Vasseur on Alfa’s “huge step forward” and why he’s vexed by technical directives

2021 Austrian Grand Prix

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The opening races of the 2021 F1 season have been a mixed bag for Alfa Romeo.

The team has made clear progress in terms of its outright performance, but doesn’t have the results to show for it yet. Nine races in they have two points on the board – two less than they managed over the same run at the start of last season.

“It’s a bit of a mixed feeling,” team principal Frederic Vasseur admits in an exclusive interview for RaceFans at the Red Bull Ring. He says the team has made “a huge step forward” in performance.

“Today we are one percent off the fastest. Last year, we are two percent. It’s like this from the beginning of the season.”

This isn’t solely down to the obvious gains power unit supplier Ferrari has made during the off-season, he stresses. “Part of the job is coming from the PU, for sure. But I think also on the chassis side we made a good job.”

A tough penalty cost the team points at Imola
For all this, results have been frustratingly slow to materialise. The two C41s occupied the first places outside the points at the first race in Bahrain. Worse followed in Imola, where Kimi Raikkonen finished ninth on the road but collected a 30-second time penalty for violating a rule which even the stewards admitted was somewhat contradictory.

Since then Raikkonen and team mate Antonio Giovinazzi have collected a point each. Yet it’s clear Vasseur feels their efforts have been under-rewarded so far, and the team is well-placed to capitalise on a day when the leaders hit trouble.

“Now with the circumstances we struggle to score points,” he says. “You have zero DNFs from the beginning and even when you start P12, P13, you finish P11. But we have to do the job to continue like this, and it will happen that we’ll have more chaotic races and we are not so far away off the Q3.”

The team is in its third season with the same driver line-up and Vasseur is pleased with his pair, particularly the gains Giovinazzi is making with experience. He has only started behind Raikkonen twice this year, Vasseur points out, “when he crashed in Baku and when he was blocked by Mazepin in Imola.

“He’s improving, the pace is going up, but we always want to get more and I’m always pushing them. It’s my job.”

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“I think one of the issues of Antonio so far was he was far too much into the comparisons with Kimi,” Vasseur adds. “Now he’s able to take the lead on some of decisions and say, ‘okay, I want to do this’. And for him, it was a step.”

While Raikkonen has not quite been on his team mate’s pace in qualifying, Vasseur has high praise for the 2007 champion’s Sunday performances.

Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, Red Bull Ring, 2021
Giovinazzi has impressed in qualifying
“You know Kimi perfectly, he has huge experience and he’s doing a fantastic job in the race to manage the situation. He’s always able to do the perfect job in the management.”

Alfa Romeo has comfortably out-scored closest rivals Haas and Williams over the last two seasons. But the latter signalled in the previous two races it may become more of a threat in the second half of the year.

Vasseur’s team has faced the unwanted complication of being caught up in the row over ‘flexing’ rear wings – collateral damage in the fight between the championship leaders. The FIA introduced a tougher new test on rear wing flexing after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and the Alfa Romeo boss made his frustration with the development clear.

“I’m not a big fan of the change in the course of the season because we were sticking to the rules clearly,” he explains.

“We went to the scrutineering 10 times, it was always okay, we were under the maximum deformation. And they changed the load. They changed the by 50 percent.

“This, for me, the DNA of F1 is to be at the limit everywhere. When you have a limit on the weight you are always at the limit. And the DNA of every single team member is to try to be at the limit. If you change the limit, you are out of the rule.”

Knee-jerk changes to the rules are “a mistake”, he insists, drawing a comparison with Brawn GP’s famous ‘double diffuser’, which it raced to championship victory in 2009 despite complaints from rival teams.

“Now we can have the same discussion for the front wing or we can have the same discussions… We can’t add a TD every single Monday morning because something happened on Friday.

“When Brawn GP was champion, they didn’t change the regulation the first Monday.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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7 comments on “Vasseur on Alfa’s “huge step forward” and why he’s vexed by technical directives”

  1. “We went to the scrutineering 10 times, it was always okay, we were under the maximum deformation. And they changed the load. They changed the by 50 percent.

    “This, for me, the DNA of F1 is to be at the limit everywhere. When you have a limit on the weight you are always at the limit. And the DNA of every single team member is to try to be at the limit. If you change the limit, you are out of the rule.”

    Hear hear, this is absolutely spot on from Vasseur. I understand that there’s a need to change the rule, but do it at the end of the season and stop doing these changes mid-season. There was no reason for these wings to be changed mid-season and since it was changed Mercedes have dropped even further back from Red Bull than they were so it didn’t even have the intended effect. I can see some reasoning for changing the tires out of a safety concern given the crashes by Lance and Max in Baku, but other than that, there was no reason for the wings, nor for the pitstop speed changes to be made mid-season. Those could have easily waited until next season and everything would’ve been fine.

    1. An extra added problem is that all those changes cost a lot of money and put the cap under pressure. Especially teams like alfa, with very small budgets are hurt extra.

    2. Especially a year of continuity and budget cap.
      I was annoyed by Pirelli having a say about the floor change that might “gift” RedBull a WDC/WCC. Yes Mercedes dominance was a bit boring but they deserved it and imposing the change in the floor but at the same time limiting how much they can modify the entire car was a bit of a lottery (or not) penalty and I’m almost surprise we don’t hear more about it as it has a huge impact on the championship (primarily for Mercedes and Aston).
      The technical directives are just a continuity of this and well done for the teams that found it, and if it is not according to the intent of the rule, then the teams should be stripped of their result. Either leave it to the end of the season with a clear communication that it won’t be allowed next year, or deem it illegal with the appropriate consequences. Not in favor of adding new tests or rules mid season, especially now that they are on a budget, it means penalizing some teams more than others (and maybe shows what smaller teams have always faced).

      It’s a bit like teaching a child that he should steal candy from the pot on the shelves, but still giving him few more before saying “never again”. What about the signals it send and how will it be next time?

      1. @jeanrien Perhaps you could reference something that implies Pirelli having a say in the floor change? First I’m hearing of it. I could have missed that. My understanding is the teams rejected Pirelli’s latest tires last year, and because of that FIA or F1 imposed the floor change to take downforce away (knowing they always find downforce one year to the next) so that the tires could handle the cars this season. The first I heard of the floor change affecting low rake cars more was when LH implied it only after Max was fastest in practice and quali for the first race of the season.

        But here’s an article from last June that implies the floor change might affect high rake cars more.

        As well, the wing change and the tire pressure change were implied to take something away from RBR’s newfound form. I suggest that it is just a coincidence that the floor change affected Mercedes more, and their rear suspension architecture that has been so successful for them needed further tweaking than they did, just as Red Bull tweaked theirs, and the fact that AM was also affected only means they are copiers of Mercedes design. The TDs on wings and tire pressures were much ado about nothing as it turned out, and especially on the tires that was meant more for Pirelli‘s benefit to save them more embarrassment.

        1. @robbie, pretty sure that the FIA imposed the new restrictions because Pirelli “suggested” there’d need to be something done to limit rear downforce after the new tyres were rejected, but you’re correct.

          I’m guessing here but I imagine the floor change requirements were based on data that they had on who had the highest downward pressure at the rear of their 2020 chassis.

          That unfortunately was Mercedes. I’m sure that they, the FIA team imagined that the requirements would impact all teams roughly the same, but the reality turned out that for some reason, the impact was greater on those that had low rake design. Not a huge amount more, but certainly enough to be more noticeable.

          The resultant squeals of “unfair” seem to have resulted from that and to a certain extent have some merit, but I firmly believe it was an unintended consequence not a deliberate attempt to nobble Mercedes.

          The only major difference this year, and a good one in my opinion, is that finally, big budget teams have not been able to spend their way around an issue like they have in the past and have to find “solutions” just like the smaller budget team. Mercedes this year have been unable to adapt to that, something that is unusual, but hopefully is a sign that budget restraints are beginning to level out the playing field.

          Has it gifted an advantage to RBR – possibly, but no more so than previous years where Mercedes, with its budget and superior PU/electronics, had maintained an insurmountable advantage for so long.

          Let’s hope 2022 truly ends up being a proper development and racing battle that ensures the best of the best shine rather that those with the limitless budgets.

  2. @robbie you’re right, I put aside the fact Pirelli actually proposed new compound that were rejected unanimously by the teams. Maybe that explain why teams like Mercedes and Aston are not too vocal about it…

    I agree that TD was aimed as RBR more than any other.

  3. Vasseur is very underrated. His points are always so…logical. Something often missing in F1. Also, think his point re: GIO being too interested in comparison with Kimi is a good one. No one really knows how good or bad Kimi’s pace was while at Ferrari or now. Sadly, I think they really need to replace both drivers. It’s clear as day GIO will never be anything special let alone very good. And Kimi I just don’t think cares enough to makeup for naturally deteriorating speed with work.

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