Stefano Domenicali does the job Bernie Ecclestone made famous. That is, he is the chief executive of Formula One, its head honcho.
And he wants to know that, just like his predecessor: ‘The buck stops with me.’
Those five words contained an implicit rebuke to the sport’s highly paid drivers, some of whom criticized the new sprint format introduced in Azerbaijan last month.
World champion Max Verstappen has even threatened to quit if such a schedule continues – given Saturday’s sprint qualifying followed by a sprint race – saying it violates the DNA of the sport. Others spoke out against some very American razzmatazz on the pre-race grid in Miami two weeks ago.
‘I don’t want a society where people can’t say what they want,’ the Italian told Mail Sport in his most candid interview since taking over from mustachioed Chase Carey two years ago. ‘But drivers sometimes need to remember that they are part of a bigger picture. We don’t have to be selfish.
F1 boss Stefano Domenicali hit back following criticism of the new sprint format introduced in Azerbaijan last month
Reigning world champion Max Verstappen has threatened to quit if such a schedule continues
‘They’re part of this sport and this business, and it’s growing because we’re thinking bigger. Sometimes it’s not easy being out of our comfort zone, but we can’t be lazy or complacent – as we will be able to analyze some of the details of the sprint weekend format at the end of the season once we’ve tried it on the intended six occasions. . We also won’t have sprints every weekend.
‘But we have a new audience and need to provide value for money in every session, not let everyone drive around for the sole benefit of the engineers and drivers.’
As for losing Marauding Max, wouldn’t that be a blow to the show?
‘I discussed the issues with Max (before the last race in Miami). He said he loves sports and what he does. He is world champion and is fighting for a third title. He was born in a car. I’d say he probably stayed longer than I did. It’s not a problem.’
Domenicali showed authority over his £2billion-a-year business last week when he quickly called off today’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at Imola in response to near-apocalyptic flooding in the region of his birth.
He traveled to northern Italy on Tuesday to assess the devastation for the first time after the red-alert was sounded, staying with his parents and hearing the rain pounding the family home as he tried to sleep that night.
The next morning he called the relevant parties and canceled the event, losing £15million-plus in hosting fees.
The situation was all the more emotional for him because, as a boy, Domenicali worked in the car parks at Imola, teaching the likes of Ecclestone in their reserved areas, and studied for a business administration degree. in Bologna, the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, where at least 14 died. Twenty-one rivers burst their banks and several towns were submerged.
This weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was canceled due to heavy rain at Imola
Houses in Ponte delle Grazie were almost submerged in the flood
The situation was especially emotional for Domenicali because, as a boy, he worked in the car parks at Imola
‘It’s a disaster, including for friends and family,’ he said. ‘I know a lot of people who have lost everything – the house, the car. As is the case with members of AlphaTauri (Red Bull’s sister team with a factory in nearby Faenza). The team is doing an incredible job to help them, and we will do the same.’
Formula One donated €1million to alleviate the disaster.
One skepticism aired about 58-year-old Domenicali, Ferrari’s last title-winning team principal, is that he is ‘too nice’ to lead F1’s piranhas. Still, not hesitating to dispel the notion, he demonstrated his understanding of the power play before we sat down to talk in his office on the fifth floor of his HQ off Regent Street.
He pointed out that the chair opposite his table was deliberately designed to be too narrow and too difficult for guests to sit comfortably, and small egg timers, beautifully presented, that could be deployed, however funny or scary , to give visitors, for example, five minutes to spit. put out their arguments and leave.
But he graciously dispensed with the device of mild torture, and instead we sat on a pair of armchairs off to the side.
After the gravity of Imola, we moved on to other topics. One is Lewis Hamilton, with whom Domenicali developed a decent relationship after the Briton lost the title agonizingly to Verstappen in Abu Dhabi two years ago. Their understanding was founded on the shared experience of the last days of tribulation, for Hamilton’s first championship victory in 2008 came at the last corner at the expense of his man, Felipe Massa.
So should Hamilton, aged 38: a) stay with Mercedes; b) find a ride elsewhere; oc) retire?
‘I want him to stay in the sport 100 percent, 100pc– 1,000pc!’ Domenicali declared.
‘I don’t want to give Lewis any advice because that would be disrespectful to Toto (Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal). And Lewis has such deep experience that I’m sure he doesn’t need my input because he knows what he wants.
‘He loves our sport. He’s been in it since he was a kid. Now his role in F1 becomes bigger than that of an F1 world champion, because of the way he participates in many things outside the sport and plays an active role in society. He takes us to new dimensions.
Domenicali urges Lewis Hamilton to keep pushing for eighth world championship win
The F1 boss believes Hamilton, 38, has become more than just a world champion of the sport
‘But his love is Formula One, and, of course, he wants to achieve his dream of becoming the only driver to win an eighth title.
‘Toto is fully focused on making Mercedes improve. He told me that he has made adjustments within the team to ensure that there is the right intensity to get a performance as soon as possible. I’m sure it will happen soon.’
Whatever the ending is written into the great story of Hamilton. He enthusiastically mentions Lewis’ teammate George Russell as a ‘protagonist’ for the title in the coming years. He is aged 25, as are Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. McLaren’s British hope Lando Norris is only 23.
‘There is a bright future for Formula One,’ said Domenicali, adding with a half-smile, ‘and I think they know who should make the decisions.’