Two months after racing should’ve begun, Formula One has exploded into action — just not at the racetrack. News broke that Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari agreed to part ways, leading to rapid-fire rumors and speculation of the driver shuffle to follow.
In case you blinked, we now officially know Ferrari will have Carlos Sainz partnering Charles Leclerc for the 2021 season. The vacant seat at McLaren, left by the highly-rated Spaniard, will be filled by Daniel Ricciardo, who departs Renault. McLaren and Ferrari are now the only teams to have a confirmed driver pairing for next year. The dust has, mostly, settled on this unusually early game of driver musical chairs. So, now we can take stock: who benefits most and who has come off the worst after a manic week in Formula One?
4th — Ferrari
It’s strange to put Ferrari as a winner when they are saying goodbye to their old star attraction. While they are losing a race-winner and champion in Vettel, they are gaining a tremendous talent. Carlos Sainz finished at the top of the midfield last year, even outscoring Gasly and Albon, who both had a Red Bull for half a season.
Managing two top drivers is no easy task. Ferrari found further complications as Vettel felt his legacy should command respect, while Leclerc vyed to write his own. Like Alonso before him, Vettel has nothing to prove at Ferrari and doesn’t need to toe the line. It was him giving them the fortune of his service. Now Ferrari has two drivers who will, at least initially, feel subservient to the hand that feeds.
3rd — Daniel Ricciardo
To me, there is something about the setup at Renault that never really matched the Ricciardo brand. It all seems a little too conventional. In particular when compared to the resurgent McLaren where the Aussie is headed. Renault’s headquarters look like a nondescript office building, while the McLaren Technology Centre looks like Tony Stark’s workshop. Renault was established to sell cars, while McLaren was founded purely to race. Which suits Ricciardo more? The team that gives a Renault Clio as a company car, or the one that offers a McLaren 570S Coupe?
Even if it’s ultimately a step sideways rather than forwards, expect to see Daniel’s smiley personality return in full next year at a better-suited environment.
2nd — McLaren
McLaren lost out on the ever-rising star of Sainz, only to replace him with someone just as potent. It’s tough to gauge Ricciardo and Sainz head-to-head as neither has been in equal machinery. It’s fair to say both were too good to stay at Toro Rosso. But while Sainz has only one podium to his name (likely to change next year), McLaren will have a proven winner in Ricciardo. And the McLaren marketing team will be in charge of the two of the most fun and laughter-filled drivers in the sport.
1st — Carlos Sainz
What an opportunity Vettel’s departure has given Sainz. He departed from Toro Rosso in 2017 to be used as a pawn in the Renault-Red Bull engine dispute. He could’ve ended up as another everpresent figure in the midfield who never made it to a top team. But lady luck has smiled on him. While his continually impressive drives may have been missed on TV, the real decision-makers clearly took note. The biggest team in the sport is now his employer. I’ve seen suggestions Ferrari hired Sainz because he’ll be happy to play nice while they back Leclerc. Maybe that’s true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sainz ultimately outscores his teammate by the end of 2021.
4th — Sebastian Vettel
We may find out why talks broke down with Ferrari a few years after Vettel’s retirement in the customary autobiography. Even if he wants to leave the Scuderia, Vettel is a racer, and any possible future where he isn’t in F1 won’t be future he wants. If the stories about him talking with other teams are correct, that suggests retirement isn’t his ideal end game. Perhaps the crackpot theories that he’ll join Mercedes are right, and he’ll actually be the biggest winner of everyone. But with Ocon and Russell patiently waiting to drive, I can’t see Toto Wolff picking up Vettel. Sebastian’s choices are between signing for a midfield team or retiring. Both are worse than driving a car capable of regular podiums and occasional wins.
3rd — Germany
Over the last twenty years, Germany has gone from having the most celebrated F1 driver of all time with Michael Schumacher and hosting seasons with two German rounds, to facing 2021 with no drivers and no races. In recent years, the country alternated circuits between Hockenheim and Nurburgring. It boasted two world champions in Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg too. Now, with Nico Hulkenberg without a drive, Vettel is the sole German in F1, making it the first time this century the country has just one competitor. Unless Vettel finds a new home or Hulkenberg returns, the German national anthem may play for a Mercedes victory, but with only a handful of Germans watching on.
2nd — Antonio Giovinazzi
When the Ferrari seat became vacant, there were only two names in real contention. Sainz and Ricciardo. Giovinazzi was mentioned in some publications, but he seemed like a polite afterthought. If Ferrari wanted to have a definite number two driver, rather than the potential intra-team fireworks Leclerc and Sainz may ignite, Antonio would be it.
It might be early in his full F1 career, but the Italian driver is actually older than Sainz. He’s been useful for the Ferrari stable; Giovinazzi briefly filled in for Sauber’s injured Pascal Wehrlein in 2017. He then became a test driver for both the Ferrari powered teams, Haas and Alfa Romeo. And, he was the third driver for the works Ferrari team. Despite all this support and development work, I can’t see how Giovinazzi’s future fits with Ferrari’s; now, that they have Sainz.
1st — Renault
The Renault project just can’t seem to get off the ground. They lost all their customers when McLaren switched to Mercedes engines from 2021. Now they’ve lost their star driver. When Ricciardo settled with his former manager, it was confirmed he earns over AU$35m per year with the French outfit. That must now seem like AU$70m that could’ve been better spent. Particularly now they’ll have just two cars to test their engines on next year.
To top things off, their other driver, Esteban Ocon, wants to race for his manager’s team, Mercedes. Toto Wolff will no doubt be looking to promote Russell and Ocon in the coming years. When Ocon gets the nod, it leaves Renault without an established driver, without any engine customers, and, in my opinion, without a chance of victory.
This story was originally published at FORTLOC where you can find even more motorsports stories and reviews.