Vasseur’s plan to lead Ferrari out of the woods

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In 2022, early promise for Ferrari gave way to a frustrating end, but with the team securing second in the constructors’ championship and multiple wins, it still marked clear progress from previous years.

That wasn’t enough to keep team principal Mattia Binotto in a job, though, and there was a change in approach when Fred Vasseur took over in December.

Eight months later, the mid-season break has provided the first serious opportunity for the Frenchman to step back and take stock of the challenge facing him to return Ferrari to championship contention. But the weight of the past is not something that weighs heavily on him as he looks to the Scuderia’s future.

“I’m not focused on what happened last year, I’m focused on what’s happening today,” Vasseur said during a briefing ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix. “For sure we’re not getting the results we were expecting, and that means that like every other single team on the grid, we need to have a mindset of continuous improvement. We are recruiting a lot, we have already made some internal reorganizations and we are moving forward.

“But if you look at the first 12 races, it has been really up and down, really tight, and that that just because you didn’t get the results you were expecting, that everything is wrong. The most difficult part of the job is understanding what’s going well and what is going wrong, and where we can improve.

“For sure we are recruiting a lot, we’re trying to get that last couple of tenths we are missing today, but we are in the middle of the process – and it is, in fact, a never-ending process.”

The “never-ending process” is a mantra that Vasseur has been notably keen to reinforce in recent months. The more he’s learned about Maranello, the more he’s been asked about what Ferrari needs to be able to win after Red Bull set such a dominant benchmark. But as big as the gap has looked so far this year – Red Bull has won every race – Vasseur is certain the isolated differences are actually far smaller, but that there are a lot of them.

“I’m not sure they have one area in which they are so much better than everyone else,” he said. “We’ve already had this discussion; it’s not a matter of concept or anything like that. I think they’re performing in every single pillar of the performance – drivers, chassis, engine, aerodynamics, suspension, strategy – and that’s why we have to improve.

“It would be a mistake to think, ‘OK, they  are much better than us in this area, let’s go for a full push on this one’. We have to try and get the best out of what we have in every single area, and to do small steps everywhere. We’re talking about 0.2s and it’s not 0.2s in aero, I think it’s more 100 times 0.002s, or 10 times 0.02s.”

Expectations are always high at Ferrari, and slipping back to now sit fourth in the constructors’ standings – behind Mercedes and Aston Martin – has hardly given Vasseur breathing space. But it’s a situation that he insists doesn’t have an impact on the team’s approach.

“If you look at the numbers it’s quite difficult to imagine that we could be champions in both the teams’ and drivers’ championships,” he said. “But we need to keep the same mindset, to try and get the best out in every single weekend, not to be focusing on the championship.

“We have to improve the package, we have to be able to improve what we are doing on track, to try and get the best out of the package we have, and that’s where we have to be focused on. I don’t want to fix a target, to say we have to achieve this or that, but we know we have room for improvement and that we have to be 100 percent focused on this.

“It’s clear that in every single topic and every single pillar of the performance we have to make a step forward.”

It would be easy to suggest that if Ferrari took those strides in all the areas that Vasseur wants then it would be winning, and to think his comments might then be different. But that’s an attitude that the team principal is trying to shift after having previously stated he will be looking to continuously evolve the Ferrari structure rather than having a specific set-up to work towards.

“It’s never that something is missing in a team when you are not winning – or even when you are winning, it’s not that you have something special,” he said. “I’m really convinced about this. It’s not that Red Bull have a magic bullet. Perhaps Max is doing a mega job today, but also it’s coming from the fact they are dominating, and they are putting Max in a very good position to do a good job.

“It means that if we have to change, I’m not sure we have to change something. We have to improve everywhere, every single area, in every single department, and before we spoke about the fact that if 0.2s or 0.3s are missing, I’m much more convinced that it’s 10-times 0.02s or 0.03s of a second per lap than something else.

“It means that it’s more a matter of mentality. We need to recruit. We are perhaps a bit more exposed on some departments, and we need to recruit and we are doing it. We reinforced the team in some areas. But the process is ongoing. But I don’t want to say – and I’m really convinced that it’s not the case –  that something is missing.

“The team spirit is there, the passion is there, the budget, we are OK. The facilities, we are OK. We have always to improve facilities, we had the discussion at the last F1 Commission, some teams are complaining because they are not at the level, but if you think you are at the level, you are dead.

“It means that every single week, you have to improve everywhere and every single topic, and so this is the mindset, and probably it’s where I also want to push the team into this direction – to never be happy with what you have, that you never try to get something better and try to improve. If you start to say that ‘I am OK’, you are dead.”

The process might be never-ending, but instilling that mindset might be the one single biggest change that Vasseur makes to try and set Ferrari on the path to success.