Former Ferrari F1 chief Sergio Marchionne dies at 66

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Legendary automotive industry CEO and former Ferrari Chairman Sergio Marchionne died at 66 on Wednesday in Milan, Italy.

The Agnelli family, which is the holding company that controls Fiat, announced Marchionne’s death in Zurich, Switzerland.

His death is believed to have resulted from complications of recent right shoulder surgery he underwent. The company announced last week that Marchionne would not return to his post with Fiat, a somber indicator of what was expected to occur.

Marchionne reportedly suffered an embolism during the surgery, which resulted after he bad reportedly been diagnosed with invasive shoulder sarcoma.

“Unfortunately, what we feared has come to pass. Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone,” John Elkann, FCA President and Ferrari Chairman, said in a statement. “I believe that the best way to honor his memory is to build on the legacy he left us, continuing to develop the human values of responsibility and openness of which he was the most ardent champion.

“My family and I will be forever grateful for what he has done. Our thoughts are with [partner] Manuela (longtime partner Manuela Battezzato), and his sons Alessio and Tyler.”

The charismatic Marchionne was a leader both at the race track and in the corporate board room. In addition to leading Ferrari’s F1 fortunes as company president for more than a decade, he also is credited with saving financially troubled Fiat and Chrysler from what many believed was certain extinction.

While he had a demanding style of leadership, he also was endeared and looked upon with great admiration for both his leadership and generosity.

Marchionne, who maintained Italian and Canadian citizenships, never got the chance to see his vision for Ferrari off the racetrack to be implemented. A new business plan was expected to be announced in September that would expand the Ferrari brand, including putting Ferrari motors inside Maserati’s.

Marchionne had planned on retiring as CEO of Fiat Chrysler at the end of the year.

“He taught us to think differently and to have the courage to change, often in unconventional ways, always acting with a sense of responsibility for the companies and their people,” Elkann said. “He taught us that the only question that’s worth asking oneself at the end of every day is whether we have been able to change something for the better, whether we have been able to make a difference.”

As for Ferrari’s racing fortunes, Marchionne helped lay the foundation for the team’s rebound in Formula One. Ferrari leads all F1 organizations with 16 constructors’ titles, but the last one came in 2008.

However, Ferrari has roared back this season to title contention for both the constructors’ and drivers’ titles (with Sebastian Vettel), winning four of the first 11 races of 2018.

Here are several tributes to Marchionne’s passing from those in the racing community (courtesy The Associated Press):

* Formula One CEO Chase Carey: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Sergio Marchionne. He was a great leader of not just Formula 1 and the automobile world, but the business world overall.

“He led with great passion, energy and insight, and inspired all around him. His contributions to Formula 1 are immeasurable. He was also a true friend to all of us and he will be deeply missed. At this difficult time we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.”

* Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff: “This is a sad day for all of us in F1. We have a lost a huge supporter of our sport, a fierce competitor, an ally and a friend. Our heartfelt sympathies are with Sergio’s family and all at Scuderia Ferrari at this difficult time.”

* British F1 team Williams issued a statement via Twitter: “We are very saddened to hear of the passing of Sergio Marchionne. On behalf of all at Williams, we would like to express our condolences to Sergio’s family, friends and ScuderiaFerrari.”

* FIA president Jean Todt: “It is with great sadness that I learned that Sergio Marchionne tragically and unexpectedly passed away. Sergio achieved a colossal amount for the automotive industry and motor sport worldwide.

“He dedicated himself fully to turn around the FIAT-Chrysler group and put all his energy to bring Scuderia Ferrari back to the top. He was an endearing, upstanding and brave man, an unconventional and visionary leader. … His death is a considerable loss.”

* IMSA Chairman Jim France: “Sergio Marchionne was Chairman and CEO of several important automobile companies with significant history in motorsport. He was one of the most influential personalities the auto industry has ever seen, and that influence manifested itself on the racetrack through numerous race victories and championships over the years. On behalf of IMSA, I offer our sincere condolences to Sergio’s family, friends and numerous business associates. He will be remembered as an icon of the industry and will be missed by many who considered him a friend.”

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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”