Vettel’s downward spiral is now more tangible than ever, as his stint at Ferrari has drawn to a close. A lethal concoction of factors has led to a dramatic end, opening the door to a shortlist of chosen ones.
“It should not have ended this way” is a rather common reaction to a Ferrari farewell announcement. You would not even need to dig down deep, as Fernando Alonso’s stint ended, not as abruptly as Vettel’s, but the move exuded the same feeling of powerlessness.
The German’s situation is far more complicated, since we have witnessed his demotion as we transitioned from 2019 to 2020. Charles Leclerc was able to make a strong statement through facts, and that was what Ferrari was looking for.
What now? Carlos Sainz is rumoured to be on pole position for the coveted Ferrari seat. The Spaniard quickly climbed the success ladder in F1, earning himself a spot at McLaren in the year of its rebirth. Sainz has been scratching and clawing to stand out as podium material in 2019, as he finally achieved an unexpected P3 in Brazil. It is no secret that, once he walked out of the Red Bull junior programme, Ferrari has always kept an eye on him. However, the name of Daniel Ricciardo pops in. The Australian and Sebastian Vettel have a history back in their Red Bull days, which appears to be the reason why Ricciardo was never poised to join Ferrari. With the four-time champion leaving, the Renault driver is now closer than ever before and cannot be ruled out just yet. In an interview to Sky Italia, he stressed that he was going to sort out his contractual situation before July, as the rest of the F1 grid. Therefore, grab your popcorn and allow yourself to be entertained during this extra off-season time.
As several media outlets reported, Renault advanced an offer to Vettel for his post-Ferrari stint. However, the move seems rather unlikely due to the package they are currently endowed with, as the 2021 regulations have been delayed to 2022. Enstone’s long-term investments suggest that their breakthrough shall come with the regulations’ change, hence it would be pointless for a former top-team driver to be stuck in the midfield in 2021.
Despite the fact that the Renault option might be written off early, McLaren plays a key role in the 2020-2021 silly season turmoil. A Ricciardo-Sainz swap does not look too far fetched, especially in case Vettel retires. His farewell declarations in the statement do sound as a pre-retirement speech, having mentioned that he is rethinking his priorities and future goals.
The guilty pleasure of picturing Hamilton at Ferrari is now back in full swing, as there are all the premises to keep dreaming about such an iconic move. The contract of the six-time champion expires at the end of 2020 as well, but he appears to be closer to a multi-year deal with Mercedes than to Maranello.
He might be long gone, pursuing a titanic quest overseas. But his name always resurges when F1 needs. I am talking about Fernando Alonso, the knight of the sorry face, as some baptized him. The Spaniard holds a great deal of unaccomplished deeds and unfinished business with the sport. This is why the fans dream about a mighty comeback following McLaren’s disastrous Honda campaign. The two-time world champion hinted at his future plans being “almost sorted” last week, but in Maranello there might be a long virtual queue of meetings, managers and offers to manage first.
As it stands, there is also room for a further option. Valtteri Bottas. The Finn might embody the utmost strategic solution for Maranello, as he knows Mercedes from within and would not be detrimental to Leclerc’s dreams of glory. An Irvine-esque stint might be what Bottas need to consolidate his image and take his career to the next level, without being to invasive in the Ferrari masterplan.
Then there is Antonio Giovinazzi, a driver from the Ferrari talent pool who would not interfere in Leclerc's performances. An Italian ambassador from the FDA in an Italian car looks strong for the brand, but as for on-track reliability, not as much.
Still, his demands would not be as high as Ricciardo or Sainz's.
But what does Vettel’s exit from Ferrari teach us? Did Ferrari make a mistake? Technically they did a long time ago, when they decided to opt for experienced drivers or world champions instead of nurturing a young talent as Leclerc and investing flat-out on him. The ploy should have been promoting Leclerc and pairing him up with someone else, to avoid any unpleasant power struggles that eventually caused the inevitable fall of a four-time champion.