Speculation is swirling ahead of the Miami Grand Prix that Sebastian Vettel is set to call it quits on his illustrious Formula 1 career at the end of this season or maybe even sooner if Aston Martin continues to struggle, who knows?
In other words… The F1 Silly Season has officially begun!
Word doing the rounds on several reputable websites that Fernando Alonso is favoured to replace Sebastian Vettel should the four-time F1 World Champion indeed choose to leave when his contract runs out at the end of this season.
Vettel last won a Grand Prix when he triumphed for Ferrari, in Singapore, back in 2019, his career has been on a downward spiral since then, and before that too, the final nail in his Ferrari days was the arrival of Charles Leclerc and the subsequent humbling the German received from the young Monegasque.
At one point, after being ditched by Ferrari, it seemed Vettel would be out of a drive until Stroll’s grandiose Aston Martin project threw him a lifeline. But last year with a relatively mediocre car and a dreadful one this year, Vettel’s performances and motivation have been in the spotlight.
Speaking to reporters at Imola, Vettel is a driver clearly approaching a crossroad in his career, perhaps a dead-end in this case: “In all honesty, I had an amazing 15 years or so looking back, and I was in a position to you know, win championships, win a lot of races, fight for positions, get a lot of podiums, and obviously, you know, the taste was great.
“It’s not a secret that if you’re not in a position to be there that it’s a different taste. You need to find a different sort of motivation. But yeah, I think ultimately, I’m willing to be tasting the same again. That’s the nature of the sport.
Vettel: For some of the guys it’s a little bit different because they’re still very early in their careers
The 53-time Grand Prix winner said of his younger rivals: “They didn’t have a team or car yet where they were able to show what they can do. So it’s different, clearly a different position but that is, I think, one of the big deciders.
“But, you know, the team is growing, there’s a lot of things it looks very promising. The answer is time will tell. But those will be the key things that I will be looking at to see how promising is it looking in the future?
“And how soon, because obviously, you know, I’m not really old, I think physically I have a lot of years left, it’s not a problem at all. But, yeah, I think that’s ultimately the goal to win and fight for podiums and victories, which currently, we’re far away from.
“But, as I said, there’s plenty of work, so that that’s also very exciting, to know where we are now and to take the little steps and define the path for the future.”
As for the problems afflicting the hopeless Aston Martin AMR22, Vettel said: “The car is not quick, not quick enough, we know that, in comparison to the opposition.
“There’s still a lot of work to do. When it comes to the team and the effort that is going in, I would say the spirit is unbroken. Doesn’t feel great when you come out of the session and you’re not where you think you could have been or where you wanted to be.
“But we know that a lot of stuff is coming and we will see in the next few weeks and months whether it’s going in the in the right direction. As I said, the atmosphere is good. We take it on the chin and try to move forward.”
I feel that it would be wrong to write this season off, absolutely wrong
Despite the situation, Vettel remains upbeat: “There are lots of things that we can still understand and learn and the next weeks and months will be very important to set the direction for this year, but also for learning and knowing what to do in the next three, four years.”
Vettel’s 2022 season got started only in Melbourne after he missed the first two races due to coronavirus which in effect means he is only driving his third race of the season in Miami on Sunday; his rivals have two more races under their belt ith these all new cars.
He continued: “Plenty of things we can still improve and learn, and then in a couple of weeks and months, I think we are in a better place to judge where we really are.
“Because the spirit is good, the team is very willing to be at the front at the minute we’re not it’s not a secret. But lots of work going in.
First Silly season putsch: Alonso to replace Vettel at Aston Martin?
As for his long-term future with the team, Vettel insisted: “As I said, I don’t know. No secrets, it will depend on obviously how this year goes and then take it from there.
“At the minute the focus is on the now and on a mountain ahead of us that we try to climb. We won’t climb it in the day, we won’t climate in the month, but we will choose the path that we climb, which will determine the next three to four years.
“So that’s why I feel it’s really important to focus on that, it takes all the attention. And then, I don’t know, one day there will be a day for all of us where this journey ends and some other journey will start, whatever that might be. I am I’m not sure…” concluded Vettel.
Should indeed 34-year-old Vettel decide to quit, Alonso is said to be Stroll senior’s preferred choice to partner son Lance, which would free up the Spaniard’s seat at Alpine for Oscar Piastri whose minders are lobbying hard for their charge to step up onto the F1 grid.
Some suggest they are behind the ‘hurry up’ to get Vettel out, Alonso replacing him and the young Australian stepping in at Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon; which means the silly season has just been triggered.
While not impossible, Vettel is likely to take the ongoing ‘punishment’ to fulfil his contract and not burn any bridges by quitting mid-season. However, if his heart is not in it anymore, the car is constantly crap, he would be well advised to take a leaf from Niki Lauda’s book and walk out when it stops feeling right.
When that is, only Seb knows. Watch this space.