Honda website
Honda website

JANUARY 25, 2003

The importance of Gianni Agnelli

Luca di Montezemolo, the chairman of Ferrari, has said that the death of Gianni Agnelli leaves "an unfillable void" in his life.

"For over 35 years, his friendship and affection provided me with an incomparable reference point," said Montezemolo. "I can never forget how often he was close to me during the most difficult moments and I attribute Ferrari's success to him, knowing full well what a fundamental role he played in achieving it."

Agnelli was clearly an important figure to Montezemolo, who has been Agnelli's protege since he was 15 years of age. Montezemolo was a key figure in the success of Ferrari in the 1970s before moving on to other Fiat-related jobs. He ran the 1990 World Cup soccer competition and once that was over Agnelli asked Montezemolo to take over Ferrari and revive its flagging fortunes. Fiat was at that time already a symbol for all Italians. It was Fiat which brought mobility to the Italian nation and which was to some extent one of the few things in turbulent Italy which seemed to be solid. Agnelli was a flamboyant public figure who consolidated almost all Italian car-making companies into the Fiat empire and expanded it into all manner of different industries.

It was Agnelli who negotiated the deal which saw Ferrari and Fiat go into business together in May 1969. Ferrari sold 40% of the business and let Fiat build the road cars. He retained control of the racing programme until his death in 1988, although Fiat was a major sponsor of the team for most of the time, its money laying the groundwork for the 1970s boom in Ferrari fortunes with Niki Lauda.

Without Fiat Ferrari would probably not exist today. The link with Fiat enabled Ferrari to get through the fuel crisis in 1973 and later, after Fiat was in full control of Ferrari, the company was also able to get through the Gulf War period, when it was unable to sell any cars.

But away from the money, Agnelli was always there in the background for the racing team and kept faith in Montezemolo when his early attempts to revive the Ferrari F1 programme ended in failure. And more recently Agnelli has been the voice that has insisted that Ferrari will remain under the family's control. Now he is gone, Ferrari's long-term security seems less certain.