Fred Vasseur can crack jokes like no other, but the team principal of today's Alfa Romeo Racing (formerly Sauber) also knows his way around the F1 grid like no other and is known as the man who saved a team from the abyss almost single-handedly.
Owner and team boss from the very first moment
Vasseur started his own Formula 3 team, ASM, in 1996 together with Renault and immediately reaped the benefits of the collaboration a few years later: in 1998, David Saelens won the French Formula 3 championship together and together with Jean Todt (now president of the FIA), Vasseur was successful with ASM (now ART). In the Formula 3 Euro Series his team won the constructors' title year after year, with drivers' titles coming from the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Paul di Resta and Jules Bianchi.
An adventure in GP2 (now Formula 2) had also started under the name ART Grand Prix. Since 2005, the team regularly took titles there under the leadership of Vasseur, creating a perfect route to Formula 1: from Formula 3 to Formula 2 and then to the pinnacle of motorsport.
A short stint at Renault
While he saw his drivers switch from Formula 2 to Formula 1 frequently, it took several years before Vasseur did the same. In 2016, the Frenchman was at the helm of the returning Renault works team, but it would only last for one year. The reason? Disagreement with the other Frenchman who has a leading position in the team: Cyril Abiteboul.
After a short hiatus, Vasseur became top man at Sauber’s Formula 1 team, the worst side in the sport. Vasseur didn’t sit on his laurels, however, as the Frenchman quickly concluded the collaboration with Honda, which had only just started, should be terminated as soon as possible.
Vasseur fights his way up with Alfa Romeo Sauber
Ferrari became the new engine in the back of the Sauber, which also allowed for a closer relationship with the Italian team. Vasseur’s impressive bookkeeping meant more money was suddenly available again, and that Sauber could finally use its brand-new windtunnel. Up until that point, there was no money to actually operate it.
Vasseur then landed a title sponsor in Alfa Romeo, and the supremely talented Charles Leclerc came over to get his feet wet in Formula 1. After one year, the Monegasque moved on to Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo Racing (as it was now called in 2019) got veteran Kimi Raikkonen in return.
During the 2019 season, Alfa Romeo Racing struggled like most teams in midfield, but has worse luck. P8 in the constructors' championship was the best they could do, meaning they’ll have to improve significantly in 2020. Vasseur knows that and if there is anyone who can turn the tide, it's the smiling Frenchman.
The question is just how long the Alfa Romeo logo will remain on the Sauber, as the car manufacturer is doing very badly financially. Whatever happens, Fred Vasseur will always find a way.