Sebastian Vettel: Ferrari contract talks have already begun


Sebastian Vettel says that contract talks with Ferrari could conclude before the first race of the 2020 F1 season. Plus his views on a shortened championship and sim racing

Sebastian Vettel in Melbourne ahead of the cancelled 2020 F1 Australian Grand Prix


A few weeks ago, if you had suggested to Sebastian Vettel he could potentially sign a new deal with Ferrari before the first race of the season, he would likely have laughed in your face.

The curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in mid-March, however, was the first to fall victim to an invisible enemy. Eight others have since either been postponed or cancelled, with more expected to fall by the wayside.

So fast forward that period of time, and even now, by his own admission, there is every likelihood of the four-time champion putting pen to paper on another contract that would see him extend his association with the Scuderia beyond what is currently his sixth year before a wheel turns in anger, be it late June, early July, or beyond.

Sebastian Vettel during his first pre-season test with Ferrari in 2015

Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015


The enforced lockdown has allowed tentative discussions to start with team principal Mattia Binotto, and with a willingness on both sides to continue the partnership, you would assume it is only a matter of time before an agreement is reached.

“By the looks of it, the first grand prix is not due for a while, unfortunately, but it gives us more time to cover more ground,” said Vettel with regard to the negotiations.

“One of the key things for everyone, no matter whether you are in sports or not, is to remain patient.

“Looking at myself, it obviously depends on when we will have the first race. There is a chance we will have to make a decision before there will be that first race, and at the moment it looks like there will be no race before June or even July. We are all waiting.

“The main priority at first was to ensure that we dealt with the [coronavirus] situation in the right way, and therefore everything was put on hold. I can imagine that was the same everywhere, and it was the same for us.

“We will make progress, but I don’t think there’s a real timeline. Whether that’s before the first race or not, depends on when we have that first race.”

In the meantime, Vettel is attempting to keep himself as physically and as mentally sharp as possible for when the call comes to go racing again.

“Nobody likes to race in front of empty grandstands. I think it feels a bit odd.”

The 32-year-old German concedes to being “selfish” in wanting to race, and that it is “painful” not being able to drive, but he is astute enough to recognise the bigger picture as the world comes to terms with being under lockdown and social distancing.

Behind the scenes, F1 and the FIA are trying to put plans in place to resume as soon as is practicable, bearing in mind the restrictions affecting teams and race organisers across various countries.

Measures such as grands prix behind closed doors, two-day weekends, and triple, maybe even quadruple back-to-back events are being discussed.

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In Vettel’s role as a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, such possibilities are also being explored.

“It [F1] is a sport that is carried out in the open, but we have a lot of people that come to watch our races,” he said. “We need to make sure that as much as we are taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of the public.

“There are a lot of options you can think of, in terms of how to get going again, what’s the best format to start racing again, whether it’s without fans, with fans, ghost races.

“Nobody likes to race in front of empty grandstands. I think it feels a bit odd. The question is, when is the right time to start racing again and whether a ghost race could be held a lot sooner rather than a race the way we are used to it. I don’t know.

“What we would all like is to get back to normal, but not just for Formula 1’s sake, but for everybody’s sake, the whole world. As I’ve said previously in this regard, the best prescription is to be patient.

“Probably, at the very beginning, the first couple of races will be a bit compromised compared to what we are used to. Hopefully not too much because we want to race in a way that we are all familiar with, meaning in front of fans and with an atmosphere, and so on.”

“A championship will still be a championship. In 10 races there would still be a lot of things to get right.”

F1’s managing director of motorsports, Ross Brawn, recently expressed hope of organising a 19-race calendar. Cramming in so many grands prix into the second half of the year, even stretching the campaign into January as has also been suggested, would seemingly place an intolerable strain on travelling staff, especially if they are also taking additional precautions to stay safe.

Vettel is mindful of such a toll and has advised caution on the matter.

“As drivers, we are at the lucky end,” said Vettel. “Races and race weekends can be tough. Whether they will change the format, losing a day of the weekend, I don’t know. We have that option.

“The limit will be the team, will be the staff, in terms of the mechanics. It’s not about getting the cars from one place to another, that can be done quite quickly, but obviously you need to give enough rest in between to the people.

“There are a lot of questions still to be asked, and to have an answer to. I think we will probably have more races, it will be more packed, but I think the limit should be the people, and that should be respected as well.

“Every now and then they will need a break, so it’s not realistic to have 10 back-to-back race weekends.”

While F1 is understood to have contracts in place with a number of television companies to stage 15 races per season, only eight grands prix are required for a valid championship.

This year could resemble F1’s early years in the 1950s and ’60s when around eight to 10 grands prix formed a championship season.

Should Vettel add title number five under such circumstances, it does not concern him one jot as to the number of races involved.

“A season is a season, whether it be 10, 15, 20 or 25 races,” insisted Vettel. “You still have to be the one that’s most consistent. With fewer races, every race is important, but in the end, a championship will still be a championship. In 10 races there would still be a lot of things to get right.”

Until whatever point racing returns, Vettel is enjoying life at home, “juggling three kids”, as he puts it, as he is father to two daughters, aged six and four, and a five-month-old baby boy. They are appreciably taking up his time.

Training is also a priority, but what of sim racing? Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc recently won on his esports debut in Formula 1’s Virtual Grand Prix series and he will be among six current F1 drivers racing this weekend in the Virtual Chinese Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel gaming

Vettel has just got a simulator installed at home

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We may yet see Vettel involved somewhere down the line as he has admitted to taking receipt of a sim this week.

“The truth is I didn’t have a simulator until a couple of days ago, so I have not been tempted because I didn’t have the chance,” he said. “But I have heard a lot of things about it, so I thought I might get one and try it. I need to still set it up properly.

“Generally, I don’t foresee a career in sim racing. I think it’s more something to try for fun. I grew up with some of the stuff and I’ve been playing some games, but to be honest, since I’ve had kids, it’s not the first thing on my to-do list, so I will see how much time there will be.

“I consider it a bit more of a fun thing. Racing, for me, is still in the real world outside, so that’s where the focus lies.”