Frédéric Vasseur knows a lot about pressure.
In January he was appointed general manager and team principal at Ferrari, one of the most high-pressure jobs in motorsport due to the team’s popularity. But Vasseur started his own team in 1996, and he said there were times when he struggled to earn his living.
“When I started ASM 30 years ago, I think there was probably more pressure,” Vasseur said in an interview about the team. “We had to get paid by the drivers every Monday to avoid bankruptcy.” (At that level of racing, the drivers pay the team.)
Vasseur, Sauber Group chief executive and Alfa Romeo team principal last year, felt the pressure he expected when Ferrari approached him to replace Mattia Binotto, who resigned after the season ended. had to consider. imposed on his family.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be affected or scared,” he says. “But it was tougher and I didn’t want to expose them to it. For me it’s one thing, my family it’s another. I had to make a decision.” “
Vasseur said it took him a day to do so, thanks to his wife, Marie-Laure. “I have four children and my youngest recently turned 15 and is in school and I knew this would be a big change for him,” he said.
“But my wife was more sure than I was. She said, ‘What do you want?’ why is she hesitating? 』
He said Ferrari is so famous that “it’s just impossible to say no”.
It was not an easy start for Vasseur. With the team and driver Charles Leclerc (who hails from Monaco) both finishing second in last season’s championship, Ferrari were expected to challenge reigning champions Red Bull this year.
But after five grands prix, Ferrari is in the doldrums. He finished on the podium once and finished fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, 146 points behind Red Bull.
Almost four months into his tenure as French manager, Vasseur has had little time to impress the team or make major changes. “The main problem I had was that I joined quite late,” he said.
“From day one to the launch of the new car, it was only four weeks.
“As you can see, every team is building something strong over a long period of time,” said Vasseur, who spent about six years at Sauber and Alfa Romeo.
“But when we got into a tough situation, the reaction of the team was calm, they tried to understand and correct it step by step and they didn’t want to change everything right away,” he said of Ferrari.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he was surprised Ferrari didn’t make the challenge this season. The car was over a lap faster in qualifying, but struggled in the Grand Prix.
“You can never ignore someone,” Horner said.
His team has finished 1st and 2nd four times in five Grands Prix. “It’s been the best start ever and I feel like he’s made a good step from last year’s car to this year’s car,” he said. “It’s the kind of step you’d expect.
“I feel like others are losing ground. I’m sure they are working hard to address this issue and there could be significant immediate gains. But others We are surprised that companies are probably underperforming compared to last year’s levels.”
Vasseur has been involved in motorsport for almost 30 years. After founding ASM and winning his four Formula 3 Euroseries titles from 2004 to his 2007, including Lewis Hamilton in 2005, Vasseur had his second success in 2004. team contributed to the creation of his ART Grand Prix.
Vasseur helped Leclerc win the GP3 title in 2016 and two years later coached Leclerc in his first F1 season at Sauber.
Leclerc has built a strong relationship with Vasseur that has allowed Driver to work with him again and “trust him completely”.
“So far he has basically tried to analyze the situation as quickly as possible in order to make the best possible changes for the future,” Leclerc said. “Most of his work will be completed now.
“Of course, I speak to Fredo a lot, I know his team’s long-term plans, and I fully support him.”
But Leclerc is struggling. After crashing out of contention for the drivers’ title last season, it has suffered three accidents this year.
He collided with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll on the first lap of the Australian Grand Prix and crashed during practice and qualifying for the Miami race.
Leclerc said he was “really angry” with himself after the qualifying session and said he should “drive at a higher level”. He is 85 points behind Verstappen. After winning five Grands Prix last year, he now leads the championship by 19 points.
The question is how much time Vasseur will be given before Ferrari’s long wait for success ends. The last Constructors’ title was in 2008 and the last Drivers’ championship was won in 2007 by Kimi Raikkonen.
“This is a project without a name,” Vasseur said of plans to improve the team. “It will never be Fred Vasseur’s team.”
“The Ferrari team will always be first. There are my preferences, some changes have to be made, the approach is different, but the important thing for me is that we are going in the right direction. to make sure.”
Carlos Sainz, the team’s other driver, also said he had a “very good relationship” with Vasseur but felt “very inconsistent” driving the car during a grand prix. . His best result was fourth in the first round in Bahrain, 75 points behind Verstappen.
Vasseur has admitted that Red Bull has a “lack of top speed”.
“We have closed the gap to Bahrain by 50%, but the advantage is still there,” said Vasseur.
“We’re giving you updates, but Red Bull isn’t sleeping either. They’ll improve and a lot of the time they’re more confident in their situation than when they’re chasing someone. It’s much easier to improve when you have it.”
He said the car had potential as Vasseur wanted to perform ahead of Ferrari’s qualifying speed and the long-running grands prix where the team has had problems with tire deterioration. Ferrari have finished in the top three at all but one Grand Prix, but the team has failed to translate that into a top finish, with the exception of Azerbaijan, where Leclerc qualified first and finished third in the race.
Vasseur said senior Ferrari officials, including chairman John Elkann and chief executive Benedetto Vina, did not interfere in his decisions.
“In the past, I’ve never had a relationship like this with an organization above me,” said Vasseur, the former Renault and Alfa Romeo team principal.
“If I need their support, I know they’re there. On the other hand, I have the freedom to manage the team the way I have to.”
But there are also die-hard Ferrari fans out there to contend with. “We are the only team in the world that waits for us every morning when we go to the factory and in the evening when we go to the factory.
“But somehow that’s a good thing because it gives you extra motivation.”