Sebastian Vettel shocked the racing world this morning by announcing his retirement from Formula 1 with immediate effect. Vettel is looking forward to spending more time with his model train collection, a pleasure that his hectic Formula 1 schedule had made all but impossible for the past few years.
Speaking from his Thurgovia, Switzerland home today, Vettel expressed relief that he had finally come to this difficult decision, saying, “It’s such a weight off my shoulders. This whole domination thing… it’s not really me. I prefer to just have fun in my sport. Winning’s really not my main priority.
“It’s been hard for me in Formula 1. Although I come across as a ruthless perfectionist who will do anything to win a race, I’m really a softy at heart. I felt bad for all the other guys every time I beat them in the last four years. They wanted those championships so badly, but I was really just here for the free energy drinks.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was not surprised by Vettel’s decision. He praised the young German’s courage in taking such a selfless step, saying, “Seb’s just such a nice guy. He feels it’s time for Fernando [Alonso] to get that third title he’s wanted for so long, and he knows the only way that’s going to happen is if he [Vettel] isn’t there anymore.
“As for all of us at Red Bull, we fully support Seb’s retirement. Our projections for the 2014 season had us just beating Mercedes and Ferrari at the last race, but with Seb gone, it looks like we’re out of the fight now. It’s only fair, really. We’ve had enough success.”
Horner also suggested that Vettel may have patched up his relationship with Mark Webber, Vettel’s former team-mate at Red Bull. Webber confirmed the good news, describing the plans he and Vettel have for the future:
“Seb’s such a great guy. We had our problems in the past, but it was all because I didn’t understand Seb’s motivation. He didn’t want to beat me so comprehensively. All he really wanted was to make sure he earned as many free Red Bull drinks as possible. I didn’t know he got a crate for every lap he led for Red Bull. If I’d had that in my contract, I’d have driven a whole lot faster.
“Now that he’s decided to hang up his helmet, we’re going to spend some time together with our model trains. Between us, we’ve got a big enough collection to cover the Monte Carlo street circuit. We’re hoping to put it on show for this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, assuming Bernie [Ecclestone] will allow it.”
Ecclestone was not available for comment. He was too busy listening to the sound of V8 engines with a vacant grin on his face to answer questions about Formula 1.
Kimi Raikkonen will not be moving to Red Bull at the end of this season, Turun Sanomat reported today. For some months, Raikkonen has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Mark Webber, after the Australian announced he will be leaving Formula One at the end of the 2013 season. But this report confirms that Raikkonen is out of the running for the second Red Bull seat.
Raikkonen’s manager, Steve Robertson, told Tarun Sanomat, “The negotiations with Red Bull were not successful and ended some time ago.”
Robertson did not, however, provide any further indication of Raikkonen’s plans for 2014. His contract with Lotus expires at the end of 2013, but Lotus team principal Eric Boullier has made no secret of the fact that he is making every attempt to retain Raikkonen’s services past the end of the season.
It seems likely that Raikkonen will remain with Lotus. The 2013 car is competitive – Raikkonen is currently second in the Drivers’ Championship – and Raikkonen is by all accounts very happy in the team, where he enjoys a relaxed atmosphere and a fair amount of freedom to do as he pleases as long as he delivers on the track.
With Red Bull out of the picture, Raikkonen’s only remaining alternative to Lotus is Ferrari, the team with which he won the 2007 World Championship, but also the team that effectively kicked him out when Fernando Alonso came knocking at the door at the end of 2009. Ferrari would no doubt be able to offer Raikkonen a very tempting salary and a competitive car.
From the viewers’ point of view, the prospect of Raikkonen partnering Alonso at Ferrari is extremely appealing. They are regarded as two of the top drivers in Formula One at present, perhaps ever, and would (assuming Nico Rosberg does not win the 2013 title) make up the only driver line-up consisting exclusively of World Champions next season.
For Red Bull, it now appears that their 2014 driver line-up has been decided for them. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted some time ago that only two drivers were in contention for the second Red Bull race seat – Raikkonen and Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo. The way now seems clear for Ricciardo to be announced as Sebastian Vettel’s team-mate for 2014. That announcement could come as soon as this weekend, when Formula One returns to action in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.
2013 is Fernando Alonso’s fourth season with Ferrari. He joined the famous Italian team for the 2010 season, replacing 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, and it looked like titles would inevitably follow without too much delay.
But that has not happened. Alonso has now finished second twice (2010 ad 2012) and fourth once in the World Championship for Ferrari, but has not managed to triumph over Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel. Alonso’s last title came with Renault in 2006, which will make this his seventh consecutive season as a runner-up or worse since last taking the crown, assuming he does not win the 2013 title. Alonso is not happy that his Ferrari is off the pace of the front-running Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus cars, and it is only logical that his patience should be wearing thin after a number of seasons spent playing catch-up to Red Bull.
Rumours surfaced over the weekend that Alonso could find a way out of his Ferrari contract and switch to World Champions Red Bull. Alonso’s manager, Luis Garcia Abad, was seen talking to Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, and that has fueled the rumours that Alonso is negotiating a contract with Red Bull.
There has long been speculation that Sebastian Vettel might end up partnering Fernando Alonso at Ferrari. But now it looks like there is a real possibility of that same driver pairing at Red Bull. There is certainly a seat available at Red Bull. Mark Webber’s announcement that he is leaving Formula One to compete in the World Endurance Championship has ensured that Red Bull must employ someone to take his place in 2014. Alonso is arguably the strongest candidate for the seat, assuming he can find a way out of his Ferrari contract.
Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali does not seem too worried about the rumours. As far as he’s concerned, Alonso is contracted to Ferrari until the end of 2016. He said, “No, first of all we have a contract with him and for sure everyone knows about it. Fernando is an asset for the team and we need him to work very closely with everyone at this difficult moment of the season.”
But no contract in Formula One is ever entirely watertight. There are often performance clauses, particularly in the case of top drivers like Alonso, that allow for early termination in the case of the team not providing competitive enough machinery. And even if those clauses don’t exist, anything is possible when enough money changes hands. Alonso’s own arrival at Ferrari was dependent on Kimi Raikkonen terminating his Ferrari contract early, which the Finn duly did when Ferrari paid him out.
The prospect of Alonso and Vettel in the same team is mouth-watering. It would be reminiscent of Alonso and Hamilton at McLaren in 2007, or even perhaps Senna and Prost at McLaren in the late 1980s. But it could also be a big mistake for Alonso to head to Red Bull.
Consider the example of Michael Schumacher. He joined the 2009 World Champion team, Brawn (which became Mercedes), for the 2010 season, expecting to be fighting for victories and the World Championship. But Schumacher’s comeback – in which he did not win a single race in three seasons – is a stark reminder that the past is not an accurate predictor of the future.
Red Bull may have won the last three Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, and are probably on course to make it four in a row this season, but that does not guarantee they will be competitive at all in 2014. The technical regulations have been very stable over the past few seasons, which has helped Red Bull to extend their run of form for a few years, but next year’s regulations are quite different.
The new engine regulations, which require the use of 1.6 litre V6 turbocharged engines, added to various changes in the regulations covering the bodywork and exhaust positioning, mark the most significant change in Formula One regulations since sweeping changes were made in advance of the 2009 season.
2009 saw a massive shake-up in the field as a result of the regulation changes, and there is every possibility that a similar shake-up will occur in 2014. If Alonso is expecting to walk in to Red Bull and challenge for the championship, he may be just as mistaken as Schumacher was when he thought he would challenge for the title with Mercedes.
At this stage, the idea of Alonso heading to Red Bull is simply a rumour. Red Bull’s Christian Horner has refused to deny that he is talking to Alonso’s management, but no-one has categorically confirmed anything at this point. However, in Formula One rumours so very often turn out to be true, as was the case with Schumacher’s comeback in 2010 and Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes at the start of 2013. As they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. In the case of Alonso and Red Bull, the extent of the fire is not yet clear.
Yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix delivered some controversy, at least within the Red Bull team. Against team orders, Sebastian Vettel passed Mark Webber – banging wheels with his team-mate along the way – and went on to win the race. Webber was understandably furious afterwards, as was Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Vettel has been roundly criticised in the media, with some going as far as to question his morals. I don’t see how disobeying a team order has much to do with morality, but I do understand what drove Sebastian Vettel to risk the internal harmony of his team in pursuit of victory.
Vettel is a champion. That’s not referring to his achievements, but rather to his approach to everything he does. He wins. All the time. His preparation is meticulous, his attention to detail reminiscent of Michael Schumacher at his peak, and his performance on the track is almost always flawless. Vettel is capable only of domination. He knows no other way.
So when his team principal tells him not to win, as happened yesterday in Malaysia, there is no chance he will obey that instruction. He knows perfectly well how important his victory at Sepang could prove to be in the greater scheme of this year’s championship. Although it is too early in the season to know who will challenge for the title, every result counts. A victory is not more or less important depending on when it occurs during the season or whether or not the team management supported it.
The 2013 Red Bull RB9 could well prove to be the fastest car in the field. If that is the case, then Vettel’s main rival for the championship will be his own team-mate. Looking at yesterday’s drama from that perspective, Webber showed a major chink in his armour – he thought that Vettel, easily the dominant driver of his generation, would stop wanting to win just because his team said he should. Webber let his guard down, and Vettel took the advantage that was presented to him.
It doesn’t matter to Vettel that his team told him to finish second. He broke no rules of Formula One. His points cannot be taken away; the victory is valid. If the team doesn’t like the situation, they are certainly not going to fire him – he’s won the title three years running, what kind of fool team boss would kick him out? If anyone leaves, it will be Webber, and that will be to his own detriment.
Vettel’s actions may be unpopular, but they show a ruthlessness that could very well take this remarkable 25-year old German to a fourth consecutive World Championship this season, and perhaps on to just about every record in the sport by the end of his career. Vettel is not in Formula One to be liked. He is there to win. And in the words of Ayrton Senna, perhaps the greatest of all Formula One drivers, “Nice men don’t win.”