Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel has confirmed he will leave Ferrari at the conclusion of the 2020 World Championship, putting an end to a tumultuous six seasons with the Scuderia.
Vettel left Red Bull at the end of 2014 after the team struggled to adapt to the new turbo-hybrid technical regulations.
Replacing the seat vacated by Fernando Alonso, Vettel made an instant impact with the team, scoring a podium on debut in Melbourne and an unexpected victory at the following race in Malaysia.
The 53-time Grand Prix victor has since claimed 13 more wins for Ferrari but has failed to launch a reliable title challenge, often experiencing turbulent second halves to each season.
“This is a decision taken jointly by ourselves and Sebastian, one which both parties feel is for the best,” Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said.
“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, apart from the common and amicable belief that the time had come to go our separate ways in order to reach our respective objectives.”
Vettel added his comments on his departure saying:
“In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony.
“The team and I have realised 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. That’s not the way I think when it comes to making certain choices and it never will be.
“What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life. One needs to use one’s imagination and to adopt a new approach to a situation that has changed. I myself will take the time I need to reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future.
“Scuderia Ferrari occupies a special place in Formula 1 and I hope it gets all the success it deserves. Finally, I want to thank the whole Ferrari family and above all its ‘Tifosi’ all around the world, for the support they have given me over the years.
“My immediate goal is to finish my long stint with Ferrari, in the hope of sharing some more beautiful moments together, to add to all those we have enjoyed so far.”
Vettel’s shock departure ultimately throws his immediate future into doubt, as with the question of who will be promoted alongside Charles Leclerc in the team’s second spot.
Both McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo have appeared as the most likely candidates, especially as Lewis Hamilton hosed down rumours that he was in discussion to leave Mercedes for a Ferrari drive earlier this year.
Sainz and Ricciardo’s both come out of contract at the end of 2020 and are yet to commit to anything beyond the conclusion of the season.
Renault have already admitted they are at risk of losing Ricciardo as the Australian has reportedly come dissatisfied with the team’s lack of competitiveness since joining the French marque back at the start of last season.
Leclerc meanwhile has been evaluated to the role of the team’s number one and is contracted on with Ferrari until 2024.
Vettel was original reported as Ferrari’s first choice of teammate for Leclerc but the team wanted a definite answer by April to ensure potential replacements were available. Further reports then suggested the German had declined a year-one extension due to a decline in his salary and demanded a longer renewal term.
The sport has already delayed the introduction of the 2021 technical overhaul until 2022 to allow teams to recover from the economic aftershocks of Covid-19.
The 2020 season is looking likely to resume behind closed doors as soon as early July with back-to-back weekends at the Red Bull Ring in Austria before another doubleheader at Silverstone.