Vasseur, who has taken over as Ferrari team principal following Mattia Binotto’s resignation, insisted Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will have equal status.
There had been speculation that Vasseur’s appointment would lead to Leclerc being favoured over Sainz, given the Monegasque’s strong relationship with Ferrari’s new boss, but Vasseur has moved quickly to pour cold water over such suggestions.
“We have two very good drivers, both of them are able to do the job,” said Vasseur.
“We will have the capacity to provide them exactly the same car and the same structure and the same support. What is clear is the target is to win with Ferrari and for Ferrari.
“There will be no number one or number two.”
This may come as a surprise to some onlookers, particularly as there was a sense that one of Vasseur’s biggest tasks would be to keep Leclerc happy and ensure he stays committed to Ferrari.
Leclerc has a contract running to the end of 2024 and has found himself linked to Mercedes as a possible future replacement for seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
There is a case that by making a clear statement and putting all their eggs into Leclerc’s basket, similar to Red Bull’s approach with Max Verstappen, it would keep Leclerc sweet.
But that is not necessarily what Ferrari or Leclerc need.
Ferrari appear to have moved on from the days of Michael Schumacher being favoured over Rubens Barrichello, or Felipe Massa being told ‘Fernando is faster than you’.
Ferrari want to operate differently and avoid having a predetermined number 1 and number 2 driver. After all, Mercedes, F1’s most successful team of the past decade, have demonstrated the policy of preferential treatment is not always needed to come out on top – though it helps when you have the fastest car on the grid.
There is little to be gained from Vasseur announcing that Leclerc will have Ferrari’s full backing before the season has even begun. What if Red Bull produces a car that blitzes the rest of the field and a title push proves impossible? And what if Sainz starts the season stronger?
While Leclerc – although still mistake-prone – appears to be Ferrari’s best bet for a title charge, as highlighted by his superior performances across 2022, Sainz has pushed him closely over their two seasons together and won races.
Deciding who will spearhead Ferrari’s title bid before a wheel has even turned in anger would not be a smart move. It would lead to one driver being disgruntled and risk jeopardising team harmony.
More important is that Ferrari act decisively when they need to. Ferrari’s reluctance to throw their efforts behind a single driver at key times has hurt them in recent years.
Binotto was quick to dismiss talk of team orders when Leclerc pulled clear of Sainz and found himself in the lead of the championship early on in 2022. That same hesitancy crept into Ferrari’s at-times shambolic strategic decision-making.
While backing Leclerc may have made little difference in the end, given Ferrari’s catalogue of catastrophes accelerated their defeat to a superior Verstappen-Red Bull combination, the Scuderia cannot afford to squander opportunities if a similar scenario arises in 2023.
Encouragingly, the early indications from Vasseur suggest he will adopt a more ruthless and no-nonsense style of management as he looks to right Ferrari’s wrongs and end their agonising wait for an F1 title.
Despite refusing to impose a number one driver, Vasseur insisted he won’t hesitate to “take action” if required.
“If at one stage, we have to take action, I will take action,” he explained.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s for one or the other, but if at one stage of the season I have to do something, I will do it.”
Eyebrows were also raised when Vasseur stated that locking down Leclerc to a fresh contract was not among his immediate priorities, but it only acts to underline his commitment to solving Ferrari’s pressing weaknesses.
It may do Leclerc no harm to have to work for an extension, ensuring the fire remains lit in his quest to become world champion. As Vasseur suggested, if Ferrari get things right on track, everything else will naturally take care of itself.
“We have to be focused on the sporting side, to get results,” he said. “And it’s like for the wedding, if both sides of the table are happy with the situation, that we will continue.
“But I think it’s not the priority today. We have a good relationship. And we’ll have time to discuss this.
“First, I think the only topic today, we have to be focused on pure performance and to get results.”