Frederic Vasseur, Ferrari, Singapore, 2023

The “aggressive” Red Bull mindset Vasseur is seeking to emulate at Ferrari

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The mood was bleak at Maranello this time 12 months ago. After weeks of speculation, team principal Mattia Binotto put an end to rumours over his future and confirmed he was moving on after four years in charge.

Under Binotto Ferrari went from race-winners to midfield strugglers and back. Things were looking up at the start of 2022 as the team seemed to have sussed Formula 1’s new regulations more quickly than their rivals.

They came out of the stalls front-runners, claiming a one-two in the season-opener. But it was short-lived.

As the season progressed, the team began to unravel. Through a combination of driver mistakes, unreliability and some costly strategic errors, Red Bull and Max Verstappen were soon running away with both championships.

Ferrari improved to second place in the constructors’ championship but those in charge decided it was time for change. Binotto moved aside and Alfa Romeo team principal and Sauber Motorsport CEO Frederic Vasseur took over.

With almost a full year behind him, which included the achievement of being the only team to beat Red Bull to a race win all season, and having seen a clear upswing in their performance since the summer break, Vasseur can feel satisfied by his first season in red. Asked to reflect on his his year in charge, Vasseur jokingly replies he is “still alive – good news!”

“One year ago it was… ‘tough’ is not the right word, but it was quite a challenge,” he continues. “I joined quite late and it was a huge wave of things to manage, to understand, to discover in a couple of weeks because it was four weeks before the launch and five or six before Bahrain [scene of the opening race].

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“Now I think I am in a much more comfortable situation, I know almost everybody in the company, the system, and I have a better understanding of this and I think I am doing a good job, a better job than last year [when he was at Alfa Romeo].”

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Bahrain, 2023
Ferrari’s season started poorly in Bahrain, where Leclerc retired
He notes the gains the team made towards the end of this year and emphasises this needs to continue. “It’s a non-end process, F1, and if you have the feeling that you are in good shape, you are almost dead,” he says.

“We need to keep the momentum. I think the last part of the season went pretty well, it’s never enough [though] and we don’t have to stop this.”

In terms of pure results, Vasseur’s first year might be seen as a disappointment. After all, the team slipped from second in the team’s standings last season under Binotto to third this year.

But the SF-23 the team raced this year was conceived under the previous administration. What has changed this year is the execution. In particular, Vasseur stresses the importance of following the lead set by Red Bull in approaching every race with uncompromising commitment.

“The first thing is to understand the team, and for this you need time and there is no secret,” says Vasseur. “You have a group of people working together for years and when you arrive in this group you need to understand how the group is working before taking any action or decision.

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“My job was more to back them on the fact that we have to be aggressive, that we have to take risks, that we have to be ambitious and to not be scared of any incident or something like this. I think we did a step on this.

Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Las Vegas, 2023
Vasseur wants to adopt Red Bull’s “aggressive” approach to races
“You always have to be at the limit and this culture is where Red Bull is [performing]. They are used to being at the limit, used to being aggressive on every single topic and we have to take this direction. But I think we did a good step forward.”

Ferrari executive chairman John Elkann and managing director Benedetto Vigna want results, but Vasseur is not concerned about the team’s one-place slip in the championship this year. Asked how the chairman responded to their third-place finish, Vasseur said they have been communicating all season, and they “didn’t wait until the end of the championship” to discuss. “The advantage of Ferrari is that we have a daily discussion, we are not far away,” he says.

Vasseur points out the team began the season poorly, but responded well. “Nobody can be happy with what we did at the beginning of the season,” he says. “First, we had too many issues in terms of reliability and I was the first one upset with this, and performance.

“But I think more than everything that the reaction of the group, the team and the fact that we were able to do – I’m not a big fan of statistics, but I think we did something like five pole positions out of the last eight events or something.

“The fact that we were able to fight with Max on some occasions in the races was a good step forward, even if we are not happy.

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“I don’t need Mr Vigna or Mr Elkann telling me something,” he concludes. “I’m not happy with P3, this is clear, but I’m more than happy with the reaction of the team and I think this feeling is the same for everybody.”

John Elkann, Ferrari, Las Vegas, 2023
Ferrari chairman Elkann keeps a close eye on progress
Vasseur tends to offer up a light-hearted immediate response to most questions accompanied by a chuckle, before snapping back into serious talk immediately. He displays an obvious warmth towards both drivers and exerts a steadying influence on the operation: not too negative when the team make mistakes or has a bad weekend, and not getting carried away when their form improved later in the year.

The question now is whether they will sustain that upswing in form into the new season. With the key regulations largely unchanged, the likelihood is Red Bull will remain the team to beat, but Vasseur sees reasons to expect a closer fight.

“Still I don’t have my crystal ball,” he says. “For sure, physically you can imagine that we will have a kind of convergence of performance. With the stability of the regulation that means it will be more difficult for Red Bull to do the same as they did this season.

“You also have to consider that you have a kind of positive momentum and snowball effect that when you are dominating you can change the project very early into the season to be focused on the next year’s project.

“But I’m not sure that with the level of performance, the relative level of performance of the last two or three events they would have won 21 races. It was much more tight at the end of the season.”

As always, however, his concentration is where it needs to be. “I don’t want to be focused on Red Bull, I think we have enough to do ourselves.

“I think we have a good understanding of the weakness of the car this season and we are fully focused to correct it. Then we’ll see in Bahrain where we are.”

By then, Vasseur’s first 12 months in charge of Ferrari will be behind him, and a clearer picture of the direction it is taking under his leadership will have emerged. On the strength of their form at the end of 2023, however, there are encouraging signs for the tifosi.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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10 comments on “The “aggressive” Red Bull mindset Vasseur is seeking to emulate at Ferrari”

  1. I’m really curious to see how Ferrari does next season. So far, I like a lot of what Vasseur has said, and he seems to have the right approach with a lot of experience to back up his words. But as the article rightly notes this season’s car was still very much a project led by Binotto and his guys, so there was always going to be an ‘excuse’ of sorts. Vasseur and the people he picked will be 100% responsible for the results of next year’s effort.

    I also wonder if we’ll see some changes on the pitwall. Ferrari has built up a rather negative reputation for having some pretty stubborn and seemingly myopic (proverbially speaking) race engineers.

    1. Having 2 drivers who want different things from the car does not really help either…

    2. I am afraid they’ll need a Lauda, Schumacher or Max before they get it together again. Someone who takes on the team, respectfully has no regard for legacy, status nor current processes and enforces progress. I think a driver is in a better suited part of the team to achieve this over a team boss. It certainly helps if there is synergy between them like Todd and Schumacher.


      1. Would agree that a driver is easier to rally around, and motivate “the crew”. It’s the principal’s job to create the conditions for others to perform, and Vasseur does have a solid record in that sense.

        I hope Leclerc has it in him to step up and take that role, but I’m not sure.

      2. Max would definitely be lost in the Ferrari system. It works very differently from the Red Bull model, is far more elliptical in its is communication processes, and attempting to use the direct methods that work at Red Bull would inevitably result in failure. Teams are not as fungible as an assumption of someone succeeding in one team necessarily doing so in another would require.

        1. Yet this is imho exactly what is needed. If they keep doing what they are doing, they will get what they already have. The choice is theirs..

  2. we viewers love ‘aggressive’ don’t we, but that’s because it’s likely to produce drama! They have to get it right, which isn’t as exciting but much more likely to end lots of races with lots of points

    1. Agree.. but unless they go aggressive, there’s no way that they can beat Red Bull. I mean, should they play it safe and fight for securing a P2 in the WCC, or go aggressive and fight for the WDC and WCC, with a risk of getting P4 in the WCC? I think Ferrari has hit its target of securing P2 or P3 on the WCC decently in the last 16 years.

      The way I see it, they’ve got nothing to lose for the next two seasons. 2026 is a bit of a reset again.. and unless they take some risks for 2024 and 2025, there’s no way they can mount a challenge.

      1. yes I suppose it depends how we define ‘aggressive’ doesn’t it, whether it’s being bold or taking risks. The thing with Red Bull is they don’t get it wrong do they. They don’t take chances, putting things on the car hoping they might work, their numbers always seem to add up. The aggressive way for them is to imagine more, see possibilities and new ways of doing things, but then the actual development is not chancy at all it’s super thorough

        But when Ferrari talk about going aggressive you have to worry! It might get a bit wacky, undisciplined, and win-or-bust. But let’s hope. Fred is a people person, same as James at Mercedes, so perhaps he can pull all the clever people together. At Red Bull, Christian is a people person with great social skills isn’t he, perhaps that’s a big part of it as well as Adrian

    2. Aggression and risk and no blame culture (or less blame culture) is in Red Bull’s DNA. You can’t change your team’s DNA. You can change culture, but it takes a lot more time and power than Vasseur will ever have. Not saying he can’t make Ferrari a success. Only that I doubt he can bring an RB culture to Ferrari, especially when a large part of the reason RBR has that culture is because independence from interference is written into Horner and Newey’s contract and also because it’s the precedent at the team and shown to work. So, woe to anyone that attemps to change that.

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