We now know that Sebastian Vettel will leave Ferrari at the end of this year – but why now and what might be next for the four-time world champion?
Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz has followed the German’s career closely since Vettel sensationally burst onto the Formula 1 scene in 2007, and here analyses some of the detail in Vettel’s statement in which he explained the reasons why a contract renewal with Ferrari will not be agreed.
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How did it all unravel for the Scuderia’s once-undisputed number one and how much will the likelihood of leaving Maranello without a fifth world title – and a long-coveted first in red – hurt Vettel?
What Vettel 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 this season.’
Ted Kravitz: To say that “it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony” suggests that they have not been in perfect harmony. And that was clear for us all to see.
Towards the end of last season there was that clash with his team-mate Charles Leclerc on track in Brazil. A few months before that there was qualifying in Monza and controversy between them over the tow, while we saw other examples earlier in the year where there was tension.
When Leclerc stepped out of the role of being “a good kid” – a phrase, you might remember, that Seb used in winter testing last year to describe his new team-mate – and became a proper challenger to him, you sense he kind of felt that Leclerc had become the team’s number one.
It was coinciding with that win being taken away from Vettel in Canada. That was a proper junction for Sebastian.
Neither Ferrari driver had won a race in 2019 at that point – Leclerc being unfortunate not to do so in Bahrain – and so it was hugely frustrating for Vettel how Montreal played out with the time penalty from the stewards and a lost victory.
Seb’s head went down after Canada – with Formula 1 as much as with Ferrari.
Then when Leclerc went on his run of pole positions and then his wins in Spa and Monza during the summer, I think Vettel had realised he was number two in the team. It wasn’t the team he joined in as far as his it being his team to support him for the championship.
Obviously, nothing has happened this year in racing terms but, as Vettel said, there is “no longer a common desire to stay together”. Hence the split at the end of this year.
What Vettel said: ‘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. 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.’
Ted: You can read that final part in two ways. You could read that as ‘I don’t want to do Formula 1 anymore and I’m going to cycle and walk the Swiss hills with my family’. But I don’t take it like that – although, of course, it’s possible he could retire.
Take the line: “One needs to use one’s imagination and to adopt a new approach to a situation that has changed.” So, let’s ‘imagine’ then what might happen in the future. I see that as a point to another team – and specifically to McLaren.
What other teams are available? Mercedes? Possibly. Red Bull? They’ve said before they’re not going to take him back. Renault?
But if you imagine about what could happen in the future then McLaren – with an organised team, a Mercedes power unit from 2021, and under the new 2022 F1 design rules – might be a top team.
So that’s what I take by that ‘imagination’ line.
From the (prancing) horse’s mouth.. pic.twitter.com/89MAozQMcA
Adopting “a new approach to a situation” could also be about building up a team. If his old approach was trying to win a world championship with a team that’s ready to win titles, a new approach would be to go to a midfield team and build them up to be challengers. So that points to McLaren for me as well!
The only question is whether they could afford him and you go to the line before about financial matters – “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.”
If he doesn’t want to make it about the money, it won’t be about the money for Sebastian. So, assuming McLaren wouldn’t be able to pay him anywhere near as much as he’s used to, if that’s fine with Seb then it shouldn’t stand in his way.
Would it be a good get for McLaren? Absolutely! If they lose Carlos Sainz, who looks to be in pole position for Vettel’s seat, that would be a great swap.
The other thing I wonder about is whether Sebastian has missed the discipline and more regimented, clinical approach of a British-based team. Ferrari are fantastic, their engineers are great and their technology is as good as anyone’s, but the character of a team is based in its culture and they have a vibrant, colourful, emotional, Italian culture.
We have seen many times how that has frustrated the Sebastian who loves his routine, the Sebastian who likes everything to be just so.
What Vettel said: ‘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. 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.’
Ted: I’ve been a student of Sebastian Vettel ever since he came into Formula 1 because he’s a very engaging and interesting character, as well as a nice guy to know.
One thing I do know about him is he is one of the most stubborn people you’ll ever meet. If he decided to do something – i.e. win a championship with Ferrari – he was going to see it through. That’s why I think this will hurt the most.
The reason he even thought about continuing for as long as he did was that the overriding ambition was to win a world championship in the red of Ferrari. So, unless something unexpected happens this year when the season begins, I’m sure it’ll be a lifelong regret for him that he wasn’t able to do that.
It will also be embarrassing for him in a way to have to leave without having succeeded – having failed.
He’s had race wins along the way, 14 of them, and they’ve had a go at winning the championship. But faced with the steamroller of Mercedes it never really looked like they were going to overturn them over a full season.
In any other era, Vettel might have won with Ferrari, but he caught a team in transition without the consistency in leadership you need. He’s had two team bosses – Maurizio Arrivabene and Mattia Binotto – and there was a bit of a crisis after the death of chairman Sergio Marchionne in July 2018.
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