Ferrari held its usual press conference at the Geneva Motor Show. Four representatives from the storied Italian automaker were present, all dressed in standard-issue Ferrari representative outfits: Sharply-tailored blue suits, white shirts, Ferrari-branded blue ties.
And off to the side, in his signature black sweater, was Ferrari Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne.
The hour-long conversation was, in typical Marchionne fashion, freewheeling and unrestrained. The executive took ample opportunity to rib the journalists present, lightly roast the Ferrari employees by his side, and pontificate on the future of motorsports, exotic cars, and a certain competitor from Sant'Agata.
I asked Marchionne whether Scuderia Ferrari is still . Ferrari's racing arm threatened to exit the series over proposed new engine rules set to go into effect in 2020. Sergio's full reply:
"I went to law school. Somebody taught me there are some questions you should never answer. 'Did you stop beating your spouse?' Whether you say 'yes I have' or 'no I haven’t,' you just can’t win the argument. I don’t know how to answer your question ... I never announced I was quitting. I said if we cannot reconcile our differences, we will leave. We’re not in a position today to say that we have exhausted all discussions. We have been in a dialog with Liberty. I am hopeful that, by the end of this year, we will have found a way to go forward beyond 2020. If not, you’ll know by 2019. By then, the clock will have run out, and we will have been looking at alternative ways of satisfying Ferrari’s racing instincts. I hope it doesn’t get there."
Other notable Sergio-isms from the media roundtable:
Asked about the criteria for owners to reserve a track-ready Ferrari 488 Pista:
"You must own [a Ferrari] already. That’s a minimum condition ... If you drove a Mustang before, you should go to a Ford dealer to buy your next car."
A journalist asked a question referencing Lamborghini:
Journalist: "You have a rival in Italy, a supercar maker..."
Marchionne: "What did you say? A rival?"
Journalist: "Let's say, another Italian carmaker."
Marchionne: "Italian carmaker?"
[Ed. Note: Lamborghini is owned by VW Group]
When asked whether alternative drivetrains can truly replace Ferrari's V12 tradition:
You haven’t driven a Ferrari hybrid. Drive one and let me know if you miss your 12 cylinder [...] We haven’t kissed off combustion purely. Let’s just be honest. I think there are some [future] vehicles that will be internal combustion. Hopefully one of them will be visible this year.
Asked about the importance of power-to-weight ratio:
I have a Demon outside. That’s the quickest street car in the world. If you're looking for power, go buy that thing. Kilo for power, it’s the best thing you can find. If you’re looking for power and handling, then I think Ferrari is the answer. The driving feeling of one of our cars—it’s not a question of power and weight, it’s a question of how it handles. And that’s how I think we distinguish ourselves from the rest. So the next car will exhibit the same traits. [Gestures at Ferrari engineers in attendance] They go nuts trying to get that done. Power-to-weight ratio is almost irrelevant to me.
Regarding the infotainment technology offered on current Ferraris:
My view is that we’re still very much prehistoric. The HMI [human-machine interface] function inside a Ferrari is probably the weakest link in the chain of technical know-how that’s embodied in the car. We can do much better than we’re doing. As we keep on evolving the next part of the portfolio you will see significant improvement in the environment that the driver finds when he gets into the vehicle. That’s a big issue. And we’re working pretty hard on it. It’ll be much, much better.
A Ferrari engineer discussed how the automaker uses augmented reality for rapid prototyping. Sergio responded:
I will remind you of this next time you ask for two more weeks to do something.
Given Ferrari's imminent plans to enter the high-end SUV market, I asked Sergio which other niches Ferrari might seek to fill.
I think the wider space of GTs. Someone made reference to the “other Italian carmaker,” which is not Italian. There are parts of that world which I think should belong to Ferrari. The world of Aston Martin is a world that we have not played in. We could have, and historically we have, but [recently] we’ve left them alone. We’ve allowed them to do the DB11s, the DB9s—stunning, these are phenomenal cars. Mechanically you can debate as to whether they’re worth [the price] but I think stylistically they’re good. I think we can match and exceed them. [Gestures at Ferrari representatives] I think these guys need to prove it.
Asked about whether Ferrari would consider doing "continuation cars"—vintage designs re-released with modern improvements:
The answer is yes. What I struggle with is the use of the term "continuation car." When I was young and foolish and I had no money, I bought myself the carcass of a Jaguar E-Type. It was a rust bucket. I spent all my university savings trying to fix the car. I never did, and I finally sold it to recover at least part of my investment. I couldn’t figure out why it was never re-launched, because that was one of the most beautiful cars God ever made. The fact that they’ve made a limited edition of the E-Type now is encouraging.
I struggle with the whole notion of reinventing [the Ferrari 250 GTO] and relaunching it. That’s a tough gig. I think there’s an opportunity here to take symbols of Italian design from the Ferrari lineup, and use them as a platform on which to do something that resembles it. Hopefully we’ll be able to show you one of those things in the next four years.
We’re not gonna bet the bank on this, because living off the spoils of your past ain’t a happy place to be. I think you can do it once in awhile, but I don’t think you should make it a habit. I think the mind should deliver new and fresh designs all the time.