Matteo Bonciani - A tall order

By Ubaid Parkar, 6 December 2013
© Craig Scarborough

Standing over a foot taller than Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the 6 foot 3 inch Matteo Bonciani has somewhat of a periscopic and certainly an inside view into the sport.

In his role as F1 head of communications and media delegate, Bonciani not only escorts the drivers in a hurried yet calm manner from parc ferme to the various official presentations and press conferences but also looks after the hordes of journalists accredited and present during a Grand Prix weekend.

The towering and bristly Italian also co-ordinates all team activities and even deals with the main stakeholder of the sport; Ecclestone and his entourage.

“Yeah, it's quite a job!” he laughed as if he had just realised what he had gotten himself into. “When I started I was panicking a little because I didn't have any idea about it.”

Appointed in December 2010, Bonciani was handed these responsibilities by FIA president Jean Todt himself, in a move which evolved beyond the structure of simply assigning delegates.

“Till that moment, the FIA had a media delegate. FIA is divided into delegates; technical delegate, race director, medical delegate,” he explains. “He gave a little bit more to me; as head of F1 communications to be responsible for every journalist in every country.

“And what I found was a little bit of fear, especially within the media, when it came to dealing with the FIA,” he noted adding that the governing body has been trying to dispel that image. “Best way that you can do is to check.”

And it was apt that it was Bonciani who got the role.

© AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

“To be honest, I am a journalist. I am a professional one,” he says recounting the rigours of stepping into the profession back home in Italy. “It's quite complicated stuff. But at that point you are a journalist for whole life... but I never thought about being one because of motorsport.”

Born on May 26, 1970 in Florence in the Tuscan region of central Italy, Bonciani was determined to establish his trade as a correspondent.

“I have compiled many articles. I am so proud about it. I remember going down from the train to Milan and buying the newspaper, which was so expensive, just to see my name,” he recalls. “I covered the economy and finance and because I bumped into a supermarket robbery, I have done a crime page as well.

“Crime, economy and finance,” he summed up. “If there's a link, I'll let you judge (laughs). In a city like Florence, I'd say it was interesting. It's no Milan, Rome or Naples otherwise the crime would have been something more serious.”

So consumed was he to delve into the realities that he seemed to have been reluctantly introduced to Formula One, peeled off from the vocation that he really wanted to pursue. Working as a journalist, he received the alluring call from Maranello – through one of his friends connected with the Scuderia – but Bonciani saw no temptation in it.

© Circuit de Catalunya

“I said 'What you want me to do at Ferrari?'” he asked.

“They called me at Maranello three times for a job interview and every time I say that 'Look! It's fantastic, it is Maranello, it's wow!’ but I always ended the job interview saying 'Thank you, but I don't want to be here. I want to be a journalist.'”

Bonciani reflected on the “strange link” that his family has had with motorsport. His maternal grandfather was a racer, who lost his life in the iconic Mille Miglia race in 1956, leaving the family deeply affected by the tragedy.

“I have always watched races on television despite this stuff,” he says.

Eventually, the scarlet lure proved too strong and both parties came to an agreement with Bonciani starting work at Ferrari in early 2000.

“They gave me a pretty interesting contract,” he accepts. “They gave me the possibility to maintain my journalistic profession.”

The timing couldn’t have been better. He had joined the Italian stable in an environment which had led to the team securing the drivers’ championship, with Michael Schumacher at the helm, after two barren decades for the outfit.

During Kimi Raikkonen's Chinese GP win, 2007 © Ferrari

“It was a super vibrant atmosphere… more than ever,” he recalled clarifying that he had started his Ferrari career with the GT cars division.

“After a few months, not even one year, I received a proposal from Luca Colajanni, who at the time was responsible for the Ferrari F1 team, to join his office,” says Bonciani, who started with all the little steps from the responsibilities of the test team to attending Formula One races, where he took care of the media, the sponsors and the team itself.

It was here he met Jean Todt, who had requested for someone to accompany and assist him in his travels and arranging media briefings at varied levels in different countries. And Bonciani was the man to fill in the slot. Then in 2006, after five straight drivers’ and constructors’ titles followed by a rare blip, the Schumacher-era ended and it was all too emotional for the man with an imposing frame.

“It was such a winning team, a unique period, something that I won't forget for the rest of my life,” he sighs. "It was boring for the others but it was not boring for us at all.”

Around this time, Ferrari had started embracing the crucial Asian market and consequently opened the Ferrari Asia Pacific division as a part of its massive project to conquer the continent.

“We need to give credit to Luca di Montezemolo,” he admits.

The Magic India tour © Ferrari

From its headquarters in Shanghai, the Ferrari Asia Pacific division took 12 countries under its wing with Bonciani as director of communications. He half-heartedly accepted the new designation as he preferred to stay in Europe.

"I wasn't so happy at the beginning. But life afterwards presented Paris to me in a different way,” he says referring to his current station at the FIA, headquartered at the Place de la Concorde in the French capital.

He had done only the first few races during the 2006 season before leaving the F1 team and moving to Shanghai. In his new role, he embarked in several projects, one of which was the 13,000-kilometre ‘Magic India’ tour in 2008, which was admittedly an unforgettable experience for him.

"In that period, Ferrari used to do fantastic things like China Red Miles and Pan America,” he points out. “The Magic India Tour was something special. The idea was to have two Ferrari 612 Scagliettis to demonstrate that with a Ferrari you can drive everywhere.”

His life, however, changed after Todt left the company and started to run for the presidency of the FIA. Bonciani, whose contract stated that he was employed by Fiat group on demand of Ferrari S.p.A., subsequently found himself in a position to leave Asia and return to Italy.

© Foto Studio Colombo/Ferrari

“At Maranello, the wind of change was very strong and for me there were not so many possibilities,” he confesses. “I didn't know exactly what to do. So they sent me back to Fiat at the Lingotto where Mr (Sergio) Marchionne is. And I was there with my name on the door ‘Mr Bonciani’ but I had nothing to do.”

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

Bonciani makes it no secret that he has had a strong bond with Todt.

“We can talk for hours about Jean Todt,” he declares. "He changed the history of Ferrari in the sport and changed the history of motorsport in general, considering what he did.

“For example, he was the first person who decided to switch the well known and famous FIA gala from its historical setting to a different place. This different place was in Delhi. It wasn't easy. It was pretty much a shock for everybody,” he laughs. “But it was okay. It was okay.”

"You can hear many positive things, many negative things about Todt for sure. But he's a man of honour.”

He made a career switch after seeking advice from the diminutive Frenchman.

"The 1st of May 2010 is a symbolic day because normally the 1st of May is a day when nobody works, but it was my first day at the FIA.

"With the FIA, we found ourselves in Morocco, in a place that is run by the royal family. Mr Ecclestone was there along with other important people and Mr Todt he said to me, 'Look, this is the job. You like it?' I said 'Well! it's different"," he laughs almost nervously. "But it was tense.

© AP Photo/Andy Wong

"And I was with Jean Todt as political secretary or something like that just to find the right job description. In that period, from May to December, we visited 37 countries!

“When my daughter was born 12 December 2010, so two days after the general assembly gala that was held in Monte Carlo, he gave me the possibility to change my life again. I was made to be responsible of communications in Formula 1.”

His responsibilities now revolve around the very profession that he had aimed for, except he now fittingly takes care of the flock of journalists that cover a Grand Prix.

It’s all very apt.




 

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