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Analysis

Why Vasseur thinks Mekies exit won’t harm Ferrari

Will the departure of Laurent Mekies for the top job at AlphaTauri harm the Ferrari Formula 1 team as it undergoes a restructuring under Fred Vasseur?

Laurent Mekies, Racing Director, Scuderia Ferrari, Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal and General Manager, Scuderia Ferrari

That was one of the obvious questions to emerge when the former’s planned move to Faenza was announced on Wednesday in the wake of rumours about his possible departure.

Vasseur remains bullish, insisting in essence that Ferrari is a big organisation and that it’s not about individuals.

However, there’s no doubt that Vasseur saw his fellow Frenchman and long-time friend as one of his key lieutenants in the years to come as he tries to rebuild Ferrari into a winning team. 

It’s inevitable that the plans that he has been putting in place will now have to change as he moves people around.

The fact that Mekies will remain in his post for the foreseeable future, and won’t make the move until sometime in 2024, says a lot.

Firstly, this has all happened very quickly and he’s needed to fulfil his usual duties for the time being, and secondly it remains an amicable situation. He hasn’t been dispatched on an immediate gardening leave, which sometimes happens straight away when a key player puts his hand up and says I’m off.

Indeed, Vasseur is adamant that he’s happy to see Mekies get a chance to join the exclusive club of team principals, while admitting that as yet there’s no agreement on the precise details and timing of his departure.

Laurent Mekies, Racing Director, Ferrari  Press Conference

Laurent Mekies, Racing Director, Ferrari Press Conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

"First of all, I think it's a mega opportunity for Laurent,” he says. “And I'm considering also that I have a good relationship with him, and I won't block Laurent for sure.

“Then if you speak about timeline, I think that Toro Rosso [sic] was probably a bit aggressive on the press release, and we have a long-term contract with Laurent. And we'll have to discuss about details."

Vasseur confirms that there’s no decision yet on how long Mekies will remain on frontline duty with Ferrari.

"This will depend on the condition of the change. For sure as I said before, we have a long-term contract with him and we'll have to find the best for Ferrari, and depending on when he will leave the company, and when he will move to Toro Rosso, we will decide the end of the collaboration.

“But I'm not scared about this, because we will do it properly, and the relationship is very positive."

So when did Mekies tell his boss that he wanted to leave?

"This is the relationship between Laurent and myself, and I won't disclose details,” says Vasseur. 

“But we had a very open discussion on this, because I've known Laurent for 30 years. And I think that it's very difficult to refuse this kind of proposal for him. And he was very open on the discussion.

“I can perfectly put myself in Laurent’s position. And I think it's quite impossible to refuse when you are in this business to become a team principal.

“Now I'm there to protect the interests of Ferrari. And it's Ferrari first and it will be always Ferrari first, and it means that we'll have to discuss about the conditions of this."

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Ferrari

Vasseur is also convinced that Mekies will do a good job. Between his first spell at Toro Rosso and his move to Ferrari in 2018, the 45-year-old worked for the FIA as safety director and deputy race director, and has thus seen the sport from a very different angle. At Maranello he had a complete overview of all aspects of the team.

"If you are looking for a team principal in F1 you don't have so long a list of people knowing F1, the FIA and so on,” says Vasseur. “You have a list of five or 10 people in the group.

"I think he has a very, very wide understanding of the business, coming from race engineer to the FIA. And for sure, in this kind of job, you are looking for someone with a complete understanding of the business. And I think he will do a good job."

One intriguing aspect is that many saw Mekies as a future Ferrari team principal, having held the deputy role.

Indeed, until Vasseur got the nod he could have been a potential successor for Mattia Binotto. So, could he have become frustrated after missing out?

"I think for this you have to ask to Laurent,” said Vasseur. “But it's true that if you want to become the team principal of an F1 team, you have 10 jobs in the world. It's not that you can find it everywhere.

“It means that if it was the personal goal of Laurent, I can perfectly understand this. You have to be ambitious, Laurent is as an ambitious person, and I think he did a very good job for Ferrari. And I can understand the motivation and the expectation points.”

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Lionel Ng / Motorsport Images

So what's next for Ferrari? Mekies covered a lot of ground at Maranello, and latterly as sporting director one of his main jobs was liaising with the FIA. Vasseur says it’s too early to say how he will be replaced, and by whom.

He adds that the team in any case has been hiring key people, but not yet told the world about it.

“He is sporting director, so the hole is quite large. And it will be part of the reorganisation of the company. You know that we are in a long process and it's taking time, but we are recruiting a lot outside, and you will have names quite soon.

“But it will be part of the reorganisation, and we could split the job into two different positions as some other teams are doing, and this is part of restructuring."

His friend’s impending departure is obviously a personal blow for Vasseur, but he insists that the team will work around it.

"To lose one person in 1600 it's not a drama,” he says. “The power of the team is always more important and the power of the group than the individuals. We have to keep this in mind, that the most important is the group.

“The group is there. We are recruiting massively – we are not communicating, but we are recruiting massively. And we will do step-by-step because you can't put an organisation in place in two weeks, you know perfectly the system of the recruitment in F1, it's quite long and painful.

“We are working on it. But don't expect that one day you will have a new organisation. It will be step-by-step, and we are putting something in place."

Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal and General Manager, Scuderia Ferrari

Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal and General Manager, Scuderia Ferrari

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

With senior engineer David Sanchez having recently left ahead of a move to McLaren in 2024, it’s starting to look like an exodus of key players, but Vasseur says that it’s just normal F1 business.

He reiterates that there’s a bigger picture as he tries to make the team into a winning machine once more.

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"In every single team you have to build up your own group and to build up something.

"Now we have to be clear that we are speaking, and it's absolutely not against Laurent and the skills of Laurent and so on, but we are speaking about two people in a group of more than 1000 people.

“For sure individuals are important, but it's nothing compared to the group. And we have to build up something on the group, not on individuals.

“And okay, Laurent decided to move, and as I said before, I'm fully respectful with the decision of Laurent, because I think it's an opportunity for anyone. But this mid-term won't impact the development of Ferrari.

“When you have over 1000 employees, and you have a turnover of 6-7%, it means that we have 100 people a year leaving the company and joining the company. Sometimes from a staff point of view you [the media] pay attention to one or two.

“We have 100 people a year joining the company, coming half from the other teams, half from the other business. 

"It means that sometimes you are paying a lot of attention to names. But it's not this which is driving the performance.”

The Ferrari team

The Ferrari team

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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