MEDLAND: What’s behind F1’s managerial merry-go-round

MEDLAND: What’s behind F1’s managerial merry-go-round

Stability used to be the name of the game when it came to Formula 1 team principals. Household names like Ron Dennis and Frank Williams would be in place for years. Yet somehow we’re in a position where four of the 10 teams have lost their boss since the end of the 2022 season.

Four departures in 14 days.

But they’re not all shocks. And they’re not all for negative reasons. In fact, in the case of Frederic Vasseur (pictured above) leaving Alfa Romeo for Ferrari, and Andreas Seidl departing McLaren to replace him, they’re moves based on their impressive performances and qualities.

Yet, one of those moves seems to make total sense while the other comes as a slightly bigger gamble to leave a team they’ve been building so impressively. And maybe not the way round you think.

It says something about the poisoned chalice that is the role of Ferrari team principal that it didn’t feel like a no-brainer for the boss of the team that just finished sixth in the constructors’ championship to take the vacancy at Maranello.

Vasseur had found Sauber to be a much better fit for him in Formula 1 than Renault — his previous home in 2016 — and was working with a team that had shown strong potential this year, especially in the early part of the season. He had an impressive lead driver in the form of Valtteri Bottas, a rookie that could open up major commercial opportunities to go alongside an encouraging debut season in Zhou Guanyu. Oh and the small matter of Audi committing to entering F1 with the team in 2026.

Ferrari is one of the most iconic and romantic names in all of sport, and it really does have that special something that attracts people to work at Maranello, but Vasseur had a bright future at a team he’d steered through tough times and there’s certainly no guarantee we’ll be saying the same for him in Italy.

That’s not a slight on Vasseur’s abilities, but as Charles Leclerc said himself last week: “Ferrari is a very different team to any other teams.”

There are more moving pieces at Ferrari than any other F1 team. Can Vasseur be the one to bring them all together? Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images

The pressure that comes with being Ferrari boss is immense, and it has been a long time since a team principal has felt like they have the protection of wider management to be able to implement whatever is required in order to make the final step and win championships.

Perhaps Vasseur now has those promises from above — after all, he left Renault after less than a year because of disagreements over how best to run the team, so is aware of the pitfalls — but if he hasn’t then he’s risking his reputation joining a company that tends to have very little patience.

Mattia Binotto had got Ferrari within striking distance. He’d done the hard part of making the car extremely quick, and installed a driver pairing that works well together and is ready to win but still young enough to focus on the future, too.

Areas clearly need improving and Vasseur will be firm in making changes, but the big question will be whether he is given enough leniency to wait for those sorts of decisions to take effect now that Ferrari is so close to the front.

With the confirmation coming less than 24 hours after Williams announced the departure of Jost Capito — a team principal who had severely divided opinion among those who worked under him — at least Vasseur doesn’t face the same issue. At Alfa Romeo, the 54-year-old had a reputation for being firm but fair, with multiple team members sad to see him go.

“He’s a great guy — fair, honest, with a great sense of humor and a great human touch,” was how one described him, while another called him “fantastic” and “such an underrated personality in the paddock.”

Those are the sorts of qualities that will have been attractive to the likes of John Elkann and Benedetto Vigna when seeking a replacement for Binotto, and Vasseur was clearly being lined up long ago, which is a positive as the Scuderia at least had a clear plan in mind. Vigna himself said his track record of getting the most of out people was a key aspect of his hiring.

But as an outsider given his lack of history working for Ferrari, Vasseur will need to lean on all of those skills and get the team on his side quickly if he wants to make a success of his time at Maranello.

And that success is unlikely to come at a markedly greater speed solely because of Vasseur’s arrival. He can help with the way the team operates, of course, but if he wants to bring in personnel from rivals then contracts usually dictate that they won’t be available for some time due to “gardening leave” requirements, and the car itself was obviously designed by the existing technical team under Binotto’s watch.

If it comes together and Ferrari finally wins titles then Vasseur will be a hero. But if doesn’t work out, then while his reputation will hopefully go before him, it could be a costly decision given the project he has walked away from.

Seidl assumes the task of overseeing Sauber’s next makeover, but will do so strictly as CEO rather than the dual role Vasseur held with the team. Jerry Andre/Motorsport Images

That project now becomes the one that Seidl takes over, having left McLaren after a highly impressive four seasons in charge. The German had a big reputation when he joined in 2019 but certainly appeared to be creating a culture that was moving McLaren further forward even if the team’s recovery had started before he arrived.

A new wind tunnel is on its way at Woking but the facilities already in place at Sauber being allied with his former employers at VW made the move too appealing, and provides Alfa Romeo with a replacement for Vasseur that looks — on paper at least — to be much more of a sure thing.

Seidl has experience of leading a big Formula 1 team with a similar budget and higher expectations in recent years, and slots into an outfit that is on the up itself, even if it might be tough to replicate the sixth-place finish it enjoyed in 2022.

After being granted an early exit by McLaren — in part thanks to his former team’s desire and ability to instantly install Andrea Stella in his place — he also now has the time to settle into the CEO role and identify who he thinks will be best to run the F1 team in a team principal capacity.

Given Vasseur held a dual role and Seidl is only replacing him in one of them, it means three of the five vacancies have quickly been filled and with strong, proven candidates, as McLaren has sought continuity by promoting Stella from within.

That’s because change always comes with an element of risk, and for three teams that had been on upward trajectories, it’s the one moving to the constructor that is closest to winning the title who appears to have the toughest task on their hands.