New Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur is targeting a championship victory in his first year in charge of the team, but has ruled out a reshuffle of staff before the new season gets underway in March.
Ferrari has not won a Formula One title since its constructors’ victory in 2008 and last year finished a distant second to champions Red Bull, leading to the resignation of former team principal Mattia Binotto.
Speaking to reporters for the first time in his new role on Thursday, Vasseur made clear that his ambition is to end Ferrari’s title drought this year.
“It’s an obvious target,” he said. “I think when you are in a top team you can’t have another target than the win at the end of the day.
“You can’t start the season saying, ‘OK, I would be happy with P2’. That would really be a lack of ambition. I think we have everything we need to do a good job and the target has to be to win, for sure.”
Ferrari started the 2022 season with a race-winning car but dropped points to its rivals due to engine reliability issues, strategy errors and an inability to keep pace with the in-season development of Red Bull.
Vasseur, who started at Ferrari on Jan. 9 after leaving Alfa Romeo last year, recognised the need to improve in a number of areas but said he was unwilling to make major personnel changes before the season gets underway in Bahrain on March 5.
“That would be arrogant from my side to take action on the technical organisation after two weeks,” he said. “We have had discussions on how we can improve the system, what would be the weakness of the system and to try to do a better job.
“But it is more continuous improvement rather than a big step or big changes, which, from my point of view, wouldn’t make sense.
“I trust the guys in place and will try to do the best for them also to do the job. It will be time after a couple of weeks or months to take action if it is not working, but I trust them.”
How will Ferrari address its strategy failings?
Despite having no plans to make major changes before the season, Vasseur said he has conducted in-depth reviews into the team’s mistakes last year.
He suggested that the process for making in-race strategy calls was too complex at Ferrari and that the pit wall was unable to react to developing situations as quickly as it needed to.
“We are currently discussing about this, about the organisation,” Vasseur said. “When you’re speaking about strategy or aerodynamics or another topic, you have to avoid to be just focused on the top of the pyramid.
“Very often when you’re speaking about strategy, it’s much more a matter of organisation than the guy on the pit wall. I’m trying to understand exactly what has happened on every single mistake, what happened last year and to try to know if it’s a matter of a decision, a matter of organisation or of communication.
“Very often on the pit wall, the biggest issue is communication and the number of people involved rather than the individual. If you put too many people discussing about the same thing, when you have the outcome of the decision, the car will be on the next lap!
“You need a clear flow of discussion, and clear flow of communication between good people in the right position. It’s work in progress.”
Power unit improvements
Ferrari’s most high-profile failings in 2022 may have been its Sunday afternoon strategy errors, but power unit reliability was arguably a bigger underlying factor for its deficit to Red Bull by the end of the season.
A series of reliability issues related to the turbo and MGU-H cost Ferrari crucial points in the first part of the season and a double retirement at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix led its engineers to turn down the performance of the power unit at future races to avoid further failures.
This not only left the car down on power but also meant its aerodynamic package, which would have been based around a certain figure of performance from the engine, was no longer optimal.
In turn, trimming back the car’s drag/downforce level to accommodate for less power may have been a factor in Ferrari’s obvious struggle with tyre degradation in the second half of the year and the knock-on effect it had on race strategy.
Combined with an FIA technical directive at the Belgian Grand Prix relating to the floors of all cars, which seemed to impact the performance of the Ferrari more than its rivals, the relative race pace of the F1-75 dropped off in the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, Red Bull continued to exploit a rich vein of development with its car, which also became significantly more reliable following a couple of high-profile failures at early rounds.
Under a freeze in engine development to cut costs among manufacturers, F1 teams are no longer allowed to introduce performance upgrades to their power units until a new set of regulations are introduced in 2026, but they are allowed to bring reliability fixes which may allow Ferrari to run its engine closer to its optimum performance again.
Vasseur said good progress had been made with Ferrari’s reliability issues from 2022, but insisted recent reports that it had found 30 break horsepower as a result of improved reliability were wide of the mark.
“I don’t know where the numbers are coming from but [that figure] is just a joke!” he said. “We made some steps but it is just about reliability. I think the performance of the engine was not an issue at all.
“The issue was the reliability and the first target is to fix it. So far it looks OK, but the reality on the track is a different aspect.”
Will Ferrari have a No.1 driver?
Although Charles Leclerc outperformed and outscored teammate Carlos Sainz over the course of 2022, Vasseur made clear that his two drivers would start the 2023 season on an even footing in terms of support from the team. However, he admitted that if the situation called for it later in the year, he would consider favouring one driver over the other.
“We have two very good drivers and both of them are able to do the job,” he said. “We will have the capacity to provide them with exactly the same car and the same structure and the same support. What is clear is that the target is to win with Ferrari and for Ferrari.
“There will be no No.1 and No.2, but if at some stage I have to take action I will take action. It doesn’t matter if it’s for one or the other but if at one stage of the season I have to do something, I will do it.”
“We have everything we need to win”
Speaking about his decision to move from Alfa Romeo to Ferrari at the end of last year, Vasseur insisted the deal was put in place after the final race in Abu Dhabi.
Media reports before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix correctly predicted Binotto would resign at the end of the season and that Vasseur would be his replacement, but Vasseur’s version of events lines up with the official statements issued by Ferrari at the time.
He also revealed that Binotto had met with him to discuss the handover of power — a gesture Vasseur thanked his predecessor for.
“The process was crystal clear, even if we had rumours in the press before or during Abu Dhabi, we didn’t discuss before,” Vasseur said. “We had the first discussion the week after Abu Dhabi. It was very quick as a process.
“Then I had a call with Mattia, even met Mattia during the handover, we had a 1-1 discussion. Thanks to Mattia for this, as I appreciated the move from Mattia to stay, to wait for me, to discuss with me. It was really appreciated from my side.”
Vasseur is confident that Ferrari, which has finished second in the constructors’ championship six times since its last title victory in 2008, is not lacking anything compared to its main rivals Red Bull and Mercedes. He believes that with the right organisation there is no reason why it can’t win a title again.
“I’m really convinced that Ferrari today — and for sure my experience is limited to the last two weeks — has everything we need to win. We have to put everything together to do a good job, but we have everything to win.
“Then I think you can have a look at the reasons of the last decades [why Ferrari hasn’t won more], but the wheel is always rolling and it’s just a matter of continuous improvement. For me, if we are doing a better job than the others in a couple of months or years then we will be able to win.
“It’s not that anything is set in stone and if you look have a look at some teams they were in a very dominant situation a couple of years ago and they are nowhere today.
“You don’t have to take these directions that, OK it was like this the last decade or last 20 years and it will stay like this in the future. F1 is a changing world and we just have to be focused on the job, on the performance and everything is possible.”
Fred Vasseur rules out Ferrari reshuffle before first race, targets 2023 title