Last year was supposed to be the season Ferrari ended its 14-year wait for a drivers’ or constructors’ championship trophy.
Indeed, following a superb start to the season, many paddock judges thought 2022 would be the year that would see the title go back to Maranello.
But following a capitulation at Imola, Ferrari lost its way and the lead of both championships to Red Bull with a catalogue of errors that hamstrung Charles Leclerc’s bid for the drivers’ championship.
With Mattia Binotto gone, Ferrari swooped in for Alfa Romeo‘s Frederic Vasseur, who departed the Swiss team after five years in charge to take on the toughest job in motorsport.
But will Vasseur succeed where others failed?
Vasseur’s pedigree shows he’s up to the job.
Before entering the piranha club, Vasseur was a serial winner in the junior categories after graduating from university, as his ASM team won six consecutive Formula 3 Euro Series championships from 2004 onwards.
In 2005 Vasseur teamed up with Nicolas Todt to form ART Grand Prix, taking the newly rebranded GP2 championship by storm, winning four drivers and teams championships.
After conquering the junior categories, Vasseur was headhunted by Renault in 2016 to join its re-entry into F1.
But he didn’t see eye to eye with Cyril Abiteboul, and in January 2017, he departed Renault before later joining Sauber in July of the year.
Vasseur arrived at a team which had spent the past three seasons narrowly keeping their heads above water as off track; the team struggled to make ends meet whilst, on it, they were languishing at the back of the grid.
Still, under his guidance and with new ownership boosting the team’s coffers, Sauber’s form picked up, finishing no lower than eighth in the constructors’ championship.
Will he be able to change the prancing horse’s fortunes?
But no matter what he’s done in the past, Ferrari is the pinnacle and carries with it a much higher level of pressure as it not only represents a whole country but is the most successful team in F1.
Adding to Vasseur’s workload are the headaches of dealing with inner team politics which have plagued the Scuderia over the past four years.
The fact only one team principal, Stefano Domenicali, has won a championship in the past 15 years or stayed in their post for more than five years is an indictment of how cutthroat things are at Maranello.
However, there is reason to be hopeful that things will be different as Vasseur is extremely sincere and isn’t afraid to speak his mind, a trait that Leclerc liked during their time together at Alfa Romeo.
He also leaves Sauber in a much better place than when he arrived, planting Audi the seeds they hope will take them to F1 glory when they arrive in 2026.
Vasseur has won virtually everything in single-seater racing and won’t need as much time to transition into his new role as Maurizio Arrivabene and Binotto did when they were appointed.
Is it the perfect fit?
He may be only the second non-Italian to take the job, but Vasseur already looks to be the perfect fit for Ferrari, as not only is he a winner he also creates a good atmosphere inside the team.
Vasseur shares similarities with Jean Todt; both came to Ferrari after working miracles at their respective programmes before heading to Maranello with plenty of potential but with all of its eggs in all the wrong baskets.
The first weeks will be crucial for Vasseur in terms of what direction he decides to go with the 2023 car, the early stages of the 24 project.
How he deals with Leclerc and Carlos Sainz on the question over there will be a clear number one driver, something which Binotto refused to do, will be another key problem that needs tackling.
Although his no-nonsense attitude may rub off the wrong way and the more uptight members of Exor, they should give the Frenchman time to make progress and changes.
After all, it took Todt seven seasons to turn Ferrari into a juggernaut, so why shouldn’t Vasseur be given a similar amount of time?
Better yet, he was handpicked by John Elkann and Benedetto Vigna, meaning that he has their full support, something which Binotto didn’t have.