Three months into his job as Ferrari team principal, Fred Vasseur got a reality check of the pressure that comes with leading at Maranello, as they reel from being canvassed in the first two rounds of the 2023 F1 World Championship.
If F1 2023 were a boxing bout, Round 2 and Round 3 had the guy in the Red trunks, and the Prancing Horse tattoo, on the ropes and floored in the opener. Then, in the next round receiving a proper pummeling, that might’ve induced a thrown towel had it really been boxing; such has been the ‘punches’ Red Bull have landed so early in this tournament.
Ferrari were expected to take the fight to the Bulls this year, as Mercedes have been left standing with their awkward W14 doing Lewis Hamilton and George Russell no favours, but ditto Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in the Red cars, no matter which way you look at it, and being as polite as possible: they have sh!tboxes to drive this season.
Reports of turmoil and crisis at Maranello prevail, of no fault of newcomer Vasseur but rather an absence of leadership of the world’s most famous and supported racing team – namely the invisible big-salaried Ferrari duo, John Elkann, and equally scarce Benedetto Vigna.
Fred: We have to focus on ourselves
Speaking after a well below-par race in Jeddah, Vasseur appealed to reporters: “In this situation, we have to think about the team and how we improve this situation, but I think we also have to stay calm – it’s not like everything is going wrong,
“We made some good improvements compared to Bahrain, on the one-time pace at least, we opened a little bit the gap to our competitors, not to Red Bull but to Aston Martin and Mercedes. I think the issue [during the race] was much more about the pace with the hard [compound tyre]; if you look at the weekend that’s something else,” explained Vasseur.
Red Bull have gobbled up all the points on offer this season, except one for the fastest lap in Bahrain, meaning Verstappen leads Perez by a point after the two opening rounds in the Middle East. The gap was an alarming full second or more in the race, and in qualifying about half that.
Furthermore, Aston Martin gate-crashed the pecking order with their swifty AMR23 which Fernando Alonso and a half-fit Lance Stroll made good use of, to pop up second in the pecking order, with a handy gap to the chasing pack, the Green cars only bettered (albeit substantially) by RBR.
Can the gap between the two Charlies to Max-Checo be pegged back?
Before heading to Australia for round three, Vasseur believes: “I think so. We have to continue to push. It’s not the right attitude to think about the gap and think about whether we’ll be able to close the gap and so on.
“We have to focus on ourselves, we know when we are weak and we have to improve on this. We will see what is the outcome when we do a decent step. If you start to think about what could be the future potential with development, you are lost.
“We know we have to improve, but I think it’s the DNA of our sport, not just due to the current situation, but we know we have to work. We’ll continue and you can be sure from the morning I’ll be in the office and push like hell.”
Heading to Melbourne for next Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, Vasseur said of the Ferrari plan for Round 3: “I think we’ll have some small updates coming in the next week but honestly, I don’t think that it’s coming for the potential.
“The main issue we have – all over the [Saudi GP] weekend – is to be at our maximum and it’s not the case, it was that we weren’t able to extract 100% of our car in every single session. We have to be focused on this before thinking about updates,” explained Vasseur, who replaced Mattia Binotto as Ferrari team at the start of the year.
Meanwhile, the stats are bleak after two rounds of the 2023 F1 World Championship season for Ferrari: