There’s plenty that could be said about last Sunday’s French Grand Prix and how high the stakes are for Ferrari and Charles Leclerc in Hungary this weekend. Right now, though, on-track matters are far from anyone’s mind.
Sebastian Vettel’s retirement is a bombshell announcement. It is a surprise, for the four-time world champion had not given any major indication he was considering walking away. Aston Martin was keen to keep him and Vettel said talks had begun about his future. Although perhaps in hindsight we can take that to have silently meant ‘and I’ve told them I am retiring’…
Beyond being a surprise, though, this is huge news because it’s the end of an era-defining F1 career, one of the most illustrious in grand prix racing, and marks the loss of a powerful and important voice within the F1 community. The final few years at Ferrari did Vettel a disservice in some ways. It’s always been said that Vettel was undermined from the start at Ferrari – the people who lured him away from Red Bull were gone within a year. He was signed when Ferrari was a Luca di Montezemolo/Marco Mattiacci team, then when he joined the team was run by Maurizio Arrivabene and Ferrari was headed by Sergio Marchionne.
It never felt like Vettel had the support from those two that would get the best out of him. That became increasingly clear as time passed and the likes of Arrivabene reacted poorly to Vettel’s criticism. Maybe Vettel was just too honest for Ferrari. OK, Vettel did not handle the situation well from his side. He made mistakes and was a key part of the collective failure to win a title. But he is a temperamental driver, sensitive to his surroundings. Red Bull got the best out of him in a way Ferrari never did over a full season.
In the end, Vettel’s departure worked out well for him and Ferrari. Charles Leclerc’s the present and future there. But while Vettel’s not put in many virtuoso performances since leaving Ferrari, he has still given a lot to F1 with Aston Martin. He looks happier, more relaxed, he’s outspoken about things he cares about and he seems to have a lot more freedom.
Aston Martin has not been competitive enough to properly judge Vettel as a driver in the last couple of years. But it’s not that surprising that a driver who has chased a better perspective on life has decided that F1’s not worth the sacrifice when you’re posting the worst results of your career. Vettel finished 12th in last year’s championship, which was worse than any year he’s had as a full-time F1 driver. This year he’s 14th. Vettel’s not interested in racing at this level of competitiveness at the best of times, let alone when he has plenty else worth focusing on away from F1 as well.
It’s a shame that Vettel ends the career he’s had in the midfield. But at least he’s doing it on his own terms. And although he doesn’t need to justify that decision to anybody, when his motivation is that he’d rather spend time with his wife and children, who is anyone in F1 to question that?