As well as providing spectacular racing for the past 70 years, Formula One has also been at the pinnacle of innovation for global motorsport and the wider automotive industry.
Despite not having raced so far in 2020, former world champion Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari have announced they will be parting ways at the conclusion of the season after six years in partnership.
The four-time world champion’s future would have been a hot topic this season, with the Scuderia already having announced that young gun Charles Leclerc would remain with the team long term following a strong maiden 2019 at Maranello in which the 21-year-old finished ahead of Vettel in the championship.
“My relationship with Scuderia Ferrari will finish at the end of 2020,” said Vettel. “In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony.”
Vettel, who’s won 14 races for the famous red team since his arrival in 2015, had been tipped to lead a revival of the Italian marque in the same vein as compatriot and hero Michael Schumacher. However, the man once called ‘Baby Schumi’ will have his tenure marred by his failure to win a world championship, with Ferrari’s drivers title drought extending back to 2007.
Both parties failed to reach an agreement, with Ferrari reportedly willing to extend Vettel’s contract for only a single season as well as slashing the German’s salary. While money is not something Vettel has cited for his departure, it is difficult not to understand the decision purely on performance.
The former number one was comprehensively beaten by youngster Leclerc last year and Ferrari were quick to pledge their support to the Monegasque driver. It’s similar to what happened at Red Bull Racing in 2014, when Daniel Ricciardo outperformed the then reigning four-time world champion, except then Vettel wasn’t relying on a fresh contract with his employer.
While the reasons can be proportionally pointed at both Vettel and Ferrari, it is the 32-year-old’s on-track errors that come to light when pinpointing where and how the championship slipped from their grasp.
The 2017 and 2018 campaigns were Vettel’s best chance to dethrone the almighty Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, who’ve dominated Formula One since the introduction of the turbo-hybrid power units.
An implosion at the start of the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix was the defining moment in losing that year’s title, while a crash on home soil in Germany the year – while he was commanding the race – after was the swinging of the momentum.
Then there were the countless spins on his own accord and incidents while being pressured by Hamilton across multiple races – though Ferrari’s own strategic blemishes and poor car development should not be forgotten.
High-profile crashes with new teammate Leclerc in 2019 as well proved a disservice to Vettel, as it was evident back then there was a changing of the guard inside Ferrari and the German may not be a part of the new era.
As I wrote last year, it seemed unlikely Vettel was going to win another championship in Formula One, especially with the emergence of Leclerc at Ferrari. With a lack of championship-contending options elsewhere on the grid, this seems more and more likely.
Any team with a seat to spare in 2021 would throw themselves and their chequebook at a four-time champion, and outfits like Renault and McLaren have already been mentioned in this conversation.
It is the former, though, that seems the ideal fit – if the German doesn’t decide to retire altogether given his young family. Renault are yet to impress since returning to the sport as a manufacturer team in 2016, though signing the experienced Vettel to a long-term deal could pay dividends for both, having Vettel see out the remaining years of his career in whatever state the team ends up in.
For Ferrari, the eternal speculation that Daniel Ricciardo will become the first Australian to race for the Prancing Horse could come to fruition as a swap between his current team in Renault, where it has been strongly suggested he will not continue beyond the end of his current deal.
McLaren could facilitate a swap too if Carlos Sainz is lured away from Woking, allowing the German to spearhead a Mercedes-powered McLaren. However, given the current dynamic at the papaya squad, it’s Ricciardo’s future that seems more unlikely.
In Ricciardo Ferrari would have an experienced hand and a race winner to support the team in the transition to the new regulations, now delayed to 2022 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. A better foil too for their young leader in Leclerc than, say, another rising star like Sainz.
The likes of Hamilton and Max Verstappen will stay put at their respective teams, as will their incumbent teammates. In the Dutchman’s case, his long-term future with Red Bull Racing has already been confirmed, while the reigning world champion has indicated he’ll stay put at Mercedes.
Ultimately, it’s one of the sport’s great shames that the Baby Schumi could not emulate the great seven-time world champion’s success at Ferrari. Though now it’s clear this will be Vettel’s final year in red, it’s time for both and indeed the rest of the world to move on from this failed narrative.
And whatever happens, Vettel will still be one of only five drivers in Formula One’s 70-year history to have won four world championships.