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Vasseur: No Red Bull magic bullet, we need to improve everywhere

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Ferrari Formula 1 team boss Fred Vasseur hosted a Christmas lunch at Maranello for select Italian media, admitting that his team has to raise their game on all fronts to beat Red Bull and Max Verstappen.

He also discussed a wide range of issues, from his drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc to issues with the launch date of their 2024 F1 World Championship challenger, the dominant reigning World Champions and of course the way forward beyond his first season in charge of F1’s most famous team.

One year into the appointment of 55-year-old Vasseur, he will have a pass on his ‘report card’ from Tifosi thanks to a season stabilising the rocky ‘boat’ Mattia Binotto left behind. The report card might have the following message to him: Good job done in good spirit. More work to be done. Keep it up.

In Red, Vasseur relied on his unique ‘humour defensive or offensive’ to deflect attention from the rebuilding going on at Maranello under his new watch. It was a smart move not to appear to take the hottest managerial job in the sport too seriously. When times were bad Fred joked, when times were good Fred joked. Fred joked a lot, and that was good.

Had Red Bull not happened on the ‘perfect storm’ that was Max Verstappen and the mighty RB19, Ferrari might’ve even won the whole thing instead of finishing third. Way behind RBR but only three points behind Mercedes, scoring the only non-Bulls win of the year.

F1 Stats show that a season earlier they had finished second to Red Bull in the Constructors Championship under Binotto, beating Mercedes by 39 points.

Nevertheless, it was a solid if not stellar result as the way things were going during Binotto’s reign, with little accountability for bad performances nor off-track and on-track gaffes. Ferrari bosses must have realised that with the micro-managing engineer at the helm, they were simply not going to win F1 titles anytime soon. he was shown the door.

And Vassuer was hired to change that. This year was Chapter 1 of his tenure to do just that. For the next episode, inspired by what he saw as a step forward in performance and has no worries about taking risks in their quest for performance.

Vasseur: We just need to improve everywhere

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In a Christmas lunch interview, Vasseur said: “I’m always worried because it’s my job to worry! Even if you are only focused on yourself it’s important not to be arrogant.

“I’ve been doing this job for six years [previously with Alfa Romeo and Renault] and it’s always a good lesson of humility because you can do a good job on Sunday, then the Sunday after you are nowhere. It’s a normal process. It’s not to be worried… we just need to improve everywhere and this is the most important message.

“It’s not that Red Bull have a magic bullet that puts them four-tenths ahead. They are probably better than us with 10 things worth four hundredths. We need to do small steps everywhere and keep this mindset,” explained Vasseur.

Rival drivers and teams, mercilessly beaten this past season, are heading for more of the same next year by Verstappen and Red Bull unless a big deficit can be bridged, especially in race pace where RBR have formidable, the World Champion in particular as his record 19 F1 victories in a season testify.

Vasseur said of the mighty combo: “For sure he will be the benchmark. They had an advantage this season and I’m sure they will improve next year. But if you look at the last part of the season I think we made a step on the technical side and we are much closer to them in qualy and the race.

“Even in the races we could fight with him and doing this, they will probably do some more mistakes. It’s like a snowball. If you make a step forward, you get more motivation and the others struggle a bit more. We have to take it step by step and not imagine we will be winning every single weekend,” ventured the Ferrari boss.

Sainz and Leclerc have contracts with Ferrari until the end of 2024

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Regarding new deals for his drivers Sainz and Leclerc, both linked to the Audi F1 project that will morph from Sauber in 2026, Vasseur revealed: “As you know, they are under contract with us until the end of 2024, which means we still have a few months ahead of us.

“Last year, Mercedes renewed both drivers for 2024 at the end of August. So, I think we still have weeks and months ahead of us. A year ago I said that I would try to decide by the end of this year, but I have to admit that the last part of the season was quite challenging.

“We met and started discussions, but we’re a little behind the initial plan. But I don’t consider it a problem, we will make a decision soon. But, again, we are not in a rush,” insisted Vasseur, although it is believed that both drivers are ready and keen to extend with the great Italian team.

Apart from Red Bull, no team got a real handle on the new aero regs that kicked in last year as Adrian Newey and his team at RBR did. But a source of inspiration for the nine losing teams is that Aston Martin showed a couple of seconds can be found during the winter off-season.

While McLaren showed how to turn a ‘shitbox’ at the start of the season into a front-runner by the end. Suggesting that understanding how the package works and evolves is high on the agenda among the nine teams who produced cars they could never quite figure out.

Heading into 2024, Vasseur has asked if the SF-23’s successor would be revolutionary, he replied: “Revolutionary? That’s not the right word. There has been the same technical regulation for three years and in a situation like this a project cannot be changed substantially.

“In the scenario where we are making the difference in just a few tenths of a second, we must certainly take a step forward without underestimating anything, we will change 95% of the components of the single-seater and it may seem like a revolution, but it is not.

Vasseur: The key is to never give up

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In the wake of a poor first half of the season, Ferrari were fourth in the F1 standings at the summer break. Vasseur recalled: “After the Silverstone and Budapest GPs the comments were that Ferrari could have finished fifth in the Constructors’ classification given that McLaren was making a comeback.

“It was a difficult moment at that point in the season. At the end of the year, however, having obtained a few more points than Aston Martin, around 50 more than Mercedes and more than McLaren, we proved that anything is possible.

“It took time, but we found our way. In this business you have to pay attention to details, if you pay attention to them, anything is possible,” declared Vasseur, who would do well to emulate fellow Frenchman Jean Todt who orchestrated Ferrari 1’s golden era with legend Michael Schumacher.

Ferrari expects to launch their 2024 F1 car on 14 February next year, a week before F1 testing begins in Bahrain. Vasseur explained: “I don’t have to promise something. The best way is to be focused on what we are doing, to deliver, and the Christmas gift will be if we can do a good job in March, not for Christmas.

Christmas, the gift is just based on a promise, and I don’t want to make a promise. We will see in March. It will be the Easter gift!” quipped Vassuer, humour offensive in full throttle yet again.

Big Question: What do Ferrari need to do to challenge for regular wins and become serious the F1 world title challengers again?