Sebastian Vettel is leaving Ferrari in a decision that has the potential to spark a chain reaction of moves in Formula One.
It was confirmed on Tuesday that Vettel's contract with the Scuderia will not be extended beyond 2020, bringing an end to a six-year relationship .
There is a sense of a mission unfilled from both sides and the main question for Ferrari and Vettel now is "what next?"
Well, below we take a look at some different scenarios involving Renault, McLaren and Mercedes…
One potential replacement for Vettel at Ferrari could be his ex-Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Experienced, super competitive and extremely gifted, the Australian would certainly keep prodigious talent Charles Leclerc on his toes. If the 30-year-old did opt to leave Renault – with whom he endured a disappointing maiden season – then a gap could open up there for Vettel. There is also another possible route for Vettel to end up at the French team…
High on Ferrari's list of priorities is likely to be Carlos Sainz Jr, who finished sixth for a resurgent McLaren in the 2019 drivers' standings. At 25, Sainz has time on his hands but a man of his burgeoning talent is sure to want a competitive drive before long and McLaren is a team still in transition. So, it stands to reason that a move to Ferrari would be tempting, thus leaving a spot open at the Woking-based team.
Would Vettel be content to drive for a team still rebuilding? Certainly, McLaren has the history and the project would be attractive. The other scenario could see Ricciardo move to McLaren, a team he held serious talks with when leaving Red Bull. That would, of course, leave a free seat at…yep, you guessed it, Renault.
The unlikeliest option, and in truth a little bit of a mischievous suggestion, but you could see the appeal of a talented German driving for a dominant German team. This one is massively complicated by the fact world champion and lead driver Lewis Hamilton looks certain to extend his contract, which also ends after 2020. Hamilton is not thought to be a serious option for Ferrari, which appears certain to build around Leclerc.
But in a scenario whereby Renault has an opening could Valtteri Bottas, destined to continue being number two to Hamilton, fancy his chances of being the main man for the French constructor? If so, then would the temptation of a four-time world champion be too much to pass up for Mercedes?
Fans of Vettel and of F1 in general will hope this option does not come to pass but you do have to wonder if it is something now being considered. Vettel came to Ferrari with hopes of emulating compatriot Michael Schumacher but leaves with goals uncompleted. The past 18 months have been a particular frustration, with the mistake count creeping up and the passing of the torch to Leclerc becoming ever more evident. Perhaps Vettel, with his place among F1 greats assured, may decide he has nothing left to prove.
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