Vettel: Renault, retirement… or something else?
In the past few seasons at Ferrari Sebastian Vettel has increasingly looked a jaded figure, a far cry from the cocksure young man who swept to four consecutive world titles with Red Bull between 2010-13. The string of mistakes became embarrassing and although the likes of Grosjean and Button have expressed surprise at his Ferrari split, it really shouldn’t be considered so. The partnership had clearly run out of steam.
Vettel is an intelligent man with a healthy perspective on F1’s place in the wider world. He also has three small children, and no matter who you are, that is both a distraction and a game-changer on priorities. He has those four world titles and the third most F1 wins in history (53). Does he still really need this? That’s surely what he must ask himself as he considers his next move, still at the age of just 32.
If the answer is ‘yes, I’m still hungry’, what are his F1 options? Renault is the most obvious, given the open seat Ricciardo is leaving. Like Alonso, he’d need an awful lot of motivation to join a team with such a mountain to climb, even more so given that he’ll be stepping straight out of a competitive Ferrari.
From Renault’s perspective, he’d be a great asset, arguably more than Alonso given his age and the fact he won’t have been out of the game for two years. But aside from Renault, where else could Seb pitch up? Mercedes? Surely only if something goes drastically wrong in the team’s negotiations for a new deal with Lewis Hamilton – or if the six-time champion decides on a shock retirement. Vettel needs such a seismic shift to land the best drive in F1 – but perhaps that slim possibility will keep him from any definitive decision until Hamilton is firmly locked under contract. As for Vettel replacing Valtteri Bottas, lining up alongside Hamilton, doesn’t make much sense. Such a line-up would be too destabilising and potentially combustible.
So how about a Vettel return to Red Bull? Christian Horner recently said it would be “enormously unlikely” given the team’s commitment to Max Verstappen, and his own aversion to the old ‘two bulls in one field’ analogy. Helmut Marko has also said Vettel’s too expensive, so unless that was a negotiating ploy to bring down his price, a Red Bull move can probably be ruled out.
Which leaves… Aston Martin. If he’s considering Renault, why not a team that in its current guise as Racing Point is at least a match on form? Also, does new owner Lawrence Stroll have an appetite for a big marquee signing as a statement of intent for Aston’s first season in F1 since 1960? It’s not necessarily such a silly idea. And on that same basis, Alonso could also be in the picture.
Perhaps this lack of motor racing has gone to our heads and our imagination is running riot… But as Grosjean says, there’s an awful lot still to play out – and there could be a surprise or two still to come before the 2021 grid is done.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.