THERE are always surprises in Formula 1, the latest being a sudden announcement by Ferrari that it had appointed Mattia Binotto as team principal, replacing Maurizio Arrivabene.

It is the team’s fourth change of principal in less than five years.

Word is Arrivebene got the chop because of the team’s continuing failure to secure titles, and the dropping of the talented Kimi Raikkonen in favour of young Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc could be another reason.

Raikkonen often outshone the lauded Sebastien Vettel in 2018 but was forced to play second fiddle to the ‘golden boy’ on team orders.

Despite his frustration he made it clear that leaving the team was not his decision.

He joins Sauber for 2019.

 The upheaval was officially announced announcement by the Gazzeta dello Sport newspaper.

“After four years of untiring commitment and dedication, Maurizio Arrivabene is leaving the team,” Ferrari said in a statement.

“The decision was taken together with the company’s top management after lengthy discussions related to Maurizio’s long-term personal interests as well as those of the team itself.”

It comes less than two months before the start of the 2019 seasn – in Melbourne, on March 17.

Arrivabene was appointed principal of the sport’s oldest, most successful and glamorous team in November, 2014, replacing Marco Mattiacci who had taken over after Stefano Domenicali resigned in April of that year.

Binotto, a Ferrari stalwart with more than two decades at Maranello, takes over with immediate effect and with all of the team’s technical areas continuing to report directly to him.

Ferrari won six of the 21 races last season but their title challenge evaporated in the second half of the year and Mercedes won both the drivers’ and constructors’ crowns for the fifth year in a row.

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The Italian team’s most recent driver’s title was with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, a year before they took their last constructors’ championship.

Ferrari won a record 16 constructors’ titles and is the only team to have competed in every season since the first in 1950.

Arrivabene’s tenure had looked uncertain for some time, with reports as far back as October, 2017 suggesting Binotto could replace him.

Strategic blunders by the team last year increased the pressure on a principal with little love or time for the media.

The team meanwhile adopted something of a siege mentality under his leadership.

Former chief engineer Luca Baldisserri spoke in 2016 of a ‘climate of fear’ at Maranello with staff allegedly reluctant to take risks in case they were fired by bosses with little racing experience. Arrivebene is a former Philip Morris tobacco executive.

The death in July last year of chairman Sergio Marchionne, who had exercised the real power, triggered a change at the top with Louis Camilleri taking over as chief executive and John Elkann, a scion of Italy’s Agnelli family, as chairman.

Media reports last year had indicated that Marchionne was already planning, before he died of complications during cancer surgery, to replace Arrivabene with Binotto.

Binotto, who has risen through the ranks to technical director and overseen a big step up in engine performance, had reportedly been a target for rival constructors and Ferrari were determined to retain his services.