GRR

INTERVIEW: Fred Vasseur’s mission to transform Ferrari

21st May 2024
Ian Parkes

It may seem strange to suggest Fred Vasseur has transformed Ferrari since he was appointed team principal when you consider the Scuderia has failed to match its results of 2022.

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Ferrari scored four victories that year and an additional 16 podiums in 22 races en route to finishing second in the constructors' championship, whilst Charles Leclerc finished runner-up to the dominant Max Verstappen in his Red Bull in the drivers' standings.

In 29 races under Vasseur, the Scuderia has only won twice and collected 14 podiums. Last year, it dropped to third in the constructors' as Mercedes pipped it to second place in the final race in Abu Dhabi. Yet under Vasseur, the ways of working at Ferrari are undergoing what can only be described as a metamorphosis.

After four successive Italian team principals since Jean Todt departed the Scuderia at the end of 2007 (after overseeing the most successful period in the team's history), Ferrari is again being led by a Frenchman. Vasseur's predecessor, Mattia Binotto, was very structured and organised in his approach. I remember interviewing him once, and as I did so, he was constantly straightening pens in front of him. I can imagine he ran his team in a similar vein, with everything in its place, and every person methodically carrying out their duty.

That is not to say Vasseur is disorganised, far from it. Instead, he appears to have adopted – to use a French phrase - a more laissez-faire attitude, allowing those beneath him to be expressive, creative, to try a different approach, and if it does not work, at least the idea was allowed the opportunity to flourish, rather than being stymied by convention and regulation.

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Describing Vasseur, after working with him for the past 16 months at Ferrari, and previously in 2018 when the 55-year-old oversaw Alfa Romeo Sauber, Leclerc said: "The good thing with Fred is that there's this side of him where he is funny and a very nice person that you can speak to, and he understands every situation and every person very well. On the other hand, he has a very clear vision of what he wants to achieve, and he's extremely direct, which is a very, very good thing.

"Whenever you are the head of a team, like Scuderia Ferrari, there are lots of people involved and you cannot lose time. That's the really big quality of Fred. Once he has something in mind, he acts and he tells you what he thinks straightaway, and you act accordingly on the vision he has, and that has been a big plus to the team."

Like turning an oil tanker, it is naturally taking time for Vasseur to address Ferrari's weaknesses that were prevalent under Binotto as so many visible errors were made during that 2022 season, notably with strategy and pit stops, whilst Leclerc was not immune to mistakes of his own. After being thrown in at the deep end last year - starting at Ferrari just weeks before the start of the new season, Vasseur quickly addressed one area he felt needed overhauling - the spirit within the team. Speaking in an interview with this writer, describing his initial approach after starting the job, he said: "First, you need to identify the weaknesses, then you identify the people, to recruit them. The overall process, it's more of a two-year project.

"Short term, it's more about putting everything together, to have a good team spirit. It's probably the only thing that you can do in the short term to reorganise some departments, to change people, but this is more a matter of mindset at the end. We did it quite quickly last year, and I think it's paying off. Perhaps as a team principal, what you can change quickly is a little bit the mentality or the ability to take risks, the self-confidence, this kind of team spirit, let's call it. On this, I think, we have made a decent step forward."

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Suggested to Vasseur that staff are more inclined to follow instructions if morale is higher, he replied: "Yes, the capacity to take risks, if you are self-confident, if you are working as a team, to be sure that you won't be pointed out if something happens. It's my job with the team to reinforce everybody We have made some adjustments in terms of people but good ones. It's a kind of snowball effect. If you are more confident, you make better decisions, and this brings extra confidence. It's quite quick that you can build something or destroy something. Easier to destroy than to build.”

A difficult first season in charge was punctuated by a few highs, such as Carlos Sainz's victory in Singapore and a relatively strong end to the campaign, and that upward trend has continued into this year, with Sainz winning again in Australia. This, despite being informed before the season that the Spaniard would be out of a seat at its conclusion; Vasseur used his strong relationship with Lewis Hamilton to sign the seven-time F1 champion for 2025.

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Leclerc has collected four podiums in seven races, including third last time out on Ferrari's home soil of Imola, finishing just eight seconds behind Verstappen and McLaren's Lando Norris, who was 0.725s adrift.

A raft of upgrades on the SF-24 ahead of the race appears to have propelled Ferrari closer to Red Bull, although McLaren's own resurgence after it introduced a suite of updates in Miami has provided the mouthwatering prospect of a three-way fight for race wins at upcoming grands prix. Vasseur's more relaxed approach is seemingly paying dividends. "I can't judge this," he said. "I'm just doing my job in the best way.

"It's a very demanding job for me, but more than for me, it's very demanding for every single team member, and every single mechanic. I think I'm in a comfortable situation compared to them, but at least we can work in a good atmosphere. It's no more difficult or easier for me to be the nice guy or the bastard. At least it's the easiest way to thank the people around me for the effort that they are making, to collaborate in a positive atmosphere.

"Now, I don't want to say that I don't have to make harsh decisions, changing people, because this is for the benefit of the team, but at least on the difficult days, it's much easier to smile than to not smile."

Images courtesy of Getty Images.

 

  • Interview

  • F1

  • Formula 1

  • Fred Vasseur

  • Ferrari

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