Anyone following Formula One has seen this coming, and most are surprised that it took this long for Sebastian Vettel to make this decision. Even so, the announcement of him leaving Scuderia Ferrari Formula One is no less explosive.
“My relationship with Scuderia Ferrari will finish at the end of 2020,” said Vettel in an announcement on Tuesday. “In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony.”
Vettel goes on to say that he and the team no longer have a common desire to stay together beyond the season. Despite some rumours of financial matters, Vettel dismissed it saying it never played a part, and money doesn’t play a part when making certain decisions.
“What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life. One needs to use one’s imagination and to adopt a new approach to a situation that has changed. I myself will take the time I need to reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future.
“My immediate goal is to finish my long stint with Ferrari, in the hope of sharing some more beautiful moments together, to add to all those we have enjoyed so far.” said Vettel
“Scuderia Ferrari occupies a special place in Formula 1 and I hope it gets all the success it deserves. Finally, I want to thank the whole Ferrari family and above all, its “tifosi” all around the world, for the support they have given me over the years.”
Team Principal Binotto adds, “This is a decision taken jointly by ourselves and Sebastian, one which both parties feel is for the best. It was not an easy decision to reach, given Sebastian’s worth as a driver and as a person.
“There was no specific reason that led to this decision, apart from the common and amicable belief that the time had come to go our separate ways in order to reach our respective objectives.”
Teammate and rival Charles Leclerc posted a heartfelt tribute to Vettel on his Instagram page saying, “It’s been a huge honour for me to be your teammate. We’ve had some tense moments on tracks. Some very good ones and some others that didn’t end as we both wanted, but there was always respect, even though it wasn’t perceived this way from the outside. I’ve never learnt so much as I did with you as my teammate. Thank you for everything Seb.”
Joining the Scuderia in 2015, Vettel was elected as the replacement for Fernando Alonso, for the sole purpose of bringing championship gold back to Ferrari. Although at times Ferrari provided a viable championship-contending car, Vettel was unable to capitalise against the might of a dominant Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel.
The 2019 season saw Vettel fall from a consistent top three finish in previous seasons to a dismal fifth, being outperformed by his younger and less experienced teammate, Charles Leclerc. The realisation that he was being moved out of favour for Leclerc, we strongly suspect, was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the Vettel-Ferrari relationship.
In his five years with the Maranello outfit, Vettel scored 14 wins, 54 podiums, 12 poles and 14 fastest laps, making him the third most successful driver for the team. Viable replacements to match the calibre of the four-time world champion are few and far between. Still, there have been some potential candidates to emerge for that role.
The most prominent candidate would be Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who has long had rumours linking him to a move into Ferrari. Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas would be another strong candidate as he has a contract expiring at the end of 2020 and seems eager to come out Hamilton’s shadow. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. has also emerged as a potential candidate, showing strong performance in a revitalised McLaren team.
Potential outside candidates include fellow German Nico Hulkenberg. He left Renault at the end of 2019 and currently does not have a seat on the 2020 F1 grid. Former double world-champion and Indy Car driver, Fernando Alonso, the man Vettel replaced at Ferrari, might make a comeback. However, it is too soon to tell.
As for Vettel, his future is in limbo as he has not indicated a future team he will be driving for. Ferrari can do a driver swap with Renault and McLaren for Ricciardo and Sainz respectively. However, how Vettel would react is a whole other matter. A rumoured move to his former team Red Bull was being thrown around, especially after his 2018 season. However, how Vettel would fit into the young and strong driver line-up of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon remains the toughest obstruction for Vettel to make that move.
Mercedes maybe? Under current circumstances, the move seems unlikely as the reigning champions seem very happy with their potent driver line-up. However, with both drivers without a secured contract for the 2021 season, nothing is impossible in the high stakes world of Formula One.
The only other option on the table for Vettel is retirement. At 32 years of age, and a career spanning 14 years with four world championships, there is little Vettel hasn’t achieved. After a heart-breaking 2018 season slipped from out of his fingers, and underwhelming performance in 2019, the indicators for retirement are genuinely present.
Whatever Sebastian Vettel’s decision may be, the landscape of Formula One will never be the same.