Former F1 racer and Le Mans winners Mark Blundell is hopeful Fred Vasseur’s ‘non-Italian’ leadership will help elevate Ferrari in 2023.
Ferrari unveiled their brand new 2023 Formula 1 car on Tuesday, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz peeling the covers from the SF-23 during a launch event at their base in Maranello.
While the drivers remain the same after a tumultuous 2022 season, there’s a new team boss in charge as Mattia Binotto resigned at the conclusion of the season – Fred Vasseur, former team boss of Alfa Romeo Sauber, has taken over as the boss of the Scuderia.
Vasseur boasts an impressive motorsport C.V. aside from Alfa Romeo, having first arrived in F1 as team boss of Renault in 2016. Prior to that, his venture Spark Racing Technologies secured the contract to manufacture and supply the chassis for the Formula E championship, while he is also the founder (together with Nicholas Todt) of the successful ART racing team.
Mark Blundell: An Italian leading Ferrari never seems to be a happy marriage
Ferrari had a competitive car in 2022, but were unable to challenge Max Verstappen and Red Bull for the title due to a seemingly infinite stream of reliability problems and operational errors on the strategic side.
Having finished as runners-up to Red Bull, it marked 14 years since Ferrari’s last championship win in 2008, and 15 years since Kimi Raikkonen brought home the Drivers’ Championship.
The last title wins were still remnants of the hugely successful Jean Todt era, albeit with Stefano Domenicali taking over the Scuderia in 2008. Domenicali’s barren years were followed by a year of revolution in 2014 under the ruthless Marco Mattiacci, before Maurizio Arrivabene took over in 2015. While Arrivabene brought the team back to the front, he fell on his sword in 2019 as Mattia Binotto took over before his own downfall last year.
“It’s always been difficult for Ferrari, as an Italian team, to have somebody of Italian nationality leading the team… it never seems to be a happy marriage,” Blundell told PlanetF1.com in an exclusive interview, reflecting on Ferrari’s last 15 years.
“Fundamentally, in recent years, when there’s been successes at Ferrari, it’s always been relative to someone non-Italian leading the team. I struggle sometimes to understand why that is.
“There were several times when the progress of Ferrari was quite impressive. And then there were several times when you would look back and go, ‘why and how did that happen?’ Because it seems some fundamental, basic problems and issues that occurred that, for someone of the level of Ferrari, you wouldn’t expect.”
Mark Blundell: It’ll be an ‘incredibly tough job’ for anyone to turn Ferrari around
Vasseur may have proven his competency and leadership skills in the midfield, but Blundell said the Frenchman faces a vastly different task with Ferrari.
“Whether Fred Vasseur will make a difference, and whether it’s overnight, is yet to be seen,” he commented.
“Pedigree-wise, he’s incredibly strong in that leadership, but the leadership of a mid-grid Formula 1 team and then the leadership of someone like Ferrari is quite a different challenge. So, it will be an interesting situation to see whether that blossoms.
“It’s always difficult for Ferrari. It’s such a big name and such a big focal point for anybody who looks at Formula 1, it comes with a huge amount of pressure, and being an Italian team of that credibility and that sort of awareness for everyone in the world and having to deliver weekend in, weekend out, it’s always going to bring a lot of pressure with it.
“It would be an incredibly tough job for anyone to go in and turn that place around quickly, but I’d just love to see Ferrari hit the front of the grid and doing what they do. I’d like to see the drivers being able to take the championship in a Ferrari, because I think it will be great for the sport.
“It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, wherever it is, whatever pit lane, you’ll see a Ferrari flag waving. That’s the level of passion and tradition that sits within the world of motorsport and the Prancing Horse.”
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As for whether Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are the right drivers for the Scuderia as a new era dawns at Maranello, Blundell believes both the Monegasque and the Spaniard are ready to claim the ultimate prize.
“Charles is showing, time and time again, that, when things are right, the delivery is there,” he said.
“Sainz has now matured with the pressures of being a Ferrari driver to understand what it takes and I think he can lift himself to go to the next stage as well.
“They’ve got a great combination of drivers and the right enthusiasm and youth is still there with the right levels of speed and performance, so I think it’s possible. But they’re only as good as what they sit in, like any Grand Prix driver…”