Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why Stefano Domenicali is Good for Ferrari

The snow has started to melt here and the F2012 began its journey to Jerez last night. Some of the team are already in Spain awaiting the latest Ferrari’s arrival, while other members will fly out of Bologna airport tomorrow morning. Amongst them will surely be Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali. The 46 year old Italian, who assumed his current role within Ferrari in 2008, will probably be anticipating the F2012’s track debut more than any other member of the team. As he stated in an interview after the new single-seater was unveiled yesterday “I will be happy only when I see that this car will be competitive.”

For Domenicali, a lot is at stake this year. Much like Felipe Massa, the team needs to perform exceptionally in order for him to silence his critics. Ferrari has failed to win a Constructor’s Championship since 2008 and a Driver’s Championship has eluded them since Kimi Raikkonen triumphed over Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in 2007.

Many tifosi blame Stefano for the scuderia’s recent lack of success. They claim that Stefano is not ruthless enough to lead Ferrari to another championship and have called multiply for his resignation. In contrast, it is my belief that this charismatic Italian is the perfect man to lead the team to its next triumph.

2003 was the year that Stefano Domenicali first entered the public eye when he became sporting director of the Scuderia Ferrari. To some it appeared as though the likeable young man from Imola was new to the cutthroat world of Formula 1, but for Domenicali it was just another step in a lifetime of devotion to both Ferrari and Italian motorsport.

Stefano’s love of racing began at an early age when he would volunteer at his local track in Imola on weekends. Rumour has it that he always believed he was meant to pursue a career in motorsports because he was born in the city which used to host the San Marino Grand Prix. Upon his graduation from Bologna University in 1991, he applied for a job with Ferrari and was hired immediately. For the twenty six year old, it must have felt as though he was finally achieving his destiny.

Stefano’s passion for Ferrari is so great that he has publically announced that he would never accept a job offer with another team. Although the team principal manages to maintain a largely calm exterior during a Grand Prix weekend and never mentions his tifoso beginnings, his emotions are sometimes hard for him to conceal. The last time that I can recall a loss of composure was after the 2010 European Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton overtook a safety car while both Ferrari drivers dutifully remained behind it. The stewards took so long deciding what to do that by the time Hamilton’s penalty was awarded it had little effect on the Englishman’s race. Most tifosi, including myself, were left fuming after the incident and the normally cheerful Stefano also appeared outraged in the aftermath of the race. Even though Domenicali was taken by surprise during an intense moment of rage, he still managed to remain diplomatic.

Stefano’s diplomacy and temperament are perhaps my favourite things about the easy-going Italian. He always appears to be aware that all of his actions are being monitored and, as the public face of Ferrari, he is conscious that everything he does will be directly associated with his team. Even when I am screaming at my television and cursing the heavens, Domenicali always seems to do or say the right thing, remaining calm and dignified at all times.

During his early years at Ferrari, Stefano worked for some time as head of personnel in the team’s sporting department and eventually came to oversee sponsor relations. These roles within the team surely prepared him for his current responsibilities and during his first years as team principal he has helped to transform Ferrari’s public image. During the era of Michael Schumacher and Jean Todt, many Formula 1 fans viewed Ferrari with distrust and had labelled them as cheaters. Stefano’s humour and sportsmanship have made him popular with the media as well as members of the Formula 1 paddock. One of my favourite videos of Domenicali, shows him engaging in some playful banter with rival team principals Martin Whitmarsh and Christian Horner.  Stefano is in fact so well-liked that I have heard many people say that although they don’t like Ferrari, they love the constantly-smiling Italian.

Domenicali also handles tifosi with the same attitude that he handles the media. I was fortunate enough to meet and spend a few moments speaking with Stefano at the 2011 Italian Grand Prix and he is just as pleasant in person as he is on the television. On that particular occasion, he was leaving a function that was held immediately after Friday’s practice sessions. While other Formula 1 celebrities, such as former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, made a hasty departure, Stefano paused and took several minutes to greet all of those in attendance. When we spoke, he listened to what I had to say attentively and thanked me for my support. He seemed genuinely interested in our conversation and let me tell you, having met several drivers, genuine interest is a rare thing indeed.

Of course, Stefano’s role as the public face of Ferrari is not the only function that he serves. Having been both the director of Ferrari’s Mugello circuit and team manager at Ferrari, Domenicali is used to making difficult decisions and managing personnel. While Luca di Montezemolo often makes statements that are direct challenges to team members who are considered to be underperforming, Stefano appears to be more nurturing and supportive during times of struggle. This is a quality that many of Stefano’s critics claim makes him weak. I have heard many tifosi state that although they like Domenicali as a person, they do not believe that he is capable of bringing Ferrari’s next championship to Maranello.

In my opinion, I would much rather have a Ferrari that is calm and growing in the right direction together. Sometimes personnel must be let go, but overall a positive atmosphere is better for the team than an atmosphere of fear, where everyone is stabbing one another in the back. As the saying goes “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Although sometimes it may seem as though the world is against him and last year's World Championship was particularly difficult, I will continue to show my support for a man who I feel is ultimately leading Ferrari in the right direction. Hopefully 2012 will be the year that everything comes together! Forza Ferrari!

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