In the absence of activity on the racing track, there is at least some action off the Formula 1 circuits. Sebastian Vettel, four-time world champion, will leave Ferrari, where he has been since 2015, at the end of the year.
Officially this is because there is no longer a ‘common desire’ to work together, but there’s naturally a lot of speculation. Vettel was outperformed in every conceivable way by Charles Leclerc last season, and it’s been suggested that he wanted a two-year contract (he was only offered a one-year deal), which he not only didn’t get, but he was asked to take a pay cut as well.
Whatever the reasons, Vettel will move on and Ferrari will need someone to replace him.
Where will Vettel go?
This is where things get messy. It could hinge on who Ferrari turn to as his replacement. The Italian team could go for reliable Spaniard Carlos Sainz, currently at McLaren. They could also go for the punchy style of Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who is currently at Renault. This would free up seats at either team, and there could be a bout of musical chairs here, depending on other moves, but would Vettel want to go to either team, given McLaren’s on-going restructuring efforts and Renault’s lack of pace.
Vettel and Hamilton swap?
This seems unlikely. Lewis Hamilton is out of contract at the end of the year, but is expected to continue with Mercedes, and apparently isn’t seen as a realistic target for Ferrari anyway. Nor does Vettel seem like a target for Mercedes. It also seems unlikely that Vettel would return to Red Bull, despite the illustrious history he has with the team. There have a number of clashes with Red Bull ace Max Verstappen, and no team would go out of their way to increase tensions.
An idea floated on an F1 forum I take part in was for Fernando Alonso to return to F1. It’s an intriguing idea, but by the time the 2021 season gets underway, Alonso won’t have raced an F1 car in anger for two years. This isn’t to say he couldn’t do a good job (he is an extremely talented and experienced racer), but Ferrari might prefer a younger driver, someone who is perhaps more malleable. Ferrari may also wish to avoid the drama of two competitive drivers in one team, especially given the clashes between Vettel and Leclerc.
It seems a bit unlikely to me, but in the absence of a good car, or at the potential of a good car, Vettel might decide to call it a day. He is a four-time champion, with 53 wins to his name. Vettel’s run of nine consecutive wins in 2013 is a record, and on his day he is supremely quick. However, he has made a string of high-profile errors in the last few years, possibly in reaction to pressure. A sabbatical is always a possibility, to see what seats might become available in 2022.
In any event, it is the end of an era.