Rome: Ferrari, a byword for flashy sports cars, hit rough ground Wednesday with the shock announcement that its president of 23 years, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, has been pushed out.
Just days after saying he wanted to stay, Montezemolo -- dogged by six years of Formula One racing failure -- announced he will step down on October 13.
"This is a huge day for me. Ferrari, along with my family, is the most important thing in my life," Montezemolo told a press conference.
"Ferrari means culture, it means passion, and looking to the future. Ferrari is made up of exceptional men and women, great collaborators, in whose hands I am proud to leave many projects for the future," he said.
The top job at the Italian Ferrari luxury sports car company will be taken over by the head of parent group Fiat, Sergio Marchionne.
The brand is the biggest and most glamourous name in Formula One racing, competing on the Grand Prix circuit with huge success since it started in 1950, and the team`s logo of a black stallion against a yellow and red background is instantly recognised by motorsport fans around the world.
But its poor performance over the past six years, combined with recent clashes in strategy between Montezemolo and Fiat, had led racing watchers to tip his likely exit.
The decision not to appoint Montezemolo to the new board of the merged Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also suggested the businessman was on the way out.
Marchionne had said in a statement that the "desire to see Ferrari express its full potential on the track led to certain mutual misunderstandings."Ferrari is a subsidiary of the Fiat Group which Montezemolo, aged 67, chaired from 2004 until 2010.
His 23 years at the wheel of Ferrari saw the team`s drivers win the Formula One title six times, but the last title came in 2007 and the team has struggled since then to compete on the track with the likes of Red Bull and Mercedes.
On Saturday, Montezemolo had publicly stated he wanted another three years in the job, but Marchionne was quoted saying that "no-one is indispensable".
"Montezemolo`s business record is very good but in the case of Ferrari, a leader must also be judged on sporting results," he had said.
Concerns over Ferrari`s future under the Italian aristocrat were also raised in June after Montezemolo said he may pull his team out of Formula One because it "isn`t working", and suggested the firm may switch to sports-car competition.
Scuderia Ferrari has longstanding disputes with Formula One governing body the Federation International d`Automobile (FIA), and Montezemolo expressed frustration with recent changes in F1 rules, saying new environmentally friendly policies were taking the excitement out of the sport.
His suggestion that the most iconic brand in motorsport could leave Formula One sent shockwaves through the sport.
He was also said to have clashed with Marchionne over sales strategies.
While Montezemolo reportedly hoped to keep the red and black brand exclusive by limiting sales to some 7,000 cars a year, Marchionne has been pushing for Ferrari to help Fiat Chrysler move into the premium end of the car market.
Marchionne brushed off fears Wednesday that Fiat Chrysler`s upcoming flotation on Wall Street would mean Ferrari would become American."I have not the least intention of inserting Ferrari into Fiat Chrysler. I have promised to protect the brand`s integrity and its success is largely due to the fact that it`s a unique brand," he said.
"Ferrari was born and will die Italian. The idea of Ferrari being produced outside of Italy is obscene, it wouldn`t be Italian anymore."
While the outgoing president wrote 2014 off as "a bad year" for Ferrari, Marchionne said he was determined the brand recover as fast as possible from the Italian Grand Prix last weekend, which saw one top driver forced to retire with a mechanical failure and his team-mate finish ninth.
"A return to victory, that`s the most important thing, and I have no doubt that we`re capable of it," he told the press conference.
"We have to win because it`s in the team`s DNA," he said.