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Five things we learned from Vasseur's first Ferrari F1 press call

Ferrari has undergone a winter of upheaval ever since it was announced that boss Mattia Binotto was stepping away from the Formula 1 squad.

Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari

The timing of the change of team principal, during the critical busy winter period when big decisions are made, meant the Prancing Horse could not avoid a bit of uncertainty until replacement Fred Vasseur got his feet inside Maranello at the start of January.

After a fortnight getting to know better the inner-workings of the team, this week Vasseur spoke to the media for the first time in his new role.

With Ferrari being a squad that faces perhaps more scrutiny than any other, especially from the Italian press, that first media call was important for Vasseur to set the tone for the season ahead.

PLUS: Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss

Having heard what he said to both Italian journalists and the international media in separate calls, here are the main takeaways from his first public duties.

Ferrari won't face immediate upheaval

After Ferrari’s clear weaknesses that cost it any chance of the world championship last year, it is obvious that Vasseur has been brought on board to make changes.

But, while the reliability, driver errors, upgrades and strategy problems that all impacted Ferrari’s 2022 campaign are obvious areas of focus, Vasseur has made clear that he won’t be making any radical changes for now.

The Frenchman says that, if he is going to improve things, then he needs to fully understand the reasons for why things happened the way they did.

It would be a mistake, he argued, to believe he had all the answers to Ferrari’s woes on day one.

“It will be arrogant on my side to take action on the technical organisation after two weeks,” he said.

“We have discussions to try to understand how we could improve the system, what could be the weakness of the system and to try to do a better job. But it's more a continuous improvement, than a big step or big changes that, from my point of view, wouldn't make sense.”

Vasseur is also taking a more holistic approach to things, reckoning it important to consider the bigger picture of the entire organisation than focus on the heads of departments.

Explaining why he wasn’t wielding the axe to the strategy team, he said: “You have to avoid to be just focused on the top of the pyramid. Very often when you are speaking about strategy, it's much more a matter of organisation than just the guy who is on the pitwall.”

Vasseur is speaking to the right people

Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari

Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari

Photo by: Ferrari

Ferrari has always been a hotbed of politics, and that has historically meant team principals are constantly  juggling competing factions for their attention.

Binotto did a lot to try to get rid of some of the silo mentality that existed before he took charge, but  Vasseur will want to take things on a further step.

And, just as he believes he does not have the answers yet for what the team needs to make progress on track, he has not arrived thinking he knows it all about the infrastructure.

That is why he has opened up some important lines of communication – both with personnel who work below him, as well as those he reports to.

“The first goal was to meet as many people as possible to understand many aspects,” he said about what had been his first tasks since joining.

“I think there is a lot of potential but I know that every team is mainly based on human relationships. I've already talked face-to-face with 30 or 35 people. I want to get to know them, and this was the job that took me the most in my first two weeks.

“I can say that the feeling so far is great, the mood is positive.”

But chats have been going on in other directions too. He says he talks every day with CEO Benedetto Vigna, and they have dinner two or three times per week.

Furthermore, Vasseur revealed he had spoken to Binotto, who helped ensure a smooth handover, and plans too to have a sit down with former Ferrari team boss Jean Todt in the not-too-distant future.

“We exchanged by WhatsApp a couple of weeks ago, and I will meet him soon,” said Vasseur about Todt. “All the advice is welcome, for sure, but I think it’s also quite difficult today to compare the situation of '94, '95, and 2022.”

Leclerc won't be made No. 1 by his old and new boss

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, and Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, and Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Vasseur’s arrival at Ferrari marks the renewal of a partnership he had with Charles Leclerc at Sauber.

The pair worked well together during Leclerc’s rookie 2018 campaign, so coming back together again inevitably prompted some idea that the Monegasque could get some preferential treatment from now on.

Such an idea has been quickly ruled out by Vasseur, though, who said several times that Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will start the season on equal footing.

“There will be no number one or number two,” explained Vasseur, who also revealed that he had tried to sign Sainz several times during his F1 career.

But, despite an equal footing from the off, Vasseur insisted he would not hesitate to impose team orders if there came a time when one of his drivers had to be favoured.

“If, at one stage, we have to take action, I will take action,” vowed Vasseur.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s for one or the other. If at one stage of the season I have to do something, I will do it.”

Vasseur hasn't lost his humour...

Vasseur has long had a cheeky sense of humour. And for all the seriousness he shows in the heat of competition, a laugh is often not far away when you speak to him.

How this bubbly side of his personality would be impacted by the move to a pressure-filled role like Ferrari was open to intrigue. Would he remain the same, or would he be forced to take a more serious tone?

It did not take long to realise that Vasseur has not lost his sense of humour at all.

To the Italians, he smiled as he opened his session in Italian – explaining that despite taking language lessons every day he was switching to English immediately...

For the international media, there was rarely a moment where he didn’t offer a quip back – or find something funny.

He said comparisons between him and Ferrari’s other French team boss Todt needed to include their height as well as their nationality.

When put to him by a journalist about the core problems Ferrari faced with reliability, strategy and car development in 2022, he laughed: “Thanks for doing my job on the analysis!”

From moments when journalists struggled to turn their microphones on to ask questions, to some confusion over whether he was talking about John Elkann or Jean Todt, Vasseur kept smiling and laughing – and seemed to enjoy his time speaking to the press.

Let’s all hope he doesn’t change when the racing gets serious.

Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari

Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari

Photo by: Ferrari

...but he will be ready to rule with an iron fist if necessary

Despite the laughs, Vasseur still displayed his serious side - and knows that the pressure is on him to deliver the world championships for Ferrari this season.

He is focused intensely on better understanding the errors that proved costly throughout 2022, and will be monitoring carefully how things kick off when the cars roar into action in Bahrain.

And, while feeling there are no alarm bells ringing right now, he says he will not be afraid to ring the changes if things are not being delivered to a good enough standard.

“I trust the guys in place, and that I will try to do the best for them also, and to put them in the best condition to do the job,” he said.

“Then it will be time after a couple of weeks or months to take action if it's not working.”

Vasseur is convinced that Ferrari has what it takes to deliver those titles, though - it’s just a case of getting the team working in the way that best delivers on its skill set.

“During my experience at Sauber, I had some colleagues who came from Ferrari and they told me that nothing is impossible in Maranello,” he said.

“After two weeks I can confirm that it's true, nothing is impossible. There are the skills to move mountains, and this will be important during the season.”

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