Sebastian Vettel’s announcement that he will leave Ferrari at the conclusion of the 2020 season has put the four-time World Champion’s immediate future into doubt.
Vettel, now 32-years-old, could well walk away from the sport for good.
His four world titles and 53 Grand Prix victories cement himself as one of the sport’s all-time greats. And while that legacy may have become shrouded by his recent drop in form, his absence from the grid will be felt.
In Vettel’s statement confirming his departure from Maranello the German added:
“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.”
However, should Vettel look to remain in Formula 1 he will now have to seek a seat further down the pitlane.
Mercedes have said they are satisfied with their current driver pairing while voluble Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has already admitted the Milton Keynes outfit could not sustain two ‘high class drivers,’ for economic reasons. Though the recent calamity between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen is likely a more foregrounded motive for Marko’s decision.
Nonetheless, both Ricciardo and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz have been well documented as two of the more plausible replacements to fill the vacant red seat, with the latter appearing to be in the pole position.
While McLaren are happy with their current lineup of Sainz and Lando Norris, a direct swap agreement with Sainz and Vettel could tempt McLaren to let go of the highly regarded Spaniard.
McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl has an existing relationship with Vettel, having spent time together at BMW where Vettel made his Grand Prix debut back in 2007.
McLaren will also switch to Mercedes power units from next season. Unquestionably the most dominant engine supplier of the recent past, the fact that McLaren will now, theoretically, be driven by most powerful engine on the grid could attract Vettel’s interest.
“Sebastian Vettel is not about money,” F1 commentator Sascha Roos said before Vettel confirmed his Ferrari exit. “He is interested in having a successful car with the status he likes within the team.
“It may be that the conditions he has at McLaren would be better than staying at Ferrari as the number 2 behind Charles Leclerc.”
The other prevalent rumour is with Vettel swapping with ex-teammate Daniel Ricciardo at Renault.
Ricciardo signed for Renault at the end of 2018, terminating his turbulent relationship with Red Bull as he struggled to adapt to playing an equal role with rising star Max Verstappen.
The 30-year-old is a proven race winner and that may entice Ferrari into signing a deal with the Australian. However, Ricciardo has already had his stint in a top team and failed to string together a competitive title assault.
Simialrly, his relationship with Max Verstappen floundered as the two mismanaged their roles as equal number one drivers. It is an ordeal which could well repeat itself should Ricciardo be paired with Ferrari’s recently evaluated number one and equally doughty driver Charles Leclerc.
Vettel has so far hosed down any suggestion he has engaged in negotiations with any of Ferrari’s pitlane rivals though it is now incredibly likely the ‘usurped’ F1 great will only move to a team he believes will offer him the most complete package to challenge up the front of the grid.
And with McLaren on the rise and Renault in a state of uncompetitive situ, Carlos Sainz’s red letter day may be closer than he perhaps anticipated.