News broke this morning that Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari have failed to agree terms on a contract extension – prompting rumours about the German’s F1 future and what’s next for a contending team with Charles Leclerc as their future star.
Vettel denied money was a key motivator behind his decision, insistsing there was simply no “common desire to stay together” beyond the current 2020 campaign.
The four-time Formula One champion will leave Ferrari once his existing deal expires at the end of this season, which is not expected to start until July at the earliest after lengthy delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic worldwide.
It had been previously reported the Scuderia offered him a shorter contract and lower salary package than he’d expected – while the German is said to be planning his next decision carefully, with multiple teams and possibilities available too.
In a statement, Sebastian explained how they’ve come to the decision. He said:
“My relationship with Scuderia Ferrari will finish at the end of 2020. In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony.
The team and I have realised that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of the season. Financial matters have played no part in this joint decision – that’s not the way I think when it comes to making certain choices and it never will be.”
His current teammate Leclerc also reacted to the news on Twitter, showing his appreciation for a legend in the sport:
Last year, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said “everything is possible” when asked about Vettel potentially joining the Silver Arrows. After all, Lewis Hamilton’s existing deal with them also expires once the 2020 season is complete. What else would he say?
After all, he’s eyeing Michael Schumacher’s record of seven F1 titles and is only one behind on six heading into this year’s racing calendar.
He’s won five of the last six championships and his former teammate Nico Rosberg, the other winner during that stint, retired on a high in 2016.
Age, comparisons to Hamilton and a sense of perspective
Vettel turns 33 on July 3, the weekend of this year’s proposed curtain-raiser behind closed doors in Austria. Age is a considerable factor in a physical sport like F1 where marginal gains are imperative for success and the older you get, the slower you are.
Lewis, who turned 35 at the start of 2020, seems to be one exception to the rule. But just like Vettel, he will be heralded as an all-time great – perhaps the best – once he retires.
So, eliminate those two. The rest of this year’s age-30+ drivers with F1 wins in brackets:
30 years, 5 months: Sergio Perez (0) – Racing Point
30y, 9m: Valtteri Bottas (7) – Mercedes
30y, 10m: Daniel Ricciardo (7) – Renault
32y, 9m: Nico Hulkenburg (0) – lost his seat in 2019, eyeing return
34y, 1m: Romain Grosjean (0) – Haas
40y, 7m: Kimi Raikkonen (21) – Alfa Romeo
Bottas is, has and always will be Mercedes’ number two driver while Hamilton is there.
Ricciardo saw himself falling into that role after Max Verstappen’s rapid development at Red Bull, so opted for pastures new at Renault last year. He hasn’t added to those seven career wins since and despite still harbouring championship aspirations, it’s unlikely.
Kimi, the Iceman, is a legend in his own right and won the 2007 Championship. He’s also the oldest on that list by a considerable distance – turning 41 this October.
There’s a reason why I don’t tend to cover F1 too much and it’s largely because too much politics between teams is involved. It’s not as exciting as it was when I was younger, but with fresh rivalries between young stars like Verstappen-Leclerc, it’s compelling again.
Reports have already linked Ricciardo with Vettel’s spot at Ferrari, and it’s not particularly surprising either. They are better placed to challenge atop the standings than Renault, after the Australian finished an underwhelming P9 overall last year.
Most of the options available to Vettel from here are, with all due respect, a step down.
It’s hard to imagine him joining Mercedes next year unless Lewis leaves, while there’s no guarantee he’d be their first driver following a period plagued with unforced errors.
Vettel’s racing record since joining Ferrari vs. eventual season winner:
2015: 278 points, 3rd-placed finish – Hamilton, 381 points
2016: 212 pts, 4th – Rosberg, 385 pts
2017: 317 pts, 2nd – Hamilton, 363 pts
2018: 320 pts, 2nd – Hamilton, 408 pts
2019: 240 pts, 5th – Hamilton, 413 pts
Six years ago, I wrote a piece on how Red Bull’s lack of upgrades cost Vettel a possible title charge. Since then, he’s joined one of their main rivals, was presented with good opportunities to win more championships (in bold) but mixed excellent drives with mistakes, errors and decisions which ultimately proved costly.
It’s not a shock anymore and quite frankly, his reputation has taken a hit as recency bias rules supreme.
Seb’s mistakes increased tension between him and Leclerc, who won one more race and had one further podium finish in 2019 – while earning 24 more points in the standings.
Having won four titles during his irresistable peak, it would hurt for Vettel fans worldwide – me included – to watch him struggle contending at a weaker team.
So he should look to make the 2020 season an unforgettable one with more broken records adding to his 53 race victories, before retiring from the sport.
It’s not what I want to see, but I’d rather that than an alternative where he’s being outclassed by younger, hungrier drivers in better cars and favourable positions.