Ferrari Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc has offered his outlook on the resignation of team boss Mattia Binotto and how it impacts the outfit’s 2023 prospects.
Binotto’s resignation was announced by Ferrari late last month, a mere two weeks after the Scuderia had moved to dismiss “unfounded speculation” that his position as team principal was under threat.
Leclerc – a diminished relationship with whom was cited by Italian media as a factor during that initial “speculation” that Binotto was his way out – posted a “thank you for everything” message when the team boss’s exit was made official, but went into more detail when interviewed during the FIA end-of-season prize gala on Friday.
“Obviously the last few weeks have been a bit difficult for the team and we are in a transition time at the moment,” said the 2022 F1 runner-up.
“On that I have the full trust on Benedetto [Vigna, Ferrari CEO] and John [Elkann, Ferrari chairman] to take the right decision.”
He also expressed confidence “that 2023 will be another step forward and hopefully get closer to the goal that we all want in the team, which is to be world champion”.
HOW HE FOUND OUT
Leclerc said Binotto – who took over as Ferrari team boss ahead of Leclerc’s first season with the team in 2019 – called him to inform him of the resignation.
“I respect his decision and I can only thank him.
“Obviously he believed in me right from the start, he extended me with a very, very long contract and before being team principal he was also inside the Scuderia for many many years and he has contributed to the success that the team had in the past years.
“So…I wish him the best and obviously now it’s up to us to focus on the future, try and take the right choices, in order to be a bit more of a challenge to Red Bull next year.”
WHETHER HE SEES IT AS A SETBACK
The timing of Binotto’s exit is not ideal, with Ferrari in the middle of work to understand why its 2022 challenge fell apart the way it did via a mid-season slump Leclerc said grew more “frustrating” after the fact.
A new regime is likely to entail an adaptation period, and Leclerc acknowledged he “doesn’t know” how that would work given it’s not something he’s had to experience during his F1 career.
“It will probably require a little bit of time for the team principal to get at ease with the system and with Ferrari, because it’s obviously a huge team.
“But I believe that if it’s done the right way, I don’t think we’ll suffer any of it on the track. I’m pretty sure it will be a smooth transition.”
Asked why he was expressing such confidence for 2023 despite the current circumstances, he said: “I am confident because we are doing quite a lot of work in the simulator, that we’ve been working extremely hard in the past year to try and understand what the weaknesses of this car were, in order to get better for next year’s car.
“Obviously there’s also Mattia still at the factory at the moment [until December 31], working and trying to help the team get ready for 2023.”
He then reiterated that “if the transition is done in the right way, we shouldn’t suffer too much”.
“And I also think that after [since] the 2021 season we’ve been working very well and reset a little bit from 2020, that was a difficult season,” said Leclerc. “We have been working in the right direction and in the right way. And this gives me the confidence that we’ll have a competitive car for 2023.”
ROLE IN THE DECISION
Leclerc was keen to emphasise that his preferences would not dictate who Binotto’s replacement will be.
Ferrari insisted it didn’t have anybody lined up at the time of Binotto’s resignation. Many names have been linked, but several of those – such as McLaren’s Andreas Seidl – were rumoured to have turned down the opportunity.
Asked whether he had a preference and a shortlist, Leclerc said with a smirk: “No. And I won’t comment on that.
“And obviously it’s also not my decision. John and Benedetto are going to take the decision.
“We are just trying to focus on our job on the simulator, with the team, in order to have the best race car possible for next year. But the decision will be done by them.”
He was then asked specifically about Frederic Vasseur, his former team boss at ART in GP3 and at Sauber in his first season in F1.
Vasseur has been rumoured as a potential candidate and is known to have visited Ferrari’s Maranello base.
Asked whether Vasseur could be a success at Ferrari, Leclerc said: “Ferrari is a very different team to any other team.
“I can only comment on my experience with Fred, which obviously has been good. I’ve worked with Fred already from the junior categories, where he has believed in me, and we’ve always had a good relationship, but apart from that obviously this shouldn’t influence any of the decisions.
“He has always been very straightforward, very honest. And this is something that I like from Fred.
“Whether it will be him or not, I don’t know. We will see hopefully in the next few months.”