Sebastian Vettel’s journey with Ferrari is on its final leg as he will depart Maranello at the end of this season and, in retrospect, it is a tale of so much promise that has not delivered the world championship title he went there for but don’t expect him to take his foot off the gas.
The facts are that Seb is making way for Ferrari’s new ‘little prince’ – Charles Leclerc from Monaco – who will remain as the German departs and Carlos Sainz enters the spotlight of the sport’s most famous racing team.
But long before that we have the matter of the 2020 F1 season and be sure Seb will be looking to go out on a high, as he stares retirement in the face or an alternative on the F1 grid he has yet to share.
For now, the unfinished business starts with the two season-opening doubleheader races at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, and for Seb race weekend cannot come any sooner.
“It’s no secret that we’re all really keen to get back on track,” he said in the team’s Austrian Grand Prix preview. “It’s been such a long time now. At the start, the break was enjoyable, as usually we are always traveling around the world and we have little time to spend with family and friends, but the time has come to get back on track.
“I’m ready to give it my all, even if it won’t be the same without the fans there supporting us. The Austrian track is like a carousel that goes round really quickly but I like it a lot, especially as it is high in the mountains which I love.
“We have to be realistic when it comes to the pecking order seen at the tests, but we are not downhearted. It will also be unusual doing two races in a row here as for the second one we will have a lot of data to work with.
“What we do in the first weekend will have an important effect on the second,” added the 32-year-old who will be starting his 241st grand prix when he lines up on the grid in Austria this Sunday; hunting his 54th F1 victory or at least his 121st podium.
Giving it all to beat him, of course, will be his teammate and heir apparent to the role of Ferrari team leader; 22-year-old Charles proved to be a sim racing sensation during lockdown, playing anything from serious sims to Grand Theft Auto through to Fortnite, while building an impressive following on his social media channels that have documented his online exploits live.
He acknowledged in the team preview, “During the long lockdown I spent time working on my physical training and also doing quite a lot of virtual racing on my simulator, having fun with other drivers and I hope it was also entertaining for those watching from home.”
Charles will no doubt play down the mantle of team leader he is set to inherit starting this weekend but, although he would not mention it, beating the #5 car will be his first priority.
Revealing little, he continued, “Now it’s time to get back in the cockpit of a real car. I like the Spielberg circuit very much, because of all its changes of gradient and its high speeds. It’s nice to be starting again there, even if we won’t be able to see the support of our fans at the track.”
In last year’s race, Charles came off second best in a mighty duel with nemesis Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver winning in the end and is hunting a hat-trick of victories on Red Bull home turf on Sunday.
Ferrari decamped to Mugello last week so that their drivers would become reacquainted with cars and track (non-virtual kind!) which Charles alluded to, “Last week in Mugello, we were able to get into a Formula 1 car again and I have to say it was really enjoyable to be back behind the wheel.”
In the end, both drivers saying very little (officially) about one of the more intriguing episodes that lay in store for fans this season: Seb versus Charles and everything that contest will conjure. Watch this space!