin Brundle pointed out in a tweet last week, nothing has the global reach of Formula One in motorsport and those other companies would gleefully step into Ferrari's place at the top table of the sport's biggest series. Whether Ferrari's brand would be affected by leaving is another argument, but F1 would not struggle to find willing replacements.

Red Bull has issued several similar threats to quit in recent seasons, all of which seemed as hollow as Marchionne's most recent declaration. Why? Because Red Bull would be foolish to walk away, and Dietrich Mateschitz knows it. None of its other projects comes anywhere close to the sort of exposure it gets from being one of the biggest teams in motorsport's premier category. F1 would continue without both.

Regardless of who lines up on the grid, F1 will always be the best drivers in the world driving the best cars at the best venues in the world -- if Ferrari doesn't want its brand to be a part of that anymore, Liberty Media should hold the door open for it to leave rather than be held to ransom about the future of the sport. 

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