LONDON – Frederic Vasseur started work at Maranello on Monday as the fifth Ferrari Formula One team principal in less than a decade and with the weight of history adding to a burden of expectation.
Only the second Frenchman to run the oldest and most successful team in the sport, Vasseur follows on from departed Mattia Binotto but with the giant shoes of compatriot Jean Todt yet to be filled.
Todt presided over a golden age at the Scuderia, arriving at the Gestione Sportiva in 1993 as general manager and embarking on a transformation that led to a period of domination with Michael Schumacher.
Schumacher won an unprecedented five crowns in a row from 2000-04 under Todt’s leadership while Ferrari won seven constructors’ championships between 1999 and the end of 2007, when Kimi Raikkonen took their last drivers’ title.
When Todt arrived, Ferrari had not won a race since 1990 or a drivers’ title for more than a decade and were putting their confidence in a man whose background was in rallying.
The situation is very different now, with Ferrari championship runners-up last season with four wins and 12 pole positions and in a hurry to get back to the top after repeated false dawns.
Dutch pundit Olav Mol has his doubts though. “He is in a larger organisation than Sauber when at Renault and it didn’t work out there,” he told Motorsport.com. “I seem to remember it was mainly because of all sorts of political things.
“Then I think: Welcome to Ferrari. If there is politics anywhere, it is at Ferrari with all those mystical forces that work in the team and a family that has something to say. “I don’t envy Fred in that respect, he may have grown in recent years.”
F1 commentator Martin Brundle is another skeptic. He said in December: “If I was Mercedes or Red Bull right now, I’d be smiling because continuity is everything. As Formula 1 seasons get longer and more intense, you have to be careful of these sea changes of personnel.
“Mercedes have got real continuity, as have Red Bull in key personnel. Fred has got to go in and find his way, get established, understand, and it’s a tall order.”
Vasseur, 54, is an old hand and on his third F1 team after joining Renault in 2016. The team have still not won a title since 2008 and have been making some glaring mistakes with their fans increasingly frustrated.
Patience is in short supply and Vasseur faces the biggest challenge of his career. Ferrari’s turnover at the top compares to champions Red Bull who have been led by Christian Horner since 2005 and Mercedes under Toto Wolff throughout their period of domination from 2014-21.
Vasseur, who joins from Swiss-based Sauber where he ran the Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo team, has more than nationality in common with Todt.
In 2004, he joined Todt’s son Nicolas in setting up the ART team that took future F1 world champions Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to GP2 titles in 2005 and 2006 respectively.
Nicolas Todt manages Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, last year’s runner-up who also raced for Vasseur at Sauber in his debut season.
The 2023 car will be launched on Feb 14, meaning Vasseur’s immediate focus will be more organisational – sharpening up the team’s strategy, structure and reliability – than on the engineering side. REUTERS