Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel will part ways at the end of the 2020 season. The massive announcement from Maranello sent the F1 world into a frenzy on Tuesday.
Though speculations grew last year that the four-time world champion might leave Ferrari, few could’ve expected the news to come so soon. The official word from Mattia Binnoto, the Scuderia’s team principal, is that:
“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”.
Vettel echoed the mutual desire for a separation:
“The team and I have realized that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of this season. Financial matters have played no part in this joint decision.”
Fans have been quick to point to the role that Ferrari’s rising star, Charles Leclerc, has in the team. Over the winter, the Monegasque driver signed on for an additional five years.
The gamble the Italian outfit took on youth when Leclerc originally joined for 2019 has paid dividends. The youngster won two Grand Prix in his first season at Ferrari and took seven pole positions, more than anyone else on the grid. With such a remarkably long contract in place, the Scuderia are investing heavily in Leclerc, apparently at Vettel’s expense.
Reports from the F1 paddock are that talks broke down between Vettel and Ferrari over the contract length. Vettel was looking for a multi-year deal offering stability, while Ferrari was only willing to extend by a year.
Despite Vettel’s claim that money was not a deciding factor, stories suggested that he was facing a salary drop to bring him down to the same level as Leclerc.
It would be hard for Vettel to counter this following the German’s performance relative to his much younger teammate last season. Leclerc won more races, scored more points, reached more podiums, and out-qualified Vettel 11–9. It was only the second time a teammate has outperformed him.
Coincidentally, the other occasion was also following the signing of a younger driver; when Daniel Ricciardo joined Red Bull in 2014. Vettel left the following year.
The suggestion is, of course, that Vettel prefers being the outright number one driver. He originally joined Ferrari in 2015 as a marquee signing. Both parties dreamt of emulating Vettel’s childhood hero, Michael Schumacher, and being a German title winner in a Ferrari. Regrettably, for both, the move coincided with the rise of the Mercedes-Hamilton partnership, which has commanded F1 for six years.
Schumacher’s five back-to-back titles were helped by having teammate Barrichello in a clear number 2 role. Vettel had been used to Kimi Raikkonen playing rear gunner while he grabbed the lion’s share of the points.
With Kimi gone and no guarantee of being the lead Ferrari, any shot at the championship became much harder. Perhaps the realization that he was now equal to a driver ten years his junior showed Vettel the writing on the wall, and he wanted out on his terms.
On the other hand, Ferrari has prior form for moving to the next big thing: Lauda left when they favoured Villeneuve; Mansell moved on when Prost ruled the roost; Schumacher lost out to Raikkonen, who in turn had his contract curtailed when Alonso was up for grabs.
Vettel possibly could’ve remained if the speculation is correct. Yet, if Ferrari knew their 2015 golden boy wanted different terms, and finances weren’t an issue, maybe their decision was already made.
Suggestions from those in the paddock were that both Renault and McLaren are courting Vettel. Whether or not he would want to remain in F1 racing in a midfield team is unclear.
Regardless, the driver market has had a significant shake-up for 2021. As if the 2020 season wasn’t already disjointed enough thanks to COVID-19, the annual silly season is preceding the first race this year.
Vettel began his remarkable run ten years ago, driving a Red Bull to four titles. In 2013, after winning nine consecutive races, no one would believe he’d never clinch another championship. Perhaps he’d have claimed more, had he remained with the Anglo-Austrian team. It’s pretty safe to say he won’t contest for another in his final year at Ferrari.
For now, all eyes are on who will replace the outgoing German and where he will move next if he chooses to remain in the sport.
This story was originally published on Fortloc where you can find more motoring news and reviews.