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Why did Montezemolo resign from Ferrari?

The departure of Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo was not unexpected, but today’s news is still seismic, particularly for any regular visitor to Maranello.

Ferrari has always been in thrall to the cult of personality. Enzo Ferrari, the great patriarch, believed entirely in what he was doing, and what he wanted his company to do, on road but particularly on the world’s racing circuits. He could be as hard as nails, but unrepentantly sentimental a heartbeat later. He was also a genius of the small gesture and detail, a born PR man, whose trademark dark glasses made it impossible for those around him to read his mood while he manipulated theirs. He was brilliant, impassioned, inspired, inconsistent, enigmatic and phlegmatic.

Boy, did Montezemolo learn from the master. He was hired by the Old Man in the mid-1970s to reassert the Formula One team’s dominance, which he duly did. When he returned to Maranello in 1991, the company was in a deep funk following Enzo’s death three years earlier. It took longer than perhaps he expected, but by the dawning of the new millennium, Montezemolo and his lieutenants had set the road car division on a wildly successful new technological path, and - with Jean Todt at the helm and Michael Schumacher at the wheel - orchestrated total domination of F1.

Insiders, and Ferrari’s image-builders, began to talk of the company’s two eras: the Enzo one, and the Montezemolo one. Even off the record, when the veil slipped, former and indeed current executives in Maranello attest to the man as a genuine visionary and inexhaustible motivator. It fitted the narrative.

So why has he resigned? The current abject performance in Formula One is certainly not helpful. Montezemolo is a man who throws things at his television when his team loses, so the local Dixons will have been busy recently. Be under no illusions, he loves F1 as deeply as the most committed tifosi. Ferrari’s unique standing in the sport, box office appeal and preferential arrangement with the sport’s management are also mitigating factors. Ferrari has suffered longer losing streaks, but this one is starting to hurt, particularly with the sport’s top talent - Alonso - visibly restless.

What this really boils down to, though, is a clash with Fiat-Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne. Fair to say that these two big beasts have contrasting management styles, ambitions and even wardrobes. In the impassioned world of Italian business, it may also have become personal.

Montezemolo has grown Ferrari revenues tenfold since his arrival, allowed the company’s engineers the freedom to innovate, more often than not to spectacular effect, and, in terms of the profit-to-turnover ratio, Ferrari ploughs an enormous sum into its R & D. Its cars have never been better, more desired or more difficult to get hold of, and Montezemolo wants to keep it that way.

But, as Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles prepares for its flotation on the New York Stock Exchange, due to happen next month, Marchionne’s aspirations are different. He, too, is a remarkable manager, and he’s done seemingly impossible things with Fiat and Chrysler. Unlike Montezemolo, however, he wants to leverage the power of the Ferrari brand to the greater good of the Group. Less than 7000 cars per year may not be enough, irrespective of the margins or profits.

As he prepares to take over from Montezemolo, who steps down on October 13th, you have to wonder if the prospect of a Ferrari SUV or the long-discussed new Dino has just become a whole lot more likely.

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