Will the Prancing Horse take the leap across the pond?

One prospect that has brought a wry smile to motorsport fans during this very dower time is the possibility of Ferrari expanding their horizons and going racing in the USA, again, in Indy Car.

It’s a mouthwatering prospect for sure and one that would add some spice to what has been a two horse race power-wise for the last few years.

Honda and Chevrolet have enjoyed a good head to head battle for some time now and it’s been a case of Honda outright power v’s Chevrolet reliability.

The idea of adding a third car manufacturer and the oldest and most prestigious name in Formula One, Ferrari,  is enough to send the people of the Pagoda into a tizzy.

Well, that is what’s being talked about from Motor City to Maranello.  There really does seem to be some chatter that the Prancing Horse could bolt and finally set up stable in the one market they have never really conquered.

The obvious question is why. ? Why now and why at all?

It does seem the timing and the reasoning could well be as soon as 2022. F1 aficionados may argue that Ferrari has enough on its plate trying to recapture the F1 title and that the last thing needed is to take their eye off the ball and be fighting for the two biggest single seater series in the world. Coupled with that is also keeping a competitive  presence in the World Endurance Championship and their continued presence at Le Mans.

Then again, with the ever present legacy and uncompromising ambition of “Enzo”, Ferrari’s spirit would surely lead them back to America. Ferrari  have never succeeded in IndyCar and failed miserably at winning the greatest spectacle in racing – the Indianapolis 500.  

The closest they came was at the “Race of two  worlds” at Monza in 1958  where Luigi Musso and Mike Hawthorn took a factory Ferrari entry to third place. Other than that, “Nada.”

Now again, the F1 aficionados will point out that from 2000 to 2008, Michael Schumacher took six out of eight wins at the “Brickyard”. That though, was Formula One and was run the opposite (or wrong) way on the GP circuit.

Perhaps they should enter the early May Indy GP on a similar layout? 

Ferrari have won everything pretty much they have ever turned a wheel at but the one major milestone they have yet to achieve,  is to beat the world in IndyCar. This quest has been attempted but never achieved. There is no silverware in Northern Italy marking the success, Stateside, outside of Formula One, IMSA and Ferrari Challenge.

So why now and what’s the allure? According to F1 business insider, Mark Gallagher, who has managed many different sponsorship budgets for Jordan F1 and several other teams in a long and disguised career in the business of F1 had this to say recently on Speed City Radio, USA, on SiriusXM:

MARK GALLAGHER:

“If you look at research and development spend, which can be up to 30 percent of your budget in Formula One, that will be hit by the $145 million budget cap. A lot of the jobs in R & D may have to go. Mattia Binotto has recently made publicly known that Ferrari will need to redeploy  staff. That could  be as many as 250 people or more. Not necessarily all year long, but for at least some the year.

“This  means you can undertake other forms of  motor sport and of course the Indy 500 has a big appeal to Ferrari as the USA is their most important and  biggest market.

“So, whether its WEC or IndyCar, there is a recognition that both series are attractive to Ferrari’s global marketing.

“I think in the next three to five years, it will be a fact of life that some of these big Formula One teams will have to redeploy staff and resources into other categories of motor sport and that’s got to be good news for motorsport fans,”

With an estimated budget of over $400 million dollars a year in Formula One, Ferrari are concerned that the $145 million budget cap could force the Italian Scuderia to have to lay off a substantial number of staff. Unless they diversify it into some other motor sport that will use that current budget parameter and keep their staff employed.

In a recent interview with Sky Sports Italia, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto admitted his team is open to venturing into other racing disciplines—largely due to the budget cap constraints that were voted on last year in F1.

Mattia Binotto :
“Ferrari feels a lot of social responsibility towards its employees, and we want to be sure that for each of them there will be a workspace in the future.

“For this reason, we have started to evaluate alternative programs and I confirm that we are looking at IndyCar, which is currently a very different category from ours (in F1) But with a change of regulation scheduled in 2022 to hybrid engines, we also observe the world of endurance racing and other series. We will try to make the best choice.”

Indy owner Roger Penske admitted that there has been talks when he also went on Sirius XM recently.

Roger Penske :

“We are looking at potentially adding other manufacturers, you’ve probably heard it. There have been discussions with Ferrari, who  might be interested in joining the series coming in 2022 when we have new engine rules. That would be a great asset to have a third manufacturer in the series.”

With only Chevrolet and Honda currently in Indy , Ferrari would immediately provide IndyCar with a third engine manufacturer – something it has not had since 2012 when Lotus was briefly involved. There is also the potential to come in as a chassis manufacturer.

There is therefore a plus for both Ferrari and Indy and lest we forget Roger Penske has had a deep and prosperous relationship over the years with Phillip Morris, Ferrari’s biggest sponsor.

Penske cars has carried the Marlboro colours through the nineties and he himself once had a seat on the Philip Morris board. Therefore, in Penske, there’s a tried and tested relationship for Phillip Morris in Indy which would allow Ferrari to maintain their relationship with them or ‘Mission Winnow’ or however it wants to portray itself in these PC days of non tobacco sponsorship.

There is some fleeting history with Ferrari and Indy though it is not one of success.

Ferrari does have history at the Indianapolis 500 where in 1952 the Prancing Horse had its lone entry with Alberto Ascari driving to a 31st-place finish.

Added to Penske and Binotto’s statements, even Mario Andretti, the one man who bridges them both, has got in on the act .

The 80 year-old racing icon called on the Italian outfit to join North America’s premier open wheel championship.

Mario, of course, won the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and  is one of only four drivers to win drivers’ championships in both Formula 1 and IndyCar.

Additionally, he drove for the Prancing Horse for two years in the early 1970s, and then again in 1982 to close out his F1 career.

Just a few days after Mario was verbal on the subject of  the Scuderia,  Binotto admitted that both IndyCar and sportscar racing are under discussion at the team’s Maranello base.

Binotto:

“The budget limit has already been implemented for 2021, with a perspective of $175 million and we want to reduce it further facing this pandemic and the economic crisis. So we have to reduce it to keep that level low. We are about to reach a $145 million agreement.

“This new rule is something we must comply with, within limits and boundaries, and we must do our best. This does not limit technology and innovation—it is up to us to do our best.”

The introduction of Formula 1’s cost cap next year, will free funds for the Italian team to race in another top-level series – a move which would help them to reduce layoffs at Maranello.

IndyCar is an obvious candidate, with Ferrari able to use its F1 engine expertise to develop a hybrid unit for new regulations being introduced in 2022. Ferrari have agreed to the $145 million budget cap with Formula One which will see further reduction in years to come.

Binotto:
“At Ferrari we were structuring ourselves based on the budget approved last year, and the further reduction represents an important challenge that will inevitably lead to review staff, structure and organisation.”

While there has been no hint from IndyCar that it is preparing to throw open the doors to an alternative chassis supplier beyond Dallara, which has been sole supplier since 2009, the new engine and chassis regulations in 2022 could make this a possibility.

If  Ferrari agree to offer IndyCar a third engine supplier, and to power up to one-third of the field, the series may well agree to chassis diversity as well.

Ferrari, of course, are the most celebrated manufacturer in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship, a winner of 16 Constructors’ Championships and 15 Drivers’ Championships, but it hasn’t raced at the Brickyard since the ’50s with Indy.  

Meanwhile Ferrari has had a tough time in Formula 1 lately. Its lead driver, Sebastian Vettel, is leaving and the team hasn’t won a championship for more than a decade.

The last time they looked across the pond they did it partly as a ploy to keep V12 engines in F1 in the 80’s.

In 1986, the ill-fated 637 race car was designed and built  for the CART series. It was considered at the time to be a negotiating tool with Bernie Ecclestone and evidently Michele Alboreto was hooning around Ferrari’s private track when Ecclestone came to negotiate. It worked and Ferrari got their way as they had so often have since 1950.  Although the car was finished and Enzo Ferrari himself publicly declared his intent to win the American series, it never raced.

It might be pulling the same ploy right now through the combination of COVID 19 and the Indy 2022 rules changes and 2022 F1 rules. Added to this is the ability to keep their current level of sponsorship in their global racing programme and maintain their staff numbers.

Also, the smaller hybridized engines are set to be the only option in Indy come 2022, and Ferrari already has race-winning expertise with these sort of complex drive-trains.

The engines are expected to produce more than 900bhp and recover energy from the braking system. The electric motors will be integrated into the push-to-pass system, providing more power than at present.

Having a foot in both Penske’s and Liberty media camps could be a very wise move by Ferrari, given that both are American-owned.

Then there is the American market itself. The Americas account for a third of Ferrari’s global sales of 10,000-plus cars annually. IndyCar, then, is an attractive proposition.

Ferrari might have been put off by McLaren’s latest lackluster return to Indy. It won’t go unnoticed that Mclaren backed by rival tobacco company, RJ Reynolds, ran in Indy under the “Vuse” electronic cigarette logo.  

So, all in all, it looks promising that the Prancing Horse could indeed take the leap to race Stateside. Maintain their sponsorship numbers with the likes of Phillip Morris, Hublot, Shell and UPS all keen for more exposure in the American market and maintain the potential loss of 250 to 300 of its staff under the new F1 budget cap.

Ferrari tifosi may argue that WEC and pursuit of another outright Le Mans victory would be a better fit.

Ferrari last won Le Mans outright in its own right in 1964 –which leaves Ferrari with three years to develop a 60th anniversary entry into Le Mans.

Ferrari also have depth in numbers with drivers in F1 and F2 in the Ferrari driver academy. With Leclerc and now Sainz leading the way after the surprise departure of Sebastian Vettel, they have Giovanazzi at Alfa Romeo and the likes of Schumacher (Mick), Alesi and of course Kiwi Marcus Armstrong at their disposal. Maybe one of them might fancy a run at the 500 or even Le Mans.

So, as always with Ferrari, there’s always intrigue in what they might do next, yet this time it does seem less bluster and more practical for an Indy entry than ever before in this current economic climate.

And for those of us who like a good story – like Alsono leading the 500 two years ago, it would be pretty special to see a red Ferrari taking on the American might in their backyard.

Ford vs Ferrari was good back in the 60’s but this could be even more interesting, especially in the new era of Roger Penske’s IndyCar and you know Mario Andretti would be front and center to ee it happen at the “the greatest spectacle in racing”. So bring on 2022 and let the horses run. 

Jonathan Green

Known in New Zealand for being the voice of the Toyota Racing Series TV coverage, Jonathan Green is also a co-host at Speed City Broadcast. Speed City is a US national radio show broadcasting F1,Indy Car and Moto GP and Jonathan is the voice of the Circuit of the Americas. Based in Austin Texas, Jonathan is one of the world’s leading motor sports broadcasters with more than 20 years at the sharp end of the sport as producer, presenter, reporter and commentator and is one of a handful in his field that he covers both two and four wheel motor sport from Formula One to Moto GP and World Superbikes.

http://jonathangreentv.com

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