Fred Vasseur lifts lid on first Ferrari approach and first day as team boss

Jamie Woodhouse
Fred Vasseur watches on from the pitwall. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Fred Vasseur watches on from the pitwall. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Fred Vasseur revealed that Ferrari first reached out to him after the 2022 Abu Dhabi GP about becoming their new team principal, at a time where he felt his job was done at Alfa Romeo-Sauber.

With Mattia Binotto having handed in his resignation as Ferrari team boss, the Scuderia needed a new figure at the helm to lead them into F1 2023 and beyond.

The person chosen for the job was Fred Vasseur, who having served as team boss of Alfa Romeo-Sauber since 2017, decided to accept the Ferrari offer and swap Hinwil for Maranello.

Fred Vasseur needed 24 hours to accept Ferrari job

The Frenchman admitted that for him, becoming Ferrari team boss was his “megaproject”, likening it to how a tennis player aspires to compete at Wimbledon, though for family reasons, he could not give an immediate yes.

Asked during the Beyond the Grid podcast when Ferrari first approached him, Vasseur replied: “It was just after Abu Dhabi last year.

“It was a bit of a strange feeling because everybody spoke about it during the Abu Dhabi weekend, but it was not the case.

“The week after we had the first discussion. I was flying back from Abu Dhabi, I did a pit stop at home and then I was in Switzerland.

“It was a strange story, but I was already in contact with John Elkann [Ferrari chairman]. First I was a customer of Ferrari for the engine with the Alfa Romeo team, that the title sponsor was Alfa Romeo, part of the group, it meant that we were already in contact. And we had the first discussion to know if I could be interested with the position.

“I didn’t want to be too emotional, because when you are doing this job, and I’m doing this job for 32 or 33 years, for sure to have the possibility to join Ferrari as the team principal, it’s somehow not the pinnacle, but somehow the biggest challenge let’s say. The pinnacle is if you win with Ferrari, then it’s a bit different.

“And to have in front of me the biggest challenge of my job it’s…a challenge. I took 24 hours to think about it also not for me, because for me, for sure, it’s a kind of megaproject. When you play tennis you want to do Wimbledon, when you’re doing my job to be the team principal of Ferrari, for sure it’s what you want to do.

“But I took 24 hours because it was more for my family and I know that I put a lot of pressure on my family so far and I knew that it will be another step. And I wanted to discuss with them if they were keen to do it.” recommends

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While Vasseur is attempting to lead Ferrari back to the Formula 1 summit, he was asked whether there was any temptation to stay put, considering from 2026 Sauber will embark on their exciting new journey as the Audi works team.

Vasseur though felt that after the team achieved a P6 finish in the 2022 Constructors’ Championship standings, his work there was done.

“So far, I always did my own company in the past, I built up my own company and somehow at Sauber, it was not my company at all, but I had the feeling that we built up something,” said Vasseur.

“I joined in 2017, we were quite close to bankruptcy. Just after this situation, absolute P10, because we had no more than 10 teams on the grid! It’s why we were P10, something like four per cent off.

“And when you want to create or to build-up something, there was a very good challenge.

“I really enjoyed the five years that I spent in Switzerland, but let’s say it’s the opposite of Ferrari.

“It’s difficult to create the link and so, but I think also that after five years I had personally a very good relationship with a lot of people in the team and I really enjoyed this, but I had also the feeling in the other end that finishing P6, I don’t want to say that we can’t do more or better, but I had the feeling that we delivered what we had to deliver.

“It was a new chapter for Sauber with Audi joining, and I had the feeling that we did the job and it was the perfect timing for me to jump on something else.”

Familiar feeling for Fred Vasseur on first Ferrari day

Walking through the gates at Maranello on his first day as the Ferrari team boss, Vasseur was asked to sum up his emotions, and whether at this point any feeling of intimidation set in?

But in fact, Vasseur spoke of a feeling of familiarity, since Alfa Romeo-Sauber’s connection to Ferrari had meant Maranello was not an unfamiliar place to him.

“It was not the first time and I think it’s a big difference,” said Vasseur.

“I went a couple of times in the past to Maranello, I knew the office of Mattia, we had a couple of meetings. I knew Laurent [Mekies].

“I don’t want to say that I was used to being there at all, because it’s a different thing to come as a customer or partner or to come as the team principal, but somehow it was not new at all.”

Ferrari sit P4 in the current F1 2023 Constructors’ standings, 14 points behind Aston Martin a position ahead in what has been a challenging campaign for the team so far.

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