One of the most iconic teams in Formula One and one of the most popular drivers in the global motor racing series are parting ways, after Sebastian Vettel said on Tuesday that the current season would be his last with Ferrari.
Vettel, 32, joined the team in 2015 as a four-time champion but has been unable to bring his winning touch to Ferrari, which has millions of devotees around the world and whose red liveried cars retain an almost unmatched allure for drivers.
But both the driver and the team are going through a rough patch. Mercedes and its British driver, Lewis Hamilton, have all but monopolized both the drivers’ standings and the constructors’ championships, and Vettel’s place as the dominant driver on the Italian team has been usurped by the young Frenchman Charles Leclerc.
Vettel had been in talks about renewing his contract for months before the surprise announcement on Tuesday, and although news reports suggested that he was not happy with the salary and duration that had been offered, he denied money was behind in his decision.
“In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony,” Vettel said in comments published on the Ferrari team’s website. “The team and I have realized that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of this season.”
Addressing the matter of his compensation and its role in his decision, he said: “That’s not the way I think when it comes to making certain choices, and it never will be.”
He suggested the impromptu break forced on the series — like most other sporting events, the current season has been brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic — had influenced his decision.
“What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life,” Vettel said. “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.”
Along with Red Bull and Mercedes, Ferrari is among the biggest-spending Formula One teams, but that has not resulted in success on the racing circuit.
The last Ferrari driver to win a world championship was Kimi Raikonnen, in 2007. The team last topped the constructors’ table, which is based on the aggregate points garnered by the team’s drivers in a single season, a year later.
Only last month, Ferrari’s team principal, Mattia Binotto, extolled the value of Vettel’s importance to the team and expressed his hope that the German driver would sign a new contract. Binotto said the decision to part ways was a joint one that did not come easily.
The recent success of Leclerc, 22, has undeniably played a part in the talks between Vettel and Ferrari. His performances last season secured more points, poles and victories, vaulting him above his senior teammate, and the developing rivalry was blamed for a collision between the pair at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.
“We’ve had some tense moments on tracks,” Leclerc said of Vettel’s decision to leave the team. “Some very good ones and some others that didn’t end as we both wanted, but there was always respect, even though it wasn’t perceived this way from the outside.”
Despite the plaudits and the backslapping comments, it is clear that Ferrari and Vettel failed in achieving the objectives set when they paired up: winning world championships and becoming the sport’s dominant team with a German driver at the helm, as had been done a generation earlier when Michael Schumacher steered his Ferrari to victory after victory.
The speculation over the repercussions of Vettel’s departure began immediately, with Carlos Sainz, a Spaniard who drives for McLaren, linked to the second seat at Ferrari and the Australian Daniel Ricciardo being mentioned to replace him, in what could likely be a domino effect of driver moves.
The future for Vettel, who won four straight championships while driving for Red Bull between 2010 and 2013, looks uncertain. After second place finishes in 2017 and 2018, he came in fifth in 2019, one spot behind Leclerc.
Ferrari appeared to have the dominant car in the two seasons when Vettel almost secured the coveted championship, but driver errors and a strategic mistakes at crucial points by the team allowed Hamilton to emerge victorious on both occasions.