SOCHI, Russia — Bernie Ecclestone thinks Ferrari’s struggle to compete with Mercedes this year is because it has drifted too far away from the clear team structure that helped it dominate Formula One in the early 2000s.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have edged ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in both championships in recent months, despite the Italian team having what many believed to be the stronger car for much of that period. Ferrari is the only team to have contested every season of Formula One’s history and remained an influential part of the sport throughout Ecclestone’s tenure in charge, which ran from the late 1970s to Liberty Media’s takeover in 2017.
When asked why he thought Ferrari has underperformed in 2018, Ecclestone told ESPN: “It’s too Italian. I said to somebody the other day it’s back to the old days.”
The old days he is referring to would be Ferrari’s barren run without a championship in the 1980s and early 1990s, before Frenchman Jean Todt took control of the team and installed Englishman Ross Brawn as technical director and South African Rory Byrne as chief designer. Those moves coincided with Michael Schumacher’s switch from Benetton in 1996 and eventually culminated in five straight drivers’ (2000-2004) and six straight constructors’ championships (1999-2004), the most dominant spell in the history of F1.
When asked if he was referring to the era before Todt and Brawn arrived, he said: “Yes. Before.
“We got Todt to go there and look after things a little bit, so it wasn’t Italian too much, and Michael was running the team. So it was all a bit different. I think they’re missing that sort of a set-up now.”
Ecclestone thinks the way Ferrari is run has also hampered it in the fight with Mercedes. While the German manufacturer and controlling company Daimler leave the operation of the race team to Toto Wolff, Ferrari’s top bosses have traditionally taken an active role in micro-managing certain aspects of the team.
“Ferrari have got a completely different way of going on to Mercedes, haven’t they. Mercedes has got a team that’s pure, all they do is racing, it’s nothing to do with the manufacturer. Ferrari is looking after their car production side of things, gearing that more or less to their Formula One performances. So it’s run in a different way.”