Sebastian Vettel was once a record-breaker. A maestro and four-time World Champion in his prime who surpassed heroes like Fernando Alonso, Alain Prost and the legendary Ayrton Senna with his ever-increasing tally of wins, he dominated the world of Formula 1 for almost half a decade and subsequently elevated himself to unimaginable glory at the pinnacle of motorsport. His ousting from the top spot looked unthinkable, and he was destined to become the greatest of all time.
But now, that’s all in the past.
After a comfortless start to the 2020 season riddled with retirements, collisions and downright disappointments all round, both Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari find themselves in an incredibly difficult position moving forward. Before the year even started, it was announced that the German would conclude six years of service with the team- leaving the legendary Italian marque at the end of the season, and judging by the recent string of less than expected finishes, it seems this has irreparably crippled Vettel’s motivation.
The beginning of the end
Although his start to the year has been disastrous to say the least, Vettel’s downfall began far earlier than 2020. Off the back of four consecutive world titles, Seb made a daredevil move to Ferrari in 2015 after Red Bull experienced a poor 2014 season, losing the title to Mercedes. Succeeding Alonso and aiming to secure Ferrari their first World Championship after nearly a decade, Vettel secured a few wins early on- notably taking the victory in Malaysia and dedicating it to a recovering Michael Schumacher. But, after just a few races it was clear to see he was no match for the hybrid-era powerhouse that was Lewis Hamilton with Mercedes. Throughout the mid to late 2010’s, Hamilton dominated Formula One- dashing any and all hopes Vettel had to win his dream World Championship with Ferrari; Lewis surpassed Vettel’s title tally and henceforth shattered his mojo irreversibly.
For the next few years, Sebastians’ story was always the same: An early title challenge towards the start of the season, before faltering invariably towards the end of it. Mistakes began to creep in more frequently, and when he crashed out of the lead of the 2018 German Grand Prix, it was evidently clear his glory days were over. The loss signalled another year of Hamilton supremacy and another year of pain for Seb.
To add insult to injury, Vettel had yet another new challenger to spar. Upon longtime friend and team-mate Kimi Räikkönen’s departure from Ferrari, Sauber prodigy and talented F1 rookie Charles Leclerc rose up to the coveted seat at Maranello for 2019. The pressure was now coming from all sides for Seb, and he only managed one win in Singapore that year, after a strategy blunder for pole-sitter Leclerc left him in second place. In the same year, Vettel would make multiple name-scarring mistakes: Spinning out of the race in Bahrain and Italy, smashing into Verstappen in Britain and jumping the start from pole in Japan to name just a few. Being beaten by a youngster 11 years his junior in the Drivers’ Championship, Sebastian’s reputation was ruined. He became a laughing stock, and just weeks before the season opener in 2020 it was announced he would lose his drive for 2021.
What’s perhaps most saddening of all is that Sebastian’s character and personality has deteriorated perceivably. A once bubbly and exciting man, Vettel now looks dejected and despondent- his face a mirror to that of a noble king robbed of his throne. Whilst his team-mate has achieved a handful of podiums this year for a struggling Ferrari, Vettel’s best result has been a lowly seventh at the Spanish Grand Prix. He sits eleventh in the drivers’ standings and looks to be on for a win-less season, and one that he will remember for all the wrong reasons…
New hopes for the future
But, not all hope is lost for Vettel. Rumours circulating the paddock suggest he has another chance. A chance to rebuild his success and assume his position at the top spot of the podium once more, and a chance to preserve his dignity in such a ruthlessly debilitating sport. All offered up by a possible move to the new challengers in 2021- Aston Martin.
The team (currently competing as BWT Racing Point F1 Team) will no doubt be interested about the proposition of a 4-time World Champion as a free agent, and talks have already begun as to who the German could replace as paddock whispers have begun to gain traction. With investment coming in from Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff, Aston Martin are pipped to have a real shot at success in F1, and a rules change in 2022 could help them achieve that, meaning Vettel will surely have his eyes on a seat at the team. In my opinion it’s his only hope of remaining on the grid next year.
In recent press conferences, he has expressed his interest in the new team and, after being spotted in team principal Otmar Szafnauer’s car post-Silverstone (ironically a Ferrari) Vettel joked that he had ‘signed something’.
However, the move is by no means guaranteed.
Racing Point have publicly stated their intentions to remain with their two drivers for 2021, and whilst Szafnauer refused to rule out Seb for next year, he said that he would not forget ‘Pérez’s loyalty’. It also seems highly unlikely that Canadian Lance Stroll would be dropped, considering the fact that the team was bailed out of bankruptcy by his father Lawrence Stroll in 2018, and therefore opinion remains split as to whether or not the move will come to fruition.
Personally, I’m torn. Even if Aston do choose to take Vettel on for next year (and I’m relatively sure they will) there’s no certainty that they will produce a race-winning car, either in their first year or after the new regulations. If they end up being a midfield or possibly even a back-marker team, Seb’s move will have been pointless, as he’s stated himself his one and only intent is to win. As well, another touchy variable to consider in Vettel’s success at Aston Martin would be his talent. Even when he was winning world titles at Red Bull, people questioned whether or not his success would be repeatable in a different car, and after being beaten by Charles in 2019 it’s realisable that he may well have lost his ‘champion skill’. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Vettel back at the top in F1 again, I just want him to retain his nobility. If he is announced to race in 2021, I hope that he emerges with his unmistakable charm intact afterwards.
As of yet ,though, it’s all up in the air for Sebastian. Throughout his career he has experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows imaginable, and whilst his story is yet to be concluded the German is in for a make-or-break few weeks. Will he find a seat at the pinnacle of motorsport, or is his time in Formula One coming to an end?