The Coronavirus pandemic may have stalled on-track action, but the drivers’ market is now starting to seethe regardless of the fact that the whole motorsport world has been brought to a halt. Despite the delay of the new technical regulations to 2022, the silly season is coming into force later on in the year with a number of drivers out of contract for 2021 onwards.
Long-term plans - Ferrari and Red Bull made their first moves between Christmas and the start of the new year, respectively locking down Leclerc until 2024 and Verstappen until 2023. Two strong statements to clear any doubts on which driver their teams are banking on for their long-term plans. It is no secret that the Dutchman has a proven track record of dealing with the Red Bull Academy-style mindset, making him the perfect candidate -in the eyes of Helmut Marko- to carry the team on his back and fight for the title. Leclerc’s 5-year deal appeared less predictable compared to Verstappen’s contract extension, but his maturity and competitiveness (other than his age and fiery attitude) earned him the #1 spot in the team's hierarchy. And Ferrari has finally found the embodiment of its ideal standard-bearer, young, talented, bred in its junior programme - hence the urge of playing in advance and securing him until 2024.
A leap in the dark - This inevitably leads to a rather controversial question regarding Vettel’s future. What are Ferrari’s plans with the four-time champion? According to Sky Sport Italy, Ferrari has advanced a one-year deal offer with a dramatically lower income compared to his previous contract extension back in 2017 - a 3-year deal worth 100 million euros). It is clear that Vettel’s figure in Maranello has been radically resized, if not downgraded. The 2020 season stands for a golden opportunity to prove himself and recover from a see-sawing 2019, and Vettel’s results throughout the first part of the year would have played a key role in determining his future at Ferrari. The Covid-19 emergency has thwarted his attempt to let his deeds speak louder than words. In this case, both parties will have to carry on their negotiation without the support of track-sealed evidence from the new year. Is the German willing to take a beating and turn it into a second chance?
New generation pawing for supremacy - The situation we are currently facing is indeed uprecedented, and so are Sebastian Vettel’s current contract talks. In fact, the four-time champion does not have the upper hand on Ferrari, as things stand. Moreover, Vettel’s previous deal extension with Ferrari was massively aided by Sergio Marchionne, a key figure behind the German’s ascension with the Maranello-based squad. All balances have shifted, now that Ferrari is no longer lacking external options as Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz or even Antonio Giovinazzi.With the ever-growing trend of young talents being promoted, Kimi Raikkonen may also face the decision of calling it quits at the end of 2020, after his contract with Alfa Romeo expires. In that case, new leagues as Mick Schumacher, Marcus Armstrong or Robert Shwartzman may be next in line for his coveted seat in F1.