Sebastian Vettel entered Formula One with the nickname ‘Baby Schumi’ and comparisons with Michael Schumacher will be stronger than ever now that he has decided to walk out on Red Bull for Ferrari. While the Italians have yet to confirm that the 27-year-old German is joining them next season, and resolutely ignored the speculation in their post-qualifying release at the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, Red Bull were happy to steal their thunder.
“If it’s his desire to be somewhere else, then it’s not right for us to stand in his path,” said team principal Christian Horner after dropping the bombshell. “As of January first he’ll be a competitor. He’ll be a Ferrari driver.” The lure of Formula One’s most glamorous and successful team has always been almost irresistible for any driver even if the Scuderia are currently far from the force that dominated with Schumacher in the early years of the century.
Ferrari are facing their first winless season since 1993 and are going through major changes. Chairman Luca di Montezemolo is leaving this month and double world champion Fernando Alonso has appeared increasingly restless as the team is reshaped by principal Marco Mattiacci.
Just as then-principal Jean Todt assembled a winning team around a 27-year-old Schumacher, who moved from then-champions Benetton at the start of 1996, so Ferrari can be expected to try the same with Vettel. The signs are there that a similar revolution is underway at Maranello, even if there can be no guarantees of success.
“It’s a big change for Ferrari, it’s a big change for Red Bull,” former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, now with Williams, told Sky television at Suzuka when asked about the news. “At Ferrari changes are definitely coming. Ferrari is changing many people, including myself a year ago…they need to find organisation, the right direction.”
Just as Montezemolo’s announced departure was seen as the end of an era for Ferrari, so Vettel’s departure – along with the gradual exit of star designer Adrian Newey – marks something of the same for Red Bull whatever their future fortunes.
Vettel, like Schumacher at Benetton, was the team’s first champion. He was their first race winner, took the team’s first pole position and made history with four championships in a row.
Schumacher had achieved less when he arrived at Ferrari in 1996 as a double world champion, and had to wait until 2000 before he could add his third title, but the two share the same reputation for attention to detail and determination.
The older German, now undergoing treatment at home after suffering severe head injuries in a ski accident last year, then won five championships in succession and ended his career with 91 race wins as the sport’s most successful driver.
His 2000 driver’s title was Ferrari’s first since South Africa Jody Scheckter in 1979 and Maranello cannot afford another wait of that length – with 2007 winner Kimi Raikkonen their most recent champion. Vettel knows that there will always be those, particularly after his struggles this season, who will want to see him win with more than one team before recognising him as one of the all-time greats. But it is something he wants to do anyway.
Like Alonso at Renault and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, Vettel has also felt the itch to move on — to leave a comfortable ‘home’ — after a long stint with a team that had nurtured him from an early age.
“At some point in your life you feel you want to do something new. That voice kept growing and led me to decide to leave Red Bull and start a new chapter,” he said on Saturday.
“It has nothing to do with the results we had this year. It’s more the fact that I felt ready and I thought the time is right.” Moving to Ferrari may be a gamble, but no more than staying at Red Bull or moving to McLaren.
There is no certainty that any of those three will be in a position to win the title next year, with Mercedes dominant this season and Honda returning in 2015 with McLaren in what is likely to be a big-budget push for honours.
Rosberg takes pole for Japanse Grand Prix
Nico Rosberg seized pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix ahead of team mate and Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who completed a front-row lockout for Mercedes in qualifying on Saturday. Rosberg, who relinquished the championship lead to Hamilton after retiring from the last race in Singapore, lapped the 5.8 km Suzuka Circuit in one minute 32.506 seconds to claim his first pole since the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August. “I’m not thinking about Singapore at all,” Rosberg, who trails Hamilton by three points after a steering wheel failure led to an early retirement at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, told reporters. “It was a great day today, it is only one step on the way — but really great. The car is so amazing to drive,” he added. Hamilton, who had been fastest in the opening session of qualifying, failed to better Rosberg’s benchmark after locking up on his final attempt and missed out on scoring a hat-trick of pole positions by just under two tenths of a second. Reuters