Sebastian Vettel leaves Ferrari end of the season

May 13 2020 , 9:34 am

When Sebastian Vettel signed to replace Fernando Alonso at Ferrari at the end of 2014, his dream was to emulate his childhood hero Michael Schumacher and win the world championship with the Italian team.

Instead, his time at Maranello has ended in frustration, unfulfilled. Fourteen wins, yes, but team and driver have fallen short of their ambitions, and to some degree the reason for that lies at Vettel’s door.

As the years have ticked by on his Ferrari career, Vettel has looked less and less like the driver who serenely romped to four consecutive world titles with Red Bull from 2010-13.

The blinding pace has remained – but it has been seen less often. The mistakes have mounted. And last year, despite starting the year as Ferrari’s designated number one, Vettel was beaten on every measure by a team-mate who was in only his second season in F1.

Should Vettel retire at the end of the year – and it seems a likely scenario in the apparent absence of any other competitive drives – his legacy will be a complex one.

Four world titles and 53 wins from 241 races are hugely impressive statistics that put him right up with the very greatest drivers ever to have competed in F1. Only Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton have more wins. Only Juan Manuel Fangio in addition has more championships.

And yet, the questions will linger. Not over whether he was a great driver, but how great, and whether the statistics – which are never everything in F1 – flatter him to a degree.

The statement put out by Ferrari on Tuesday morning, after the news leaked late on Monday, begins to explain how the relationship between Vettel and the team unravelled.

“Financial matters have played no part in this joint decision,” Vettel insisted. And the killer line: “In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony.”

That harmony was clearly no longer there. And the relationship had started to fall apart long before the extravagantly talented Leclerc arrived on the scene and beat his senior partner on wins, points, pole positions and average qualifying pace last year.

After Alonso’s time at Ferrari ended in bitterness, the Spaniard asking to be released from his contract because he had lost faith in the team’s ability to deliver him the third world title he craved, Vettel brought a lighter air to Ferrari, and a sense of rebirth.

Vettel said in Ferrari’s statement that he “will take the time I need to reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future”, saying that the coronavirus crisis had “led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life. One needs to use one’s imagination and to adopt a new approach to a situation that has changed.”

His final year in F1 or not, 2020 will not be an easy one for Vettel, his future – whatever it is – elsewhere. What used to be his team now fully focused on Leclerc.

And his legacy? The truth is that Vettel lacks the adaptability that gave the likes of Hamilton and Alonso – and Schumacher – the ability to extract the best from any car, no matter how difficult.

But on his day, on top form, in a car that suits his style, Vettel remains right up there with the very best.

 

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