Our Formula One correspondent sees a real Ferrari driver conundrum brewing in Maranello as the Scuderia tries to replace its lead driver.
Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel jointly announced the end of their marriage at the end of the 2020 season. This has been on the cards for a while, particularly as Ferrari management tried valiantly to pacify the German throughout the 2019 season, as Charles Leclerc flexed his muscles and regularly outperformed his esteemed team leader. The clash between the two teammates at Brazil last year, leaving both Ferraris strewn in pieces in the kitty litter, must have had Ferrari management finally realise that something (or someone) has to give…
Leclerc is seen by the paddock as the driver of the future to give Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen a run for their money and Ferrari responded by offering him a five-year contract extension. Vettel, on the other hand, has been battling at the negotiation table with management. The media has reported that Seb was offered only a one-year extension at a fraction of his current salary, which he rebuffed. It was clear this wasn’t going to end well.
It has been touted for some weeks that Vettel and Ferrari may part ways and scribes have been venturing their opinion as to who will take the vacated Ferrari seat for next season. Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz have emerged as favourites, while even Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas’s names have been thrown into the pot of potential candidates.
One of four
The realistic options, however, involve four incumbents. The most qualified of those is Ricciardo, a proven race winner, hard worker and good for PR with a winning smile. He has also managed to beat Vettel in a teammate war while at Red Bull, before the German left for Ferrari. Renault are probably scrabbling to try to keep him in a yellow race suit for 2021. Carlos Sainz was a revelation in 2019 and Zak Brown must be well pleased with signing the Spaniard to McLaren. Brown will be loath to let him go and break up a strong, young, vibrant team.
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Antonio Giovinazzi, currently with Alfa Romeo and from the Ferrari young drivers’ program, is also in the mix, but his results don’t justify the jump into the red seat just yet. A left-field choice could be Nico Hulkenberg. The German was a strong team member at Renault, before he was forced to make way for Esteban Ocon this season. He was in Ferrari’s sights a few years back…maybe they will look at him now?
At the time of writing, the rumour mill is predicting that Sainz’s signing will be announced in the next day or two. While this fan admires what Sainz is achieving in F1, this signing may be a mistake if proven true. The team will have two drivers who are relatively “green” with regard to car development, race and championship temperament and the team may have to face another season of drivers squabbling on circuit (where team management in handling such a situation has been dismal at best).
With Sainz and Leclerc, on paper, the team will have drivers with two victories and a handful of podium finishes. The team should be looking for experience, which is where Ricciardo stands head and shoulders above the other candidates. He also has the temperament to deal with a strong teammate.
Should Sainz move to Ferrari, his seat at McLaren will surely be taken by Vettel – who may be attracted to a team with Mercedes engines and a German team principal. Vettel’s price tag may be prohibitively expensive for McLaren, though (they don’t have the heady sponsorship as in their glory days) – maybe Zak Brown had one of his famous breakfast meetings with Mattia Binnotto to discuss the situation?
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