In 2010, he became the youngest driver ever to become Formula One’s world champion. For the next three seasons, no one could touch him.
When Ferrari dreamt of a driver who would take them out of their long, slow fall, it’s no wonder they dreamt of Sebastian Vettel. That was 2015, and it had already been eight years since Ferrari had won a constructor’s title. Vettel was to be their next Michael Schumacher, bringing back the glory days when the Maranello team was unbeatable.
It worked both ways—for Vettel, it was about emulating his boyhood hero.
It was not to be. Just like his predecessor Fernando Alonso, Vettel’s ambitions too were unfulfilled. With each passing year, he unraveled a bit more. Last season, the German driver looked like a lost soul as his young teammate Charles Leclerc out-performed him in every department.
While murmurs that Vettel would quit Ferrari began doing the rounds of the paddock in the middle of last season, it got louder in the winter break when Ferrari handed Leclerc a five-year contract until 2024; a clear indicator that Ferrari were moving on from Vettel and investing in a young driver. Vettel’s comments after both parties announced their decision to part ways suggest all was not well in the scarlet camp. “The team and I have realised that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of this season,” Vettel said.
What went wrong for the man regarded as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport? It’s a combination of self-implosion and the car not being up to the mark when it mattered. Like two-time Spanish world champion Alonso, who Vettel replaced at Ferrari, was left chasing Vettel’s Red Bull, the German was overshadowed by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Vettel’s first two seasons were spent on optimising the car’s performance. In the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the car seemed ready to challenge for the title again. This time Vettel fell short.
For the first time in his career, he found himself isolated. The Ferrari wasn’t as sleek as the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bulls in which he won four-straight titles between 2010 and 2013. He didn’t have a team principal like Christian Horner to guide him through the tough phases. Ferrari regularly changed team principals from season to season. As the pressure to win grew, it began to affect Vettel’s driving.
In 2017, under new regulations, Ferrari mounted a decent challenge to Mercedes. Vettel won three of the first six races and finished second in another three to lead the championship. But as Mercedes ramped up their efforts, Vettel began to unravel.
The telling sign came at the Azerbaijan GP when Vettel drove into Hamilton behind the safety car. Vettel then made an error at Singapore, forcing him out of the race. It was compounded by technical issues in Malaysia and Japan. Hamilton romped home to the title, winning 7 of the last 15 races while Vettel managed just one win.
In 2018, it was the same story. Ferrari had the quickest car on the grid and Vettel was eight points ahead of Hamilton after 10 races. Then calamity struck. Cruising to victory at his home GP in Germany, Vettel hit the barriers to go out of the race, and saw Hamilton take the win and the championship lead.
The wheels came off Vettel’s challenge in the last eight races. He spun at Monza after colliding with Hamilton, crashed into Max Verstappen at Suzuka, and spun in Austin. Ferrari’s best shot in years was gone, and it was clear that Vettel’s time with them was coming to an end too.
Ferrari to sign Sainz
On Wednesday, Spaniard Carlos Sainz was set to become Charles Leclerc’s teammate at Ferrari next year, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo set to replace him at McLaren.
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