It was recently confirmed that Sebastian Vettel will continue to race in Formula 1 in 2021 with Racing Point when they get re-branded and become the Aston Martin F1 Team. With the announcement has come a lot of questions and doubts but there are also some big opportunities.
The last few seasons at Ferrari have been tough for Vettel who has endured a difficult time at the Italian team. It started promisingly in 2015 with three victories and third in the championship before the team struggled in 2016. It was really the two following seasons of 2017 and 2018 that Ferrari and Vettel were finally in a position to challenge for the championship. Unfortunately due to both errors on the driver and team side ultimately the two fell short, finishing runner-up both times.
A lot has been made of Vettel’s seemingly ‘unforced’ errors at Ferrari which began really at the 2018 German Grand Prix when he crashed out of the lead of the race. He had further incidents during the rest of that season notably at Italy, Japan and in the United States. It continued once again in 2019 where Vettel spun out of contention of victory in Bahrain, crashed into the back of Max Verstappen at the British Grand Prix and spun on his own in the Italian Grand Prix. There have been further moments in 2020 such as at the start of the second race at Silverstone.Embed from Getty Images
Vettel’s reputation has taken a further hit in the last two seasons with the arrival of Charles Leclerc at the team. The Monegasque driver has managed to settle in at Maranello quickly to challenge and ultimately beat his teammate in both qualifying and in the races throughout a season. This along with Vettel’s record against Daniel Ricciardo in their sole season together in 2014 at Red Bull hasn’t helped the German’s reputation within the sport.
Yet despite Vettel’s difficulties during his time at Ferrari it shouldn’t completely cloud some impressive drives, such as being forced into one stopping at the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix, where he held off Valtteri Bottas to win. He also executed a solid strategy in the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix, jumping his teammate in the pit stops to take victory. There are some that also rate his drive at this season’s Spanish Grand Prix where he secured solid points in spite of Ferrari nearly fumbling the strategy by not confirming whether Vettel needed to push or preserve the life in the tyres.Embed from Getty Images
Some of the points mentioned above have raised doubts about Vettel’s ability to succeed in Formula 1’s ultra competitive and tough midfield. But I believe there are a few factors that will hopefully help the team get the best out of Vettel. The first being the environment within Aston Martin which should have a positive impact on Vettel’s performances on track. In part because there will be key individuals within the team who actually want the German there as well as it being less political than at Maranello.
That couldn’t be said of his time at Ferrari with it being believed that the individuals who brought the German to the Italian team quickly found themselves leaving with their replacements less keen on Vettel, but ultimately stuck with him until they could find an adequate replacement. Once that replacement materialised in the form of Leclerc during 2019 it is clear that Ferrari to a certain extent prioritised building its future around the Monegasque driver rather than Vettel. Hints of this can be seen in the different contract negotiations between the two Ferrari drivers with it being announced early on that Leclerc had signed a long term deal, while Vettel appears to have not been offered an extension at any point despite Ferrari press releases stating otherwise earlier in the year.Embed from Getty Images
There should also be less pressure put on Vettel at Aston Martin where the team has during its various guises been about grabbing the opportunistic pole position, podium and victory when it presents itself. This I feel is aided by the team less looking for Vettel to bring victories and championships, but more to help it put the necessary processes in place to grow into a race winning and championship challenging team.
By contrast at Ferrari Vettel was very much the latest driver tasked to win a first Drivers’ title since 2007 and a first Constructors’ title since 2008 with the team. Added to this is the expectation, to a point rightly, for Ferrari to be challenging regularly for championships regardless of the competitiveness of the car or the dynamics within the team.
There is also the factor that the Silverstone based Racing Point team have historically made very competitive cars on limited resources. They have also been able to execute race strategies that have helped them secure unlikely big results. This is in contrast to a Ferrari team that has at times produced uncompetitive cars such as in 2013, 2014, 2016 and recently in 2020 on top of struggling on occasions to execute race strategies effectively.Embed from Getty Images
With less pressure, a team that really wants to utilise Vettel’s experience and talent and is an outfit believed to have consistently ‘punched above its weight’ over the seasons, Vettel is well placed to rebuild and improve his reputation within the sport. Potentially the German’s performances with the team could contribute to his renaissance in a similar way that Fernando Alonso’s performances with McLaren, during 2015 to 2018, bolstered the reputation of the Spaniard being an all-round great of his generation.
Time will ultimately tell whether Vettel’s stint at Aston Martin is a success or not. There is plenty to be optimistic and excited about with the potential of seeing a legendary car brand finally make its mark in Formula 1. Simultaneously the sport could see a four time Formula 1 World Champion remind those watching of why he is just that, a four time champion, and why he deserves the same sort of praise that is lavished on the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.