OCT 03rd 2014

Luca's last laugh 'was going to be at his boss’s expense'... departing Ferrari head's final press conference

Luca di Montezemolo

On October 13th, Luca di Montezemolo, the man who’s first job at Ferrari was as assistant to the Old Man himself, will leave Maranello for good, 41 years after he first joined the company. That’s the same number of years that elapsed between Enzo Ferrari founding his car company in 1947 and his death in 1988.

It’s a comparison of which we need to be careful. Not only was di Montezemolo absent from the company during the 1980s, only returning after his mentor’s passing, he is also a far less controversial, divisive and autocratic figure in the company’s history. Even so, I think if you were to ask most authorities, I expect most would name di Montezemolo as the most important man in Ferrari’s history, save Ferrari himself. And when that list includes the likes of Colombo, Lampredi, Forghieri and Schumacher, that is some achievement.

It was di Montezemolo who took over an ailing Scuderia Ferrari aged just 26 in 1974 and masterminded three world driver’s championships and four constructor’s titles in the next five seasons. Ferrari’s F1 fortunes fell once more upon his departure but after his return, Ferrari and Schumacher’s five straight titles from 2000 to 2004 eclipsed anything achieved in Enzo’s era.

‘So I asked him straight, “Why are you leaving?” And as his words spelled out the familiar party line, his finger pointed directly to Marchionne’

As for the road cars, when di Montezemolo took the presidency in 1991, Ferrari had arguably the least impressive portfolio of products in its history with cars like the 348tb, Mondial and Testarossa failing entirely to live up to the standards of their illustrious forebears. Di Montezemolo stopped the rot and, starting with the 456GT of 1993 begun a transformation of Ferrari that has led not only to a threefold increase in production but made the company wildly profitable and created the most capable model range in its history.

So why is he going? I attended his final press conference, held at the Paris Motor Show in front of just 50 international media. The official reason is that Ferrari’s parent, Fiat Chrysler Automotive, is about to float on the New York Stock Exchange and that this represents a new era for the company and as good a jumping off spot as a 67-year old di Montezemolo will likely find. But the rumour mill has insisted the truth is he has been shoved aside by FCA boss Sergio Marchionne, the man who will take over the presidency and chairmanship of Ferrari on October 13, the day of di Montezemolo’s departure.

So I asked him straight, ‘Why are you leaving?’ And as his words spelled out the familiar party line, his finger pointed directly to Marchionne, sat a few feet away to his right. By any standards it was a small rebellion, but enough to let us know his mettle remains and that his last laugh in front of the press was going to be at his boss’s expense.

If di Montezemolo knows what he’s doing next, he’s not saying, save getting to collect his children from school. But stories abound as they always have with this man’s career. Some say he’s headed for public office though he has always denied it, others more credibly that he will soon be running Alitalia. Whatever it is, I suspect we have not yet heard quite the last from Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

Luca di Montezemolo

Luca di Montezemolo (right) holds his last press conference, and points the finger at Sergio Marchionne.

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