We all know he loves the whine of an old V12 and hates the ping of an Instagram notification, but you really have to hand it to Sebastian Vettel for injecting a bit of good old-fashioned intrigue into the worst and most mind-numbingly boring Formula 1 'season' of all time. F1 scribblers obsessing about Lando Norris on Twitch or whether the budget cap will be $145 million or $147 million next year got the very best kind of news early this week. Namely, some actual news that makes the heart beat faster rather than the eyes glaze over.
Unfortunately, it probably means we'll see about as much of Seb in 2021 and beyond as we've seen his wife Hanna or his young children. In other words, having tracked every flash of that dreaded diagonal victory finger throughout his four consecutive championship years, and every subsequent whine on the radio in his comparatively fallow and error-ridden days in red, Vettel looks set to follow in Nico Rosberg's tyre-tracks as another 32-year-old German retiree.
In their undies at home rather than with dictaphones in their hands in the paddock, Formula 1 journalists are now wondering if Vettel will seek another seat. In the meantime, it's fascinating to have tracked the details of a top F1 driver's 'silly season' while every single Formula 1 person is confined to their homes. Normally, this type of stuff is played out in whispers behind motorhomes and then relayed in various ways to those who aren't there. This time, all the whispers have been digital.
In the Ferrari press release, it was claimed that the decision was mutual. But let's be clear - no divorce has ever, in the history of planet Earth, been mutual. Yes, husband and wife may grow to despise one another, but one has to declare that 'It's over' first.
We all watched Vettel's dodgy last couple of seasons, and particularly the way he didn't really cope with the way Ferrari clearly fell in love with its new and fresh-faced number 1 driver who speaks perfect Italian, and out of love with its new number 2 who even pronounces "pasta" with a thick German accent. But as the timeline bears out, it seems that Ferrari actually wanted to keep him - for 2021 only. It was reported that Ferrari ultimately agreed to a two-year deal, but only if Vettel agreed to have his massive retainer slashed by two thirds.
It is at this point that Vettel - without social media or even a manager - reverted to an old strategy to describe Ferrari's offer as a disrespectful "joke". That strategy? He (allegedly) leaked it to his favourite German journalists. Another source claims that the negotiations were never advanced enough to get to the matters of money or even the contract term.
It was on Monday that Bild (the most popular and widely circulated newspaper in Germany) and Auto Motor und Sport (the most respected German specialist publication in Formula 1) broke the bombshell news about Vettel having told the Prancing Horse to prance all the way off a bridge. They cited 'sources' - but the plural was not really necessary. The source, I and many others strongly believe, was Vettel alone, more than happily bunkered down with the young family that he clearly loves dearly on his secluded and picturesque property in Der Thurgau, a German enclave in northern Switzerland.
Given that the authoritative news spread faster than coronavirus, Ferrari was forced to write up the press release about the "joint" decision the following morning. On Wednesday, Enzo Ferrari's son and vice president of the company, Piero Ferrari, likened the split to an amicable separation and divorce. And while that can't really be denied by anyone, given that drivers coming and drivers going is just part of the natural order of Formula 1, the actual details of what went wrong are definitely more interesting.
One major Italian newspaper claims "icy winds" have been blowing between Vettel - a down-to-earth and likeable and yet often fiery and bad-tempered individual - and Ferrari for quite some time. What precisely has been blowing in those winds for months upon months upon months? Based on information sourced only from major, respected and insider media sources in both Italy and Germany, I've come across what appears to be Vettel's actual gripes with Ferrari, which all seems to have also been leaked from a diagonally-fingered German with a shaggy beard and a dodgy Italian accent:
1. Leclerc's connections
Obviously, young Charles' performances are a major reason for Vettel's glum face and decision. But there's more to it than that. Leclerc, fast-tracked onto the saddle of the Cavallino after just a single year at Ferrari-powered Sauber, was already the jewel in the crown of Ferrari's young driver academy. But more crucial was the surname of his manager, Nicolas Todt. Apparently, Seb became pretty darn frustrated with the way Leclerc, perfectly connected to Ferrari's insiders, past successes and legacy - not to mention the FIA president! - was standing tall and bulletproof atop Ferrari's notorious political mountain. One source talks of Leclerc breaching "several" internal agreements regarding Vettel's status throughout 2019, and always emerging from the murky swamp as clean as a whistle. And once it's over politically for a driver at Ferrari, it's definitely over.
2. Ferrari's ethics
Another few sources claim that Vettel became worried about Ferrari's competitiveness, which was rapidly diminishing at exactly the same rate as rival teams and the FIA were cottoning on to the way Maranello was skating on and beyond the thin grey line between legality and (dare I say it?) cheating. When the Scheisse hit the fan over the engine legality claims, FIA president Todt (senior) was ready with one of the most controversial secret agreements for a Scuderia that he carried on his shoulders to handfuls of world championships just a couple of decades ago. According to the source, Vettel wants none of it.
For what it's worth, that's what the grapevine is whispering. On the record, Seb told one source: "I only discuss things like this with the team." So who knows what's true and what's not and what's in between. But, as I sit in my undies like every other Formula 1 writer, it sure beats talking about budget caps and alternating between replays of old races and Lando Norris' Twitch stream. And whatever Vettel does next, I'm quite sure we all wish this great champion and unforgettable F1 personality all the best for the future.
The opinions expressed are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of F1-Fansite.com, staff or partners.
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