Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari announcing their decision to part ways after the 2020 Formula 1 season made sense for both sides.
Both the 32-year-old German and the Italian team announced earlier this week that they could not come to terms on a new contract, freeing up the seat alongside Charles Leclerc for next year. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. has since been confirmed as Vettel’s replacement, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo set to replace Sainz.
But with all things considered, there isn’t a soul in the world of Formula 1 who didn’t see this coming, despite earlier talks of Vettel being Ferrari’s number one choice to pair with the 22-year-old Monegasque for another year next year.
It would have been just a one-year extension, and Vettel has been accustomed to three-year deals throughout his Formula 1 career, which he publicly made note of before reports of these talks emerged. The most recent extension he signed back in August of 2017 was a three-year extension.
Additionally, it would have required him to take a massive pay cut; he is currently the second highest paid driver in Formula 1.
On paper, for Vettel to have continued at Ferrari past the 2020 Formula 1 season on his own terms, he would have needed a 2020 season practically free from unforced errors, particularly from run-ins with teammate Charles Leclerc.
In other words, he would have needed the exact opposite of his 2019 season, one that got so bad that he was nearly suspended for a race.
After two consecutive seasons and the better part of a 2017 season in which he struggled with consistency and bringing home the results his car was capable of, this would have been a huge test for Vettel.
In fact, if you do the math from top to bottom, the points he threw away and that Lewis Hamilton gained as a result of completely unforced errors in 2017 and 2018 caused him to lose both world championships to his Mercedes rival.
Vettel, not Hamilton, would be the six-time world champion in the active field.
But as a four-time champion, he was — and still is — fully capable of bouncing back in 2020. As noted, Ferrari had even stated that they wanted to have him back with the team in 2021. They were willing to bring him back even without seeing him perform in 2020.
On their terms, that is.
Leclerc is under contract with Ferrari through the 2024 season. By becoming the first driver to beat Vettel head to head in the driver standings since Vettel arrived at Ferrari in 2015 and by consistently beating him in qualifying and winning more races, Leclerc proved that he is Ferrari’s number one driver, and above all, their number one priority for the long-term future.
After their 2019 season went awry rather quickly, Ferrari couldn’t afford not to realize this — even before the 2020 season. And by offering Vettel the deal they offered him, they clearly did.
But perhaps even more so, Vettel couldn’t afford not to realize this, even though he knows what he is capable of when he is firing on all cylinders.
And by turning down a deal, likely with the best team that will offer him, that effectively would have secured his role as the team’s number two driver, he clearly did, and he, like Ferrari, decided that it was time to move on.
It is unknown where, if anywhere, Sebastian Vettel will end up next year when he is an ex-Ferrari driver. But whether he ends up continuing in Formula 1 with a top team such as Mercedes or Red Bull Racing, competing for a mid-pack team such as Renault or Alfa Romeo Racing or leaves the sport altogether, this was the right decision for both parties.