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Formula 1

Vasseur and Binotto’s Ferrari roles have an ominous difference

by Jack Cozens
5 min read

Frederic Vasseur has replaced Mattia Binotto as Ferrari Formula 1 team principal.

But it is not an entirely like-for-like role swap. Not when it comes to the full job title.

Binotto was also managing director of Ferrari’s sporting division. Vasseur’s additional element is titled general manager.

Does that matter?

The feeling among the panel on The Race F1 Podcast was that it will. And that it might be an ominous sign that Vasseur will have a smaller remit than Binotto and consequently be at greater risk of interference from above – a scenario that historically has done Ferrari more harm than good in F1 terms.

“That job title difference is one of those subtle but potentially quite important ones,” said Scott Mitchell-Malm on the podcast.

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“It’s hard to tell on the surface exactly what it suggests. My assumption is someone like Benedetto Vigna, who is obviously now a little bit more settled, shall we say, in the Ferrari CEO role, will maybe come to be a bit more involved, like his predecessor Louis Camilleri was, for example, when he was working with Mattia Binotto. And obviously like Sergio Marchionne, who seemed to be all things to all men inside Ferrari and just as hands on as is humanly possible to be.

“General manager, by definition, sounds a bit generic. Whereas Binotto was managing director of the sporting division as well as team principal. You have to assume that that job title change is done for a reason.

“I totally get why, if you’ve hired someone like Fred, you’re maybe not expecting him to be a big political heavyweight or anything like that and you want him to just be in charge of running the team and making sure he’s getting the best out of the people involved and just leaving a bit more of the bigger picture stuff, more conceptual things, to your company CEO perhaps.

“But I’m not really convinced at all that that’s what Ferrari needs.”

Edd Straw concurred.

“It feels like they’ve almost gone the wrong way, in that if anything they needed a more powerful team boss to deal with all that,” he said.

“It’s never that encouraging when those at the kind of higher corporate level try to get more directly involved. That rarely works in F1, because F1 is so specialised.

“Fred Vasseur is very good at running a race team, but the problem is wider when it comes to Ferrari.”

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Hungary, Practice

Ferrari’s greatest successes of the modern era came under Jean Todt’s leadership of the sporting side, which allowed the Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Michael Schumacher axis to get on with bringing the team back to the top of F1 with minimal interference from the wider Ferrari corporate structure.

Mitchell-Malm wondered if the solution here should actually be to hire someone else as another layer of management between Vasseur and Vigna, to take that Todt role and let Vasseur function as Brawn did.

“I think they need someone who is on that CEO level, who is basically responsible for running either the racing division or specifically the F1 division,” Mitchell-Malm suggested.

“And you can have a team principal beneath that. That could be your Fred Vasseur: just purely as a team boss, managing the day to day.

“But you need someone who is going to shield the team from the board level stuff and have a proper say in the bigger-picture conceptual things while having a grasp of what an F1 team needs.

“Now Vigna, as the Ferrari CEO, may come to be that person, but that’s something we’ll only know in time.

“I’m not exactly particularly confident or convinced that that’s what will happen.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Saturday Monte Carlo, Monaco

“I think that job title change from Binotto to Vasseur is indicative of something that might be a bit worse rather than a bit better, in terms of that wider Ferrari cultural issue.”

Vasseur’s history also raises a concern on this front. His first F1 role, at Renault in 2016, lasted under a year before friction with managing director Cyril Abiteboul led to his departure from the team principal position.

“There are some similarities and some differences, the key difference being that was Fred’s first year in F1 after his stellar junior single-seater career in terms of running race teams in those championships and the other initiatives and side projects he was involved in at the ART concern,” said Mitchell-Malm of the Renault 2016 comparison.

“So he’s a lot more experienced now, that’s certainly a different factor.

“There is a parallel to be drawn in that at Renault he was just there to run the race team but got interfered with too much by people above him. So I guess you could argue that there’s potentially the risk of exactly the same thing happening at Ferrari, which is not what’s needed at all.

“But I think the key difference is that the people above Fred at Ferrari are in a slightly different position to Cyril Abiteboul, who was the problematic person above Fred at Renault.

“In actual fact, what they had at Renault was the sort of structure that Ferrari could benefit from – that executive director role that Cyril had was the person who was meant to be protecting the race team from all the nonsense, not projecting a load of nonsense onto the race team!

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Brazilian Grand Prix Practice Day Sao Paulo, Brazil

“I think at Renault it was more about the other people that were around Vasseur and the way that particular organisation was set up.

“I don’t think that was ever going to get the best out of him and it just became way too complicated and not at all a desirable scenario.

“Ferrari absolutely has the potential to go the same way, but it’s not a like-for-like.”

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