ANALYSIS: How Team Principal Silly Season unfolded at Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and McLaren
One team boss, who will remain nameless, very recently said to me: “In F1, every day something can happen – it’s never boring”. And boring it hasn’t been in the last 24 hours. F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto delves into a crazy period for F1 which has seen changes at the helm of four out of 10 teams. It’s unprecedented.
Formula 1 has felt more like football’s Premier League of late, so frequent have the managerial changes been. First Ferrari and Mattia Binotto parted ways. Then Williams said goodbye to Jost Capito. Then Alfa Romeo waved off Fred Vasseur – bound for Ferrari. And finally McLaren saw Andreas Seidl return to Sauber, with the British team promoting from within with Andrea Stella.
Ferrari trigger the merry go-round
When Ferrari’s group leadership decided they wanted to replace Mattia Binotto as Team Principal – a call made as far back as 2021 I’m told – they talked to several potential candidates.
Some were able to resist the lure of Ferrari, instead happy to stay with their current projects. One had eyes on another destination. One was very, very tempted. The latter was Vasseur.
After a deal was done with Audi to make Sauber their factory team for 2026, thus securing the Swiss operation’s short to medium-term future, Vasseur began to seriously weigh up the offer from Ferrari.
The Frenchman, who has experience running the Renault F1 team as well as serious success while in charge of teams in junior formulae, realised that while owner Finn Rausing backed him, Audi would likely want to put their stamp on the team when they eventually took control.
Vasseur felt that there was still the potential to stay in charge in the medium-term, sources say, but knew it was a risk in the long-term. So after a couple of weeks to mull over the idea, he decided to go for it. He parted ways on good terms with Sauber and Rausing and signed for Ferrari.
He's a shrewd operator and aware of the baggage that comes with running Ferrari. But he’s also got a track record that gives him confidence that he can have a huge influence on the team.
Interestingly, Vasseur’s title is Team Principal and General Manager, a shift from Binotto’s role as Team Principal and Managing Director. It is a small but important distinction and suggests Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna may well play a greater and more influential role in the F1 arm of the business.
Alfa Romeo react swiftly to Vasseur’s departure
The strong relationship Vasseur had with Rausing and the Sauber Group meant that he was very transparent with them when the offer from Ferrari came in.
Sauber were grateful for this approach as it meant they could move swiftly. While Rausing wanted Vasseur to stay, he knew – I’m told – that he couldn’t stand in the way of such a huge opportunity. He also knew that Audi had some ideas of their own.
Memories are long in Formula 1. Who knows what will happen in the future. One day, they could reunite, so it was in both their interests to part on good terms.
Such a parting shows how much respect they have for each other and the job they have each done in getting Alfa Romeo to sixth in the constructors’ championship this season – their best result for a decade – and securing the team’s future with the Audi deal.
Once Audi made their announcement to return, talks began with Seidl about a reunion with the Volkswagen Group – the German worked for Audi’s sister brand Porsche, where he won the famous Le Man 24 Hours three times.
When Vasseur informed them of Ferrari’s interest, those talks with Seidl accelerated and a deal was done to bring him in as the Sauber Group’s CEO – admittedly earlier than anticipated.
It was a smart move, given his track record of having transformed McLaren – and one that was approved of by Audi. His first task is to find a Team Principal to report to him.
A few names have been linked with that role, including Rene Rosin, who leads Prema in F2 and F3, and who is highly-rated and has an impressive track record in motorsport.
McLaren promote from within
McLaren were not blindsided by Seidl’s departure as, just as Vasseur was with Sauber, Seidl was transparent with McLaren CEO Zak Brown about the interest from Switzerland.
However, what was unexpected – and slightly frustrating for Brown – was the timing.
Sources say McLaren and Seidl’s collective plan was for him to complete his contract, which runs until the end of 2025, and then move to Audi to head up their F1 project.
Seidl was keen to move back to continental Europe for personal reasons and thus such a move was accepted by both sides.
But when Ferrari and Binotto called it quits, Vasseur left to replace Binotto earlier than expected and Sauber enquired about bringing Seidl over sooner.
Brown agreed to release Seidl early, with the board having already decided that they had the finest of candidates to replace him with in Stella.
Stella was, sources say, McLaren’s number one choice. He is a popular member of the operation and highly-respected internally as well as across the paddock.
It is to Seidl’s credit that he leaves a revised structure he implemented that can cope with such change – but also to Stella’s credit that he’s proved himself time and time again.
Moving into the Team Principal role is a significant step up for Stella – and it could go one of two ways.
We saw Ross Brawn successfully make the transition from Ferrari technical chief to running his own team (and winning both championships in 2009) and then heading up the Mercedes operation.
But we’ve also seen how challenging it can be through Binotto’s rise through Ferrari’s technical side to the top job, though that is admittedly the most pressurised in all of sport.
Providing Stella gets the support – which Brown has a track record of delivering – McLaren should be in good shape to continue their upward trajectory.