All the ingredients were there for Ferrari in the 2022 Formula 1 season to have a crack at claiming either championship title. An excellent, reliable car in those opening rounds looked unbeatable with a driver in Charles Leclerc looking more than capable of holding his own against World Champion Max Verstappen. However, the Scuderia's season imploded somewhat, ending with Team Principal Mattia Binotto resigning from his post after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He has been replaced by Alfa Romeo boss Frederic Vasseur - who is now tasked with restoring the most successful team in F1 to the perch they feel belongs to them. Here are the main problems he faces in trying to achieve that.
Keeping Leclerc onside
Perhaps the most pressing issue of all facing Vasseur is his star driver Leclerc - and keeping him happy. Leclerc is Ferrari's present and future, much the same way that Max Verstappen is to Red Bull or George Russell to Mercedes. He will be the man leading the Scuderia towards the 2030s - or so the plan goes. The Monegasque certainly made mistakes in 2022, see Imola and France, but these are comprehensively out-weighed by those Ade by the team. While the Monegasque certainly has faults of his own to rectify in 2023, his team let him down far more often than he did himself. Vasseur knows how to get a driver into shape - having worked with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Leclerc himself during his 2018 rookie campaign at Sauber. The Frenchman must tighten the good ship Maranello and set her on a course towards World Championship glory before Leclerc - whose contract runs out at the end of 2024 - starts to get itchy feet and wants out, with the big fight in the coming years being who will eventually replace Hamilton. This coveted seat might just appeal to a disillusioned Leclerc if Ferrari is still not fully in a place to deliver the success he is certainly capable of. The clock is ticking.
Fix the race strategy issues
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest, 'to lose one race due to bad strategy, Mr Binotto, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two or three looks like carelessness.' Given the unpredictability of a season, the odd strategic faux pas is to be expected. You simply cannot be perfect 100% of the time at 100% of the races. However, Ferrari seemingly did not learn from their mistakes throughout the campaign with repeated errors, but there were signs of them getting it right at well, such as tricking Sergio Perez into a second stop in Abu Dhabi which secured P2 in the Drivers' for Leclerc. Restoring trust and belief within the strategy department, under the command of Inaki Rueda must be Vasseur's objective when he starts as Team Principal and General Manager on January 9th, 2023. After all, you can have the fastest car on the grid, but the strategy is just as important a part in winning as anything else. The bottom line is that the team must show that they have learned from their mistakes in 2022 under Vasseur's leadership.
Better development throughout the season
This is a team who know how to make a good racing car. The technical department has been creative in recent years, with the 2017 and 2022 cars both shining examples of what can be produced. But in 2022, something of a brick wall was hit. While the F1-75 was the fastest car at the beginning of the season, upgrades brought to it did not add the desired performance as Red Bull streaked away and Mercedes began to nibble away. Carlos Sainz admitted that the team were simply out-developed across the season, which cannot be allowed to happen again. After all, it's not how you start that's important, but how you finish.
Address reliability concerns
Throughout the campaign, Ferrari's reliability record became something of a concern - not just for the works squad but also customers Alfa Romeo and Haas. The works squad suffered four retirements across the season thanks to failures - more than both Red Bull and Mercedes managed - three, and one respectively. There is some solace in the fact that aside from Sainz in Azerbaijan with hydraulics, the other three were all engine failures. It gives the team an area to hone in on during the off-season and rectify the weakness they caused the costly retirements, leaving potentially two wins on the table. And while Vasseur is at it, he'll need to work on the reliability of his drivers as well. Four of Sainz's six retirements came in the opening two laps through crashes or contact with others, while Leclerc's spin in France was the turning point in the season, from which there was no recovery for the Scuderia. If Vasseur can get the team firing on all cylinders, he'll need his drivers to be doing just that as well.
Bedding in a new management structure
It is interesting that when Vasseur comes to update his LinkedIn profile, he will be entering slightly different job titles to Binotto. The out-going boss enjoyed the titles of Team Principal and Managing Director, whereas Vasseur will be Team Principal and General Manager. This suggests less corporate responsibility will be placed on his desk, with those tasks placed elsewhere, perhaps with a new MD being brought in. It is exactly what Ferrari needs. The longer the wait for a championship goes on, the more it is mentioned, the louder the noises in the media about it being nearly two decades since one was delivered get. This is also Ferrari - where commercial pressures have an impact on the person running the racing side of the operation, whether that be from sponsors, upper management or the stock exchange. Taking those pressures away from Vasseur and leaving him fully in charge of whipping the team into shape could prove to be a shrewd move. Ferrari just need to trust the Vasseur process and not leap into any rash decisions if 2023 proves to be a below par year. Reacting off the back of that will surely push their wait for another championship well past the 16 years they had to wait between 1983 and 1999 as the next new guy will come in with their 'three-year plan' to turn the tea around.