Vettel's chain reaction: how the empty Ferrari seat could shake up F1

F1

The ripple effect of Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari departure is being felt across the F1, and it could have interesting consequences, as Mark Hughes explains

Thursday press conference Australian GP 2020

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The potential of the VettelFerrari partnership was never fully harnessed, and there are faults on both sides. But the root of the problem goes back to the fact that the person who recruited him was no longer there by the time he arrived.

The new management inherited him and neither side managed to instil the unquestioning trust and belief in the other that must underpin long-term success. The more Marchionne and those beneath him asked ‘is this guy good enough?’, the more it ensured that he wasn’t.

The more Vettel grew exasperated with the operational limitations of the team, the less he ingratiated himself to those there.

Marchionne’s insistence on recruiting a fast, dynamic youngster alongside Vettel and doing away with the Kimi Räikkönen support role, was going to be a) his way of benchmarking Vettel and b) if Charles Leclerc was all he looked, his own choice that he was personally invested in, in a way he never was with Vettel, who had been Luca di Montezemolo’s recruit.

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Marchionne didn’t live to see how it panned out, of course, but the plan he set in motion played out and the non-renewal of Vettel’s contract is the conclusion. An offer was made, but not one that Vettel could live with.

“In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony,” was Vettel’s diplomatic but pointed statement. He couldn’t be in harmony with a set up that was based around Leclerc being the chosen one. He wasn’t interested in the former Räikkönen role, in other words. As a proud four-time world champion that was understandable.

So now Ferrari looks on the verge of replacing Vettel with Carlos Sainz. A terrific driver, still early in an F1 career that’s been far from straightforward, the chance to be in a winning car is just too good to turn down, let alone the Ferrari prestige that goes with it.

He’s at a more appropriate point in his career than Vettel – or even Daniel Ricciardo – to accept joining a team with an entrenched leader. All he has to do is blend nicely with the team, keep his nose clean, build up his own little corner and then do his stuff.

How that compares to Leclerc’s stuff will likely be close enough that there will be some tricky moments on the Ferrari pit wall. But that’s manageable. The requirements of Ferrari and Sainz integrate nicely at the moment. How they will do going forward once he’s won a few races remains to be seen. But that’s a problem for another day.

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Vettel’s choice has predictably triggered major ripples in the driver market. But what does Vettel do? A Mercedes drive alongside Lewis Hamilton might tempt him, or a Red Bull reprise alongside Max Verstappen. They don’t seem likely, but this is F1 and anything could happen. But let’s assume he retires.

Ricciardo is bound to be disappointed with how this is all playing out. Bursting to win a championship but running out of time, he’s essentially been judged too good, probably too ambitious, for Ferrari’s needs. Which isn’t to imply Sainz can’t be as good. Just that he’s not up against the clock in the same way.

But given that McLaren looks set to lose a driver of Sainz’s calibre, who has integrated beautifully with the team and formed a great competitive but friendly relationship with Lando Norris, it can count itself extremely fortunate that there’s a driver of Ricciardo’s standing potentially on the market.

If he’s more convinced of McLaren’s potential than Renault’s, it’s probably time to surrender the mega bucks and try to make this work.

Which would then leave an opening at Renault. The perfect man to fill that is surely Fernando Alonso