Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel ended his five-year contract with Scuderia Ferrari two weeks ago, and announced his intention to leave the team after the 2020 Formula 1 season. While Ferrari were quick in signing McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr. as his replacement on a two-year deal beginning with the 2021 season, there has been no announcement from Vettel with regards to his plans for next season and his future in the sport.
With Daniel Ricciardo moving to McLaren and most of the seats filling up for the 2021 season, Vettel has to decide quickly whether he wants to stay in the sport, and if so, then in what capacity.
If Vettel decides to stay on the grid next year, then he would have to change colours and shift to another team. With Red Bull Racing building their team around young-gun Max Verstappen, and Vettel’s rival Lewis Hamilton having achieved five world titles in the last six seasons with Mercedes-AMG Petronas, either of these are unlikely to act as potential options for Vettel.
With no seat available among the top three teams of the sport, the only realistic options for Vettel would include midfield teams, and a year of racing in the middle of the pack rather than regularly fighting for podiums or victories.
Renault is being seen as one of the most likely options for Vettel, with the French manufacturer team aiming to build its brand and increase its competitiveness in the sport. With Ricciardo’s departure, they have a seat vacant alongside Esteban Ocon for the 2021 season, and Vettel might just be the perfect fit.
British F1 expert and journalist Joe Saward said, “Having a four-time world champion would be a great way to promote the brand. Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Vettel won his four world championships with Renault engines, so he already knows the French company reasonably well.”, when talking about Vettels’ possible options.
The rebranded Racing Point team (to be known as Aston Martin from the 2021 season) is also being seen as a possible move for Vettel, with the owner Lawrence Stroll aiming to develop the team into a serious contender. Another possibility for Vettel might be joining the Alfa Romeo team, provided a seat is vacant, something similar to what his former Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen is doing towards the end of his career.
In his official statement confirming his departure from Scuderia Ferrari, Vettel had stated- “What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life.” This was seen by many F1 experts as Vettel’s hint towards retirement in order to spend more time with his family.
With Vettel’s repeated failure to successfully challenge Hamilton for the 2017 and 2018 F1 world titles, partly due to his own on-track errors, and the arrival of rising star Charles Leclerc in 2019, many in the paddock believe that Vettel is preparing to hand is helmet sooner rather than later. However, being only 32-years old, perhaps a sabbatical from the sport for a year is a better option, given the impending rule changes from the 2022 season.
FIA president Jean Todt commented, “Sebastian Vettel is one of the greatest talents in motorsport. There are a lot of other opportunities. We can only wish him the best and I mean that. Whoever will take him will be very lucky,” when questioned on Vettel’s future in an interview. Several successful F1 drivers have taken sabbaticals for personal reasons, and have even come back stronger. Kimi Räikkönen, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, and even Michael Schumacher have taken some years away from the sport to reflect on their future.
The ultimate decision regarding his future lies with Vettel himself. Whether he decides to move to a different team, or explore something different from motorsport, it is definitely the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
Written by Shubhang Gopal