Exclusive interview with Frédéric Vasseur

A few tenths of a second faster – Meet Frédéric Vasseur

CEO and Team Principal of the Formula One team Alfa Romeo Racing

Frédéric Vasseur, CEO & Team Principal of the Formula One team Alfa Romeo Racing, on signing the "Iceman", his own objective of making his team "best of the rest", and the time factor – which is ultimately the difference between success and failure.

An exclusive interview brought to you by GlobeAir

The SMART TRAVELLER: Since you took over as Team Principal in June 2017, Sauber F1 Team (now Alfa Romeo Racing) has risen significantly in the standings. Eighth position in the 2018 Constructors' Championship was a tremendous success. What were the most important steps along the way?

FRÉDÉRIC VASSEUR: It isn't just the driver or the aerodynamics that play a role, it's the racing team, the corporate structure, the ability to produce quickly, the sponsors, the partners, the engine, etc! In total, we've taken a few steps forward, but we need to continue to raise our game in all those areas.

Were you perhaps a little surprised that it all happened so quickly? On the contrary: the process has taken longer than expected. It wasn't until early 2018, nine months after my arrival, that we found ourselves on a firm footing. But how long it took doesn't really matter: the progress we made last year is very clear, and we definitely need to maintain that dynamic.

What are your predictions for 2019? After the first race in Melbourne it's already clear that the field is very tight. Everything is playing out within the tent-of-a-second range. That makes predictions very difficult. Much more important to me than a specific standing, however, is that we continue to maintain developmental progress over the entire season. And we need to send a clear signal that we intend to become best of the rest behind the three major terms .

Frédéric Vasseur (born 1968) studied aerospace engineering before setting up his own Formula 3 team. He has had a long career as a manager in formula racing. He is currently CEO and Team Principal of the Formula One team Alfa Romeo Racing.

The overlapping areas between Ferrari and Alfa Romeo Racing

How would you describe the relationship between the two? Ferrari is primarily our engine supplier, and we've been very fortunate in benefitting from that technical collaboration, as the engine was highly competitive and reliable last year. But our contract also stipulates that young drivers such as Charles Leclerc should receive plenty of backing. In the case of a talented racing driver like him, it was totally normal that at some point he would continue his career by moving to Ferrari. Naturally, we regret that he has left us. But we now have the opportunity to recruit new drivers like him.

The return of Kimi Räikkönen

Is a major coup for you in the drivers' market. What will the popular Finn, nicknamed the "Iceman", bring to your team? What can you expect from him? Although we've been in Formula 1 for 27 years, we're still a young team. We've taken on 150 new employees over the past 18 months. The sheer fact of having one of the three world champions as a driver on our team represents huge potential for Alfa Romeo in all respects, in terms of marketing, experience and speed. Kimi needs to be more than just those vital tenths of a second faster. He also needs to function as a facilitator in the team. He needs to motivate other people, apply all his energies and drive technical development forwards. His key advantage is that he has 18 seasons on winning teams under his belt. He also holds numerous trump cards that may be decisive in determining whether or not a team functions properly. He needs to play those trump cards.

An italian talent: Who is Antonio Giovinazzi?

Your second driver is the Italian Antonio Giovinazzi, a young driver who in 2017 completed in two races for Sauber. What do you anticipate for this very talented 24-year-old newcomer? He not only competed in two races for us two years ago, but also participated in six training sessions last year. He has proved himself extremely reliable and has a good feeling for technical matters. He has always been fast compared with Chalres Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson, and his top speeds were very compelling. He's also very well integrated into our team and will definitely perform well alongside Kimi, I am confident of that.

The partnership with GlobeAir

Since the start of the last season you have been working with GlobeAir #MyPrivateJet. How did that come about? It came about naturally, because Bernhard Fragner (CEO of GlobeAir) and I have a lot in common: we're both coming from a world shaped by passion, in which technology plays a dominant role and in which precision and focus on quality are at the forefront. I believe our activities will complement each other very well.

What does the collaboration involve, and to what extent does Alfa Romeo Racing benefit from it? What it involves is the highly efficient transportation of engineers, mechanics and components between individual test tracks, or between a track and the factory or a supplier. I'll give you an example: when we're in the testing phase, we require flights several times a day between the test track and the factory, so that we can transport components which are in development or which need to undergo redesign. That wouldn't be possible using normal air transportation, and for time reasons it wouldn't be feasible by road. The time factor is enormously important for us – it's ultimately the difference between success and failure.

A self-reflection

If you could start again from the beginning, would you take the same route again?

I've never really asked myself the question of whether one might rewind one's life and then live differently. It's hard to say whether I should have refrained from doing something or done something differently. I don't know. But I do know that I have been working for 30 years and I have been enjoying it for 30 years. What I particularly love about my job is that on a race weekend you get direct feedback and see results. You're all powered up. I can no longer imagine my life without that feeling. So, there isn't much I would want to change. If only I could go a few tenths of a second faster.

You studied aerospace engineering. What fascinates you more, a Formula 1 car or a plane?

Around 15 years ago, I had a photography book in which Formula 1 cars were compared with fighter aircraft. It is remarkable how many similarities there are between the respective fields and technologies: the importance of the support personnel for all aspects of the aircraft or racing car, the logistics behind that, the mechanical aspects, the technology and the aerodynamics, which are the top priority for an aircraft as well as in Formula 1. Clearly the two fields have a great deal in common.

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