Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari career and future
Assessing Sebastian Vettel's time at Ferrari, with particular emphasis on why a 5th world title has proved too elusive for the German. It will conclude by looking to what he can achieve in 2021 with Aston Martin.
The failed Ferrari dream
When Sebastian Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015 he had the ambition of becoming a 5-time F1 World Champion at the Scuderia to match the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio. As the German cut his teeth in karting, he was heavily influenced by Michael Schumacher and the success that he enjoyed with the Italian outfit in the early 2000’s and so Vettel jumped at the opportunity to join Ferrari when the Red Bull era of Formula One came to an end in 2014, and Fernando Alonso voluntarily left the team.
Sebastian Vettel dominated Formula One from 2010-2013 and so there was no reason to believe that he could not repeat this success again at the most famous team on the grid. He had two real opportunities to become a champion again: 2017 and 2018, but he failed on both occasions.
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After two seasons of re-building the team, Vettel and Ferrari mounted a championship challenge to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. He traded places at the top of the standings throughout the season with Hamilton. However, he fell short and concluded the season with 5 victories, 4 poles and 13 podiums in total but found himself 46 points adrift of Hamilton who sealed the title in Mexico.
2017 was the first season that Vettel was provided with the machinery from Ferrari to realise his childhood dream and emulate the success of his hero, Michael Schumacher. Perhaps the weight of expectation from both the team and himself proved to be too much for him, as he made some controversial mistakes. The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a huge turning point in the season. It demonstrated not only to Lewis Hamilton but to the world that when under pressure, he has a tendency to make impulsive decisions. During this particular race while under the safety car, Vettel became very agitated by the fact that he believed Hamilton had been brake-testing him. In response, he pulled alongside and banged wheels with the Briton. Vettel was subsequently awarded a 10-second stop/go penalty for what was deemed to be dangerous driving. There was more questionable driving in the second half of the season. After starting on pole at Singapore Grand Prix, he aggressively moved over to Max Verstappen, who had a fast-starting Kimi Raikkonen to contend with on his inside. This resulted in the trio colliding with each other and all being forced to retire. More problems followed for Vettel, but this time it was after the Grand Prix in Malaysia. On the cool-down lap, he collided with Lance Stroll. He also had contact with Hamilton at the Mexican Grand Prix. Alongside reliability problems, these errors proved too costly to Vettel to recover. It seemed that Sebastian was trying too hard at times for the Scuderia. With this being said, it was Vettel alone who was steering the ship for Ferrari's assault on the championship. Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was the clear number two driver in the team as he was never a match for the pace of Vettel.
Vettel started the season very strongly, with back-to-back victories in Australia and Bahrain. However, mistakes again began to creep in, starting in Azerbaijan. During the safety car restart, he made a dive up the inside on Valtteri Bottas for the lead. However, he braked too late, causing a massive lock-up. A potential victory was lost and he eventually finished P4. He again lost an almost certain victory at the German Grand Prix, when he locked up at the hairpin and had no option but to hit the wall. In the second-half of the season, he caused a number of unneccessary collisions with his rivals. At start of the Italian Grand Prix, he collided with Lewis Hamilton which dropped him right to the back of the grid when the car was capable of winning the race. While in Japan, he made contact with Max Verstappen which caused him to spin again. In the USA, he spun after coming together with Daniel Ricciardo. These errors left Vettel a distant 2nd in the Championship Standings, with an 88 point deficit Hamilton when the season concluded in Abu Dhabi.
Prior to joining Ferrari, Vettel had always been a Red Bull supported driver in Formula One. Red Bull is typically known as a team for having a more laid-back atmosphere to others teams, which Vettel had become very well accustomed to. The inevitable pressure at Ferrari seemed to unsettle him, and which must have influenced his mistakes. Errors were few and far between during his time at Red Bull, but he did have the luxury of having a very dominant car that he could lead from the front at the majority of Grand Prix. Arguably, the success that he enjoyed at Red Bull meant that the flaws in his character were largely hidden, but not completely. He did at times create unnecessary problems for the team. For example, there was the infamous 2010 Turkish Grand Prix collision with Mark Webber, which took out both Red Bull cars and cost them a 1-2 finish. In the seasons where Ferrari were not championship contenders, Vettel has exacerbated problems for the team. This was particularly prominent in the 2019 season, when he was joined by rising star Charles Leclerc. The pair collided at the Brazilian Grand Prix, with the blame being apportioned to Vettel for moving towards Leclerc on the straight. While he failed to follow team orders at the Russian Grand Prix.
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Despite his flaws and failure to capture a title with Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel’s talent and ability behind the wheel of a Formula One car is without question. His statistics speak for themselves: 4 world championships, 53 wins, 57 poles and 120 podiums. While the majority of these numbers were accumulated at Red Bull, he demonstrated his magic during a number of races for Ferrari. It just seemed that the atmosphere at Ferrari and the personality of Vettel just did not gel for them to become champions together. However, let's not forget that Fernando Alonso was also unable to win the World Championship with the Scuderia.
Sebastian Vettel surely does not regret making the jump to Ferrari, but now is definitely the right time for both parties to go their respective ways. Looking forward to 2021, we may see the Vettel of old return at Aston Martin. He will be away from the spotlight of the Italian media, and will be given a lot more freedom by Lawrence Stroll. He will undoubtedly enter the team as their No.1, and so he can direct the car development more towards his driving style. Crucially, at Aston Martin, the team will have faith in him. This is what Vettel needs, as he has been lacking confidence for some time now at Ferrari, when all eyes turned towards Charles Leclerc. At 33, Sebastian still has a lot left to give F1, but the whether he is able to turn back the clock to achieve success similar to his glory days at Red Bull when he was in the prime of his career remains to be seen.