Why Vasseur’s hiring recalls Todt’s – and what Ferrari must get right now

2023 F1 season

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Mattia Binotto’s departure from Ferrari was announced by the team as a “resignation”. However it was interpreted by many as being ordained from above within the organisation.

Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna made clear his unhappiness with the team’s performance shortly before Binotto’s exit became public knowledge. “I am not satisfied with second place because second is first of the losers,” he said.

There was some sympathy for Binotto, who at 53 has spent over half his life at Ferrari including four seasons in the pressure-cooker environment of the top job. More co-operative with the media than his predecessor, Binotto was understandably well-liked.

But Ferrari concluded the results were not up to scratch and, despite the team’s championship position improving for the second year in a row in 2022, it was not hard to see why. The new technical regulations introduced last season represented a major opportunity, one which Ferrari failed to capitalise on.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2022
Ferrari squandered points too often during 2022
It began promisingly: Ferrari won two of the first three races this year. But over the second half of the championship they took no further wins and were outscored not only by Red Bull but Mercedes as well. The rate with which the outgoing champions made progress this year cast Ferrari’s efforts in a particularly poor light.

Nonetheless Ferrari did not lack outright pace during 2022, as shown by the F1-75’s dozen pole positions, which was more than all their rivals combined. They lost wins due to other reasons. Occasionally these were driver errors but more often the team dropped the ball through poor strategy calls, operational mistakes and unreliability.

Their situation in 2022 was not vastly different to four years earlier, the team’s last campaign with Maurizio Arrivabene at the helm. They won early on, Sebastian Vettel led the championship for many races, then they faded as Mercedes out-played and out-developed them. Against that backdrop, and the disruption following the unexpected death of CEO Sergio Marchionne in July 2018, Ferrari made its last change of team principal.

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Like his predecessors, Binotto was not hired from a rival F1 team. Arrivabene joined from sponsor Philip Morris International, Marco Mattiacci was part of Ferrari’s road car division and Stefano Domenicali rose through the F1 team’s hierarchy in much the same way as Binotto.

Mattia Binotto, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2022
Analysis: Binotto’s exit shows Ferrari lost more than just a championship in 2022
The other common point between them was that none delivered any championships, with the exception of Ferrari’s 2008 constructors’ title win under Domenicali. However that followed on from the years of successes started by his predecessor.

It would be grossly simplistic to suggest Ferrari has failed to win a championship for 14 years because it hasn’t hired a team principal from outside its organisation and its decision to appoint Frederic Vasseur, announced earlier this week, will change that. But running an F1 team is a uniquely demanding, multi-faceted role, which is why it isn’t uncommon for principals to be head-hunted by rivals.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff describes F1 bosses as “specialists” in a narrow field. “It’s such a niche where the sport, the regulations, the governing body, the commercial rights holder, the competitors, all of us are basically locked in this paddock cage,” he told the official F1 website last week.

“You need to be politically astute. It’s a very niche, specialist environment. And the more you know about the sport, the better it is. But you don’t want to be a one-trick pony either. You can be a good racing manager and not understand about anything that’s going on commercially or outside in the world.”

Vasseur brings seven years of experience as an F1 team boss, though his initial tenure at Renault was cut short amid internal politicking at the team. He soon returned to lead Sauber, where he has been ever since, its team taking on Alfa Romeo branding in 2019.

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He also established a young driver development programme and karting team for the company. Before F1, Vasseur created then led his own junior single-seater team ART Grand Prix to titles in GP2, GP3 and Formula 3, and he founded Formula E’s chassis supplier.

Binotto wasn’t Ferrari team principal when Vasseur joined Sauber
“Throughout his career he has successfully combined his technical strengths as a trained engineer with a consistent ability to bring out the best in his drivers and teams,” Vigna enthused. “This approach and his leadership are what we need to push Ferrari forward with renewed energy.”

Vasseur’s ability to succeed where his Ferrari predecessors have failed may not be seen in his first season with a car that was primarily developed this year, but what will matter just as much is whether he is given time to prove himself.

Ferrari’s most successful appointment to the top of the Gestione Sportiva was, like Vasseur, brought in from a team principal role elsewhere. Coincidentally, he was also French: Jean Todt was hired from Peugeot’s successful team in the World Sports-Prototype Championship (a fore-runner of the WEC).

When Todt took over Ferrari in 1993 the team was in a much worse position than Vasseur will find it when he takes over next month. The team hadn’t won a race since 1990, and wouldn’t until Gerhard Berger delivered the first victory under Todt the following season. Still, it took until 1999 for the first constructors’ championship trophy to arrive – 16 years since their last, the team’s longest ever drought, which it is drawing ominously close to exceeding.

Vasseur arrives at a outfit which is clearly in much better shape than it was 30 years ago. While much will be new to him, he brings the benefit of an experienced outsider and knowledge of how things are done outside of Ferrari’s long-established procedures.

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Vasseur is Ferrari’s sixth leader 15 years
This goes beyond addressing the much-discussed operational problems which were most conspicuous during its 2022, but existed in previous seasons too. As someone who has been used to working to a budget even lower than that stipulated by F1’s cost cap, Vasseur brings useful experience to a team which had to cut its cloth to hit the limit introduced in 2021, halting development of last year’s car when it reached the spending cap.

There are strong rumours Ferrari approached bosses of rival teams besides Alfa Romeo when seeking a replacement for Binotto. The team appears to have recognised now is the time to look beyond its bubble and bring in expertise from outside.

While no incoming Ferrari team principal will relish being benchmarked against Todt’s successes, the fact Ferrari has seen fit to bring Vasseur in shows they are ready for a change in direction. Now they must give him time to make the changes he desires and run the team as he sees fit. If Vasseur is shown him the same patience Todt received, Ferrari may yet end this losing streak before it eclipses the last one.

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Keith Collantine
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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6 comments on “Why Vasseur’s hiring recalls Todt’s – and what Ferrari must get right now”

  1. I don’t see where Fred proved successful at the same level as Jean before joining Ferrari.

    And let’s not forget that it wasn’t Jean’s arrival that brought success to Maranello, but his decisions to bring in key talent from the best design office of 1994/1995 and the best driver in Formula 1. (who also happened to race for that same team)

    On the other hand, Fred has most recently fought to allow Sauber to sell their second seat to a Chinese individual and signed his pal’s pet project to a cushy multi-year deal.

    1. Pro Ester Chen, are you chinese?

      1. I don’t think a Chinese National would refer to another Chinese National as a Chinese individual.

  2. Vasseur will do great things at Ferrari. I feel a new positive epoc beginning!

  3. Only time will tell but how much time they will give to Fred is another question

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