Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s split marks the end of an era in Formula 1. 

A breakdown in contract talks between both parties was followed by an announcement from Ferrari on Tuesday morning confirming Vettel’s departure at the end of the 2020 season. 

Vettel, who is understood to have been offered a short-term contract on a significantly reduced salary, insisted financial matters “played no part” in the decision which Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto stressed was mutual but “not easy to reach, given Sebastian’s worth as a driver and as a person”. 

The bombshell news is one of the biggest stories in what has been a highly unusual year so far for the sport, with the 2020 F1 season yet to begin due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the coronavirus outbreak, which has affected life as we know it on a global scale, has provided time for reflection. For Vettel - who is a deep and philosophical character - this has played a big role in calling time on his six-year spell with F1’s most famous team. 

“What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life,” the German explained. 

“One needs to use one’s imagination and to adopt a new approach to a situation that has changed. I myself will take the time I need to reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future.

“My immediate goal is to finish my long stint with Ferrari, in the hope of sharing some more beautiful moments together, to add to all those we have enjoyed so far.”

The Vettel-Ferrari split has also inadvertently set off the big domino in the 2021 driver market puzzle and it can be expected that the other pieces will swiftly fall into place in the coming weeks and months.

But how exactly will Vettel, who turns 33 in July, feature in that picture? 

With his immediate future in F1 unclear, it seems Vettel has been left with two options: face a drop into the midfield, or retirement.  

Vettel remains in F1

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo are among the drivers who have been linked with the spare seat at Ferrari, and either could provide Vettel with an option should he want to continue in F1 beyond the end of this year. 

In the event of Ferrari signing Sainz, Vettel, as a four-time world champion, would be an attractive option for McLaren to partner its rising star Lando Norris

The Woking squad is in the middle of a restructuring project and on a clear upward trajectory under the new leadership of German Andreas Seidl, while it is set for a further boost in 2021 when it will return to Mercedes engines. 

Should Ricciardo get the call and opt to quit Renault’s own bid to re-establish itself as a winning force in F1, then Enstone could be another possible destination for Vettel.

Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has refused to rule out a move for Vettel in 2021 if Ricciardo - who is unsettled at the French squad following an underwhelming 2019 season - decided to call time on his stint after just one year. 

Reports in Italian media have claimed that Renault has already provided Vettel with a concrete offer to join its 2021 line-up alongside Esteban Ocon because Ricciardo has already made up his mind and wants to leave. 

The emerging threat of Charles Leclerc appears to have forced Vettel out of Ferrari after his position as de facto team leader was challenged by the Monegasque, who turned in a superb maiden campaign at the Scuderia to beat Vettel in the championship and subsequently receive a long-term deal until the end of 2024. 

It has long been suggested, although not confirmed, that Vettel has demanded number one status within his F1 contracts. At either McLaren or Renault, he would surely find himself leading the team’s charge away from the pressure cooker environment he currently endures at Ferrari. 

A seat at front-running teams Mercedes and Red Bull, where Vettel claimed all four of his world championship titles between 2010 and 2013, seems highly unlikely and would depend on either Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen making a sensational but improbable switch to Ferrari. 

Despite being out of contract at the end of the season and yet to announce his future plans, Hamilton has repeatedly signalled his intention to stay at Mercedes, while Verstappen agreed a bumper new deal that ties him down to Red Bull until the end of 2023. 

Ferrari has made it clear that Leclerc is its future and the team needs a harmonious driver pairing to avoid the sort of tensions which brewed, and threatened to fully ignite, between Vettel and Leclerc throughout 2019. 

Vettel retires from F1 

The other seemingly-obvious scenario facing Vettel is retirement from F1. 

Vettel said earlier this year that he has no plans for retirement and insisted that the “flame is still burning”. It would be hard to disprove Vettel’s love for the sport with a step down into F1’s midfield but if that did not appeal to him, retirement surely beckons. 

After the failure to achieve his dream of emulating his childhood hero Michael Schumacher by winning a title at Ferrari, and bruising title losses at the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in 2017 and 2018 - the result of a combination of a series of driver and team mistakes - followed by his defeat to Leclerc, Vettel’s career and reputation risks being damaged further by a potentially unsuccessful spell in midfield obscurity. 

Could Vettel be tempted to bow out of F1 while he remains somewhere near to the top and pursue another career path - perhaps to explore his interest in engineering or spend more time with his family? 

His former Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber, provided an interesting assessment of Vettel back in 2014 that somewhat foreshadowed the position the German currently finds himself in.

“I think Seb will do everything early in life,” Webber said. “He’s got his championship titles and his results early, he's going to have a kid early and I think he'll retire early.

"He'll probably take a blast in the red car, then sayonara.”

Might Vettel have already raced his last grand prix for Ferrari? 

Assuming the 2020 campaign does eventually get underway amid the COVID-19 crisis, Vettel would face completing a season in a car that appeared well off the pace of Mercedes in pre-season testing, and with the knowledge that Ferrari would most likely throw its weight behind Leclerc in any title fight scenario given he is leaving. 

Aside from personal honour and the chance to finally end his and  Ferrari’s long drought for a world championship, it could be argued there is little motivation for Vettel remaining in F1, even in the short-term. 

Do you think Vettel will remain in F1 and if so, where will he end up? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

 

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