Why Vasseur has no excuses for Ferrari failure

When Frederic Vasseur clocks on as Ferrari’s new Formula 1 boss for the first time today, it marks the start of what he hopes will be a title-winning campaign.

Why Vasseur has no excuses for Ferrari failure

For while Vasseur is wise enough to know there is no magic switch he can flick that will automatically propel Ferrari to the front, he’s equally aware that he has been drafted in for one thing: world championship glory.

With Ferrari chiefs John Elkann and Benedetto Vigna having lost patience with and faith in Vasseur’s predecessor Mattia Binotto, who they could so easily have given another year for a make-or-break title campaign, the timing of going for a change now is significant.

It is not a case, as so often happens, of a team electing to make a switch because the results have fallen off a cliff and a spiral of decline needs reversing.

Instead, Ferrari looked beyond Binotto for a simple reason: it wants to win the world championship now. As Vigna said so famously over the winter: “We have made some progress. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. I’m not happy with second place. I think the team has what it takes to improve over time.”

The target from on top is clear then. And, if second place was felt to not be good enough in 2022, then the only thing that will serve to satisfy in 2023 is P1.

For Vasseur, who has been in charge of the Renault and Alfa Romeo teams that have battled in the midfield, it means there is no real honeymoon period as he learns about life at the front, and no potential to talk of long-term ambitions and a steady march to glory.

Instead, it really is about wins and the title in 2023. No ifs. No buts. No excuses.

On the one hand, such pressure to deliver a result that Ferrari has not achieved for 15 years seems immense. It is little wonder some have suggested that Vasseur has inherited a poisoned chalice in taking over at Ferrari right now.

Ferrari started 2022 on the front foot before problems emerged

Ferrari started 2022 on the front foot before problems emerged

Photo by: Ferrari

With the Prancing Horse having started the 2022 campaign so strongly, any early lack of results in the new season will prompt questions about whether or not Ferrari made the right choice in changing team bosses now.

And can you imagine what the response in the Italian media or among the tifosi is going to be if there are any of the strategy blunders that cast such a dark cloud over Ferrari through last year?

To silence any such criticisms, Vasseur is going to need to ensure that Ferrari performs faultlessly, something that, in the high-pressure world of F1, is never easy to do. His focus is inevitably going to be on fine-tuning and honing the potential that is clearly there – and ironing out the costly mistakes.

It will be no surprise if part of his initial focus is not actually on the car itself but on the race team structure: diving deep in to the organisation trackside to eradicate the poor processes that triggered some wrong strategy calls last year. He will not have to throw the baby out with the bath water and sack the strategy team to start again. But it is clear that things can – and must - be improved on this front.

But while the odds may appear to be stacked against Vasseur in being able to unleash a campaign that will be plain sailing and have no hurdles, equally there are a lot of factors that do work in his favour. He is arriving at a team that is on the up. Ferrari has been steadily building and improving for several years now, and, despite all the negative headlines last year, did deliver its most successful campaign for a while. Vasseur is inheriting a team whose structure seems solid. Binotto spent a great deal of his early time in charge getting the different departments working well together to help maximise the potential within Maranello.

Joining at this time also means that Vasseur is being presented with an almost complete car, with Binotto having already guided its development in to the winter and made the crucial decisions in terms of concept and areas of improvement.

On the engine side, too, Vasseur should find that the situation is much improved compared to those dark days around the Spanish and Azerbaijan Grands Prix last year when Ferrari saw potential victories snatched from its grasp with reliability problems. By the season end in Abu Dhabi, it had found cures for the problems that had triggered the blow-ups. Insiders say the squad was finally able to turn its power unit up again, having had to run things a bit more conservatively in the second half of the season.

Vasseur will aim to build on the initial success started by Binotto

Vasseur will aim to build on the initial success started by Binotto

Photo by: Ferrari

There is also talk of Ferrari having made further reliability improvements over the winter, to give it more confidence to extract even greater performance out of the engine for 2023 – which could be a boost to the straightline speed performance where it lost out to Red Bull in 2022.

What will be especially interesting to see though is whether or not Vasseur will have as a holistic view of the Ferrari car and engine package, and its technical intricacies, as Binotto did.

For there is no doubt that one of Binotto’s strengths as a team principal was his detailed knowledge of F1 car performance, and the understanding of the complexities and competing forces at play (including high-level paddock politics) that all have an impact on the track performance.

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But if there is a single thing that should offer Vasseur encouragement that his task at Ferrari, however difficult it may be, is at least possible – it’s actually the words of Binotto himself. Speaking last summer, Binotto felt that Ferrari was mostly on the right path necessary to get itself championship trophies again. All that was needed was a bit of sharpening up.

Asked what he felt Ferrari needed to do differently to triumph, Binotto said: “I don't think that there is anything different that we need to do. I think it is simply to continue on our journey of continuously improving ourselves step by step, focusing on each single race.

“There are no silver bullets and I don't think we need to change ourselves. We have proved that we can do a good job. It's only a matter of step by step getting there, get used to it, and whatever will be the outcome for 2022, try to be prepared for 2023.”

It’s up to Vasseur to complete that task. And for all the smiles and jokey persona he shows in the paddock, behind him is a steely determination to get the job done.

As Valtteri Bottas, who has known Vasseur for years, said: “He can seem very laid back and always making jokes, but he can be also tough. He knows when is the right moment to give a motivational speech or a constructive talk. So yeah, he’s good.”

Now it’s time to put his qualities to work and deliver for Ferrari.

What will Ferrari look like under Vasseur's leadership?

What will Ferrari look like under Vasseur's leadership?

Photo by: Mark Sutton

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