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Ferrari makes surprising choice in bid to end long Formula One slump

Open-Wheel Racing

As Formula One prepared for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, perhaps the racing series' biggest news came out of Italy.

Formula One stalwart Ferrari, mired in a years-long slump, tapped Marco Mattiacci as team principal after Stefano Domenicali stepped down earlier this week.

What turned heads is that Mattiacci, 43, doesn't have any experience running a Formula One team; the Rome native most recently was managing Ferrari's North American operation.

Now he's given the challenge of finding some way to get Ferrari and its two drivers -- former champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen -- competitive again with such teams as Mercedes and Red Bull.

Ferrari hasn't won a race since Alonso captured the Spanish Grand Prix last May, and it won only two races overall last year as Red Bull's Sebastien Vettel won a fourth consecutive title. Ferrari hasn't won a championship since Raikkonen did so in 2007.

There was speculation that Ferrari might fare better this year after Formula One made several rules changes for the cars. Instead, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg won the first three races of the season.

Meanwhile, Ferrari hasn't even reached the podium (top-three finish) so far this year.

Mattiacci held a news conference in China on Friday and made it clear that, despite his lack of Formula One experience, his job was to "best utilize the talent that is within Ferrari."

"I am not an engineer, but we have 800 people working to make the car faster," he said, according to a transcript on Ferrari's website. "Whatever is needed, we will do."

And, near-term "our goal is to close as much as possible the gap to the leader, which at the moment is Mercedes," he said.

Earlier in the week Alonso was asked about Mattiacci's appointment. "We need to give him time," Alonso said, especially because Ferrari needs "to be better in all areas."

Then on Friday, Alonso earned a small early victory for Mattiacci, posting the fastest time in the first practice session ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix on the Shanghai International Circuit. 

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