McLaren Formula 1 boss Zak Brown says Sebastian Vettel was never considered as a possible replacement for Carlos Sainz once it became clear the four-time world champion would depart the Scuderia at the end of 2020.
With Sainz out of contract post the end of the year, Brown admits both himself and the team were well aware the Spaniard could leave McLaren at the end of the year and pursue a deal with one of the top teams.
Thus, McLaren had already targeted Daniel Ricciardo as the prime replacement for Sainz.
Ricciardo was on the verge of joining the Woking-based outfit in 2018 once he confirmed his relationship with Red Bull had ended.
However, the seven-time Grand Prix winner signed for pitlane rivals Renault as he believed the French marque was in a position to return to a level of competitiveness before McLaren.
Nevertheless, Brown admits that Vettel was never in line for the team’s second seat even before his late departure from Ferrari.
“Obviously Seb’s an awesome driver and a four-time champion,” he told Sky F1. “But I think we were pretty far down the path in the off-season and knew we would either land with Daniel or Carlos.
“We never really entertained anyone beyond that, and especially with Seb’s late breaking news – we were pretty far down the path at that point.”
“We had a sense, we started talking to Carlos in the off-season about his future with us and whether he wanted to drive for McLaren or Ferrari.
“We’ve got a very strong, open relationship with Carlos, his management and his father.
“This didn’t come as a surprise, given how quickly we announced Daniel, and how quickly Carlos announced what he was doing. We were very joined up through this entire process.
“I think these movements would have probably happened with or without COVID because we started these conversations pre-COVID.”
The decision now puts Vettel’s immediate future in doubt with a drive with Renault appearing as the German’s sole option.
But Brown believes Vettel will instead see out 2020 with Ferrari before hanging up his helmet for good.
“It really depends, if Seb looks around, it doesn’t look like there’s a Mercedes or Red Bull opportunity for him, there’s not a McLaren opportunity for him, clearly not at Ferrari, so the next best is Renault,” he added.
“And the next question is does Seb want to go with a team that is probably not going to win in 2021?
“It’s a great team and they too should be moving up the grid, but I think unless Seb wants to restart a journey with a team that’s back on a journey – then I think he’ll end up probably leaving the sport, unfortunately.”
The Formula 1 season is slated to begin in early July with a doubleheader Austrian Grand Prix before having two further races back-to-back at Silverstone.