Charles Leclerc’s emergence as a genuine superstar may well explode Lewis Hamilton’s Ferrari dream as Sebastian Vettel heads for an inevitable end… now what comes next for four-time world champion?
- It appears that Sebastian Vettel’s career at Ferrari is winding down to a halt
- At the Russian Grand Prix, Ferrari made a pre-race deal that would see Vettel concede his place to Charles Leclerc if he overtook him at first corner by using his slipstream
- However, the four-time world champion refused multiple team orders in the race
- The confusion saw Lewis Hamilton take his ninth win of the Formula One season
- I’ve always believed that Hamilton could harbour dreams to drive for Ferrari
I asked Sebastian Vettel after the Russian Grand Prix whether on a day as humbling for him as this, when the team stripped him of his dignity and he rebelled against them, he thought of chucking it all in.
‘No,’ he said, before side-tracking his answer in another direction.
It was not the most committed of responses but there was some truth in it. He had just shown in the race that he was unwilling to roll over and simply hand over the leadership of the team to a cool cucumber called Charles Leclerc.
Sebastian Vettel could be running towards the exit door at Ferrari after the weekend’s events
Vettel and his team-mate Charles Leclerc were embroiled in mid-race disagreement in Russia
Ferrari had a plan for Leclerc to have the No 1 strategy, but Vettel disobeyed his team
There is a stubborn streak in Vettel – naturally enough for a four-time world champion – and that was evident as he apparently broke a pre-race agreement to let his team-mate pass if he overtook him by dint of a tow off the start.
He refused three instructions to comply with the pact. This was him saying, albeit unavailingly, that he was not willing to be dethroned.
There is something heroic as well as desperate in his defiance. But I fear it is too late for him to be banging his drum and stamping his feet. Vettel’s Ferrari career looks as if it is inevitably coming to an end and my hope is that the conclusion is mercifully fast.
It is always sad to witness the demise of a fine sportsman. I feel this more so with Vettel because I have known him and liked him since before his Formula One debut. That is now a long while ago. He is only 32 but he started so young that he is in his 12th season.
It is hard to know quite what has gone wrong. His reactions may have slowed. His desire may have dimmed. His commitment may have waned. Certainly, his confidence has dipped so far that he has at times struggled to drive in a straight line.
Vettel thought he was the faster driver, so wanted to stay out ahead, in front of the pack
Leclerc was clearly frustrated, talking with his team over the radio during the race
Whatever is at the route of his demise, he is no match for Leclerc, who by the way comes much cheaper than their £36million ‘luxury’.
Leclerc’s better current form and the prospect of a golden future are the reasons Ferrari are already backing the 21-year-old, as we saw last Sunday. Why else, in all truth, but out of bias to Leclerc would they not let their two drivers race and instead cook up an agreement that would inevitably penalise Vettel?
The German realises he is being conspired against. The die has been cast and he must get out for his own sake rather than condemn himself to be a prisoner in red for another season.
Ferrari must hope he chooses to go at the end of the season – or be left with little option to push him. Otherwise the poison in the team will hang around like a KGB sting in Salisbury.
The Scuderia have regularly been ruthless before. They even ushered away Michael Schumacher, the team’s unparalleled hero, in 2006. He was still fighting for the title that year, losing out only on in the final race to Fernando Alonso, but still the axe came.
Vettel realises he is being conspired against with Ferrari planning their future with Leclerc
Michael Schumacher was ushered out of Ferrari in 2006 despite his era of success with them
Is there a future for Vettel in Formula One beyond Ferrari?
Mercedes have been keeping an eye on him for a while. But why would they now want someone who would be a Ferrari cast-off?
His old team, Red Bull, has been mooted. Perhaps so, but I can’t see it. I can see sentimental reasons why – he is their most successful driver ever – but they would prefer to look to the future, ideally with Max Verstappen, than turn back the clock to an era that has been supplanted.
What does this all mean for Lewis Hamilton? I have never wavered in my view that the world champion has always harboured a desire for a final fling at Ferrari, providing the perfect coda to a great – perhaps the greatest – Formula One career.
I now think that Leclerc’s emergence as a genuine superstar of tomorrow may well explode Hamilton’s Ferrari dream as certainly as it is Vettel’s.
I have always believed that Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton (right) would love to drive for Ferrari
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