2020 hasn’t gone how anyone on the planet would’ve liked. However, for Sebastian Vettel, that goes twofold after an unceremonious dumping by his Italian employer. The German driver has all but certainly “Grazie’d his last Regazzi” driving the famous red car. When his Ferrari crossed the line first in Singapore last year, he couldn’t have known those tears wept atop the podium would be the beginning of the end.
The story of Seb following the footsteps of his childhood hero is well known. It was countryman Schumacher, or Michael in the red car as a young Vettel called him, that he wanted to emulate. Any sportsperson, be it motorsport, or otherwise, will never be unhappy at winning four world championships. For four consecutive seasons, Vettel beat Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, and Lewis Hamilton to win the driver’s title. But Sebastian did so in the Red Bull, not the red car. Instead, after six attempts, the dream chasing is over as Ferrari place their faith in youth instead.
Charles Leclerc broke a mold at the Scuderia that the Italians have long followed. Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Rubens Barichello, Eddie Irvine, and, of course, Michael Schumacher. All men who Ferrari only hired after they proved themselves worthy over multiple years gaining F1 experience. Then the GP3 and F2 champion, Leclerc, graduates to the most prestigious drive in motorsport after a single F1 season in a midfield car. Not only does he graduate, but Charles dares to outdo his experienced champion teammate too.
In hindsight, it now seems so obvious-the arrival of the younger Monegasque model who Ferrari had long supported. Four years of not achieving what they wanted, not fulfilling their potential, in a partnership showing signs that there’s no more left to give. With Raikkonen as the barometer for Vettel, Ferrari could only see the German in good light; such was the consistent performance differential between them. With Leclerc, all of a sudden, their gauges must’ve seemed off. The writing was on the wall from qualifying at Bahrain. The newbie is 3-tenths faster than the rockstar? That’s quite the way to mark your territory.
Although in 2019 they didn’t know a parting of ways was to follow, Vettel and Ferrari weren’t as harmonious as in previous years. It didn’t take long for Leclerc to not be content playing second fiddle. Team orders frustrated the youngster as he rapidly outgrew the number two driver role. Vettel watched Leclerc take two victories, including at his Ferrari debut at Monza in front of the Tifosi, something Vettel hadn’t managed in five attempts. Vettel ignoring team orders at Russia preceded the explosive culmination when the two hit one another in Brazil. Raikkonen and Vettel avoided that cardinal sin for over eighty Grand Prix, while Leclerc and Vettel broke it in just twenty.
We will never know when Ferrari decided not to renew Vettel’s contract. When they announced Carlos Sainz back in May, the F1 world took it as a given that negotiations must’ve stalled between Vettel and Maranello. With Vettel’s declaration to the media at Spielberg that he received no offer, the already cracked public facade began crumbling away in full.
The last race at Spain was the second in succession where in-race tension between Vettel and his employer boiled over onto the airwaves. Sebastian’s frustration at being out of the loop showed when Ferrari asked if he could extend his tire life after pushing for three laps
“Ah, f*** sake! I asked you this before”.
One week earlier at Silverstone, he chastised them for pitting him at a time when he ended up in traffic.
“You know you’ve messed up,”
the German told his engineer, knowing full well that his radio broadcasts to the world. But why hold back when there’s no future relationship?
I feel for Vettel. I hated his finger pointing Red Bull rule as much as anyone. The multi-21 incident and the “tough luck” radio message didn’t charm me either. Yet I can’t help but admire the intelligence, passion, and ambition of the man from Heppenheim and his love for Ferrari. I’ve written before about my thoughts on the Scuderia. They enjoy an enormous advantage over others and have failed to convert that into a title. If Vettel couldn’t manage it in 2018, I doubt anyone else on the grid would.
But, time moves on, and I can’t blame Ferrari for wanting to keep ahold of a talent like Leclerc. Vettel isn’t blameless in the defeats of recent years. He last led the championship, possibly for his last time, ahead of the 2018 German Grand Prix. Many consider his mistake of crashing into Hockenheim’s T12 barrier the turning point of 2018’s championship. It may have also been the turning point of his career. Suddenly Vettel was spinning every few races, a trait he’s brought with him into 2020. We’re six races in, and Vettel has two unforced spins, and one teammate race-ending crash to his name.
If I were Ferrari, I’d choose a young upstart over the shaky old pair of hands as well. But I’d have the courtesy to tell my long-term partner I was looking elsewhere beforehand. With such a condensed season and COVID-enforced proximity, things can’t be comfortable in the Ferrari camp. Both parties must be desperate for this season to be over, and that’s without considering the poor performance of the SF1000.
The Vettel-Ferrari romance is unofficially dead. They’re now just like a couple in the death throes of marriage sitting in discomfort at a restaurant. He bickers at her, and she complains about him. They know it’s over, and everyone around them knows it’s over too. But the awkwardness must continue until the end of the season, whenever that may be.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com.