Sebastian Vettel will leave Ferrari at the end of the season. Maybe it shouldn’t be a huge surprise given the speculation from both sides of that negotiation in recent weeks. But it is a surprise based on what Vettel and Ferrari were saying publicly.
Staying together seemed to make the most sense. Vettel’s reputation has taken a hit in the last couple of seasons so he doesn’t have the same appeal to other big hitters like Mercedes or Red Bull. He’s also still a very, very good F1 driver, one who is not necessarily easy to replace.
But like any relationship we have no idea what was really going on behind the scenes.
It could be Vettel decided that whatever Ferrari offered was not worth staying to be number two to Leclerc. It could be that as a four-time world champion he was insulted by a reduced offer, even financially or in terms of contract length. Or it could be that he simply didn’t feel appreciated enough to want to continue.
Vettel insists it’s not financial. But the wording of his statement suggests what he wanted and what Ferrari wanted were not reconcilable. That means it’s something else, probably a difference of opinion on where Vettel stands in the team compared to Leclerc.
Once Leclerc had his mega long-term deal in place at the end of last year, it was always going to be hard for Vettel to command the same authority or opportunity within Ferrari as he had previously enjoyed.
Ferrari’s options seem clear: Carlos Sainz Jr, Daniel Ricciardo or Antonio Giovinazzi. My money would be on Sainz. He’s not as fast or proven as Ricciardo and therefore less of a threat to Leclerc. But he could be a very good number two, which is what Ferrari needs.
Vettel’s future is less clear. Walk away from F1 completely? Try to muscle in at Red Bull or Mercedes? Accept the challenge of Renault or McLaren?
I fear it could be retirement. If we take Vettel at his word he’s not interested in a pay day. So if there are no truly competitive options why stick around? Particularly as he suggests the whole coronavirus pandemic has made him reassess things anyway.
“What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life,” said Vettel.
“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.”
If F1’s not part of that future it will be a massive loss for the championship. Say what you will about Vettel’s fall from grace and the mistakes of recent years, he is still one of F1’s best drivers and greatest assets.
Hopefully, the 2020 season actually takes place. Whether he’s walking away from F1 altogether or just waving goodbye to Ferrari, Vettel deserves the opportunity for a proper send-off.