The last time a Frenchman led Ferrari, the Reds took five Formula 1 World Drivers’ and six World Manufacturers Championships on the trot, is Fred Vasseur the next messiah?
Perhaps that’s another reason why there seems to be a bit of a spring back in the Scuderia’s step these days.
In fact, new boss at Maranello Frederic Vasseur is far closer to Todt than many may dare to guess. “I’ve known him for more than 20 years and he’s never been far away from my professional life.
“We speak on WhatsApp and we will meet soon. He’s stayed close to F1, so any advice is welcome, even it’s difficult to compare today to Jean’s Ferrari era.”
Our Scuderia showed great promise last year. But as much as it was a huge step forward, some say that Ferrari could have performed so much better. Although to beat Verstappen would have been an unlikely trick to pull off. Anyway, the upshot of all that is that poor Mattia Binotto got the boot and Ferrari shoved Fred Vasseur in as the new capo.
Fred adamant to take over on right foot
The Frenchman was however adamant to take over on the right foot. He was happy with the opportunity to meet his predecessor for the handover. “I appreciated Mattia staying, to wait for me, and to discuss together.”
Vasseur confessed “We had the first discussion the week after Abu Dhabi. “It was a quick and crystal clear process.”
There’s been very little else out of Maranello since, beyond a little curated content and propaganda. But going by body language, nuance, and a little nous it certainly appears that there’s a certain air of optimism down Ferrari way.
One aspect that may be part of the propaganda show, unless it really is genuine, is the paternal relationship portrayed by both those early communications, and the images coming out of Fiorano’s ‘wake up’ test. Where Vasseur was at Fiorano to witness Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz turning laps aboard an old SF21 at the team’s backyard test track.
A father figure to Leclerc
Leclerc of course raced for Vasseur in the junior categories and then at Sauber. Fred is something of a father figure to the Monegasque driver, who lost his own dad a few years ago. There’s a certain warmth the between the two, and also Sainz. This family scene seems fresh and inviting. A now joie de vivre, so to say. A spring in that step.
Fred is however quick to point out that there will be no driver favoritism: “The target is to win for Ferrari. There will be no number one and number two. If at some stage we have to take action for Carlos or for Charles, I will take action. It does not matter if it is for one or the other.”
Moving on to the challenges at hand, Vasseur has every intention of taking Ferrari’s 2023 troubles by the scruff of the neck. He makes no bones about his authority to do the job and that he will do it, whatever it takes.
Vasseur: I can run it as I want, and I will do that
“I have a direct relationship with Benedetto Vigna,” Fred explains. “He comes to me for dinner a few times a week and he and Elkann are on the phone every day. I have the authority to run it as I want, and I will do that.”
That’s good news right out of the starting blocks. We now know that invisible Ferrari big boss Vinga is at least interested in his team.
Fred continued: “I joined a few weeks ago, and as you can imagine, on some topics it’s a long process. I’m speaking mainly about the engine, but I think and I hope that it’s under control today. It looks like they have done a good job.
“I’m trying to understand exactly what happened on every single strategic mistake we made last year. If each was a matter of a decision, organisation, or just poor communication. The car will be on the next lap if too many people discuss the same thing!
“We need clear lines of communication between good people in the right positions. It’s a work in progress,” he declared.
Fred has trust in his people
“So, we discuss our weaknesses and try to understand how to improve and do a better job. It’s more of a continuous improvement because I do not believe that big changes make any sense. I trust the guys and I will do my best for them and put them in the best conditions to do the best job. If it’s still not working, then I will take action. But I trust them.”
While that concludes Ferrari’s official line on the Maranello situation right now, there was one further discussion that did not go unnoticed. The F1 grapevine has been resonating with a story about Ferrari’s 2023 F1 power unit having thirty more horsepower than its already-potent if brittle 2022 contraption. A gem that Fred has been quick to slate as fake news.
“I don’t know where the numbers are coming from, but it’s just a joke,” Vasseur frowned.
“Last year’s engine performance was not an issue at all. It was more reliability and the first target is to fix it, and so far it looks okay, but the reality on the track is a different aspect.”
“I think there were a couple of issues that teams suffered from, and it’s not just true for Ferrari. It’s related to bouncing and vibration, and it’s something everybody will have a much better picture on in Bahrain in a week or two.”
Fred however failed to go as far as admitting whether Ferrari’s rumoured power gains were real or not. He merely referred to those 30 horses being a joke. This could also mean that there’s still a 20 HP gain. Or maybe even 40. So being, with better reliability, a faster Ferrari could be just what the doctor asked for.
Remember, there’s only smoke where there’s fire. Forza Formula Uno 2023. Bring it on!