Sebastian Vettel: A Look Back At His Topsy-Turvy Time With Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel

Quadruple Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari career ended with the 2020 season. A lot was expected from the German who had won four back to back world championships with Red Bull Racing when he switched to Ferrari in 2015. It was supposed to be a dream combination which didn’t turn out to be a nightmare, but wasn’t really very dreamy either. There were some near misses and some abject disappointments as far as competing for a Formula One title was concerned. At the end of the 2020 season, Ferrari decided against offering Vettel a new contract and chose to replace him with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. alongside Charles LeClerc. However, Team Racing Point (rebranded as Aston Martin now) has signed Vettel up for the 2021 season, replacing Sergio Perez in the process. Sebastian Vettel just visited the Aston Martin F1 team factory for seat fitting and meeting his crew for the first time.

With the dreams of emulating Michael Schumacher and building another dynasty at Ferrari, gone, Sebastian Vettel can only hope for a joyful final phase of his career with Aston Martin. Whether he wins a title with the team or not, he will hopefully be able to enjoy racing again. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights and lowlights of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari career.

Sebastian Vettel: Ferrari Career

2014 – A dream becomes reality

After a long period of speculation after his confirmed departure from Red Bull, Ferrari announced Vettel would replace the McLaren-bound Fernando Alonso from 2015 on an initial three-year deal.

The four-times F1 world champion called it “the dream of a lifetime” as he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his idol Michael Schumacher, who had racked up five world titles in a row during his time at the Scuderia.

After four straight titles with Red Bull between 2010-13, his relationship with the organisation that backed his junior career grew stale, while the emergence of new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo appeared to unsettle his authority within its ranks.

With the V6 hybrid era kicking in, Red Bull struggled to match the performance levels of Mercedes. Vettel made just four podium appearances in 2014 and endured his first winless season in F1 since his debut in 2007.

With Fernando Alonso due for a departure from Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel saw a window to turn his dream into reality. He had already seen a teaser of life being adored by the Tifosi when he claimed a historic first victory for Toro Rosso at the 2008 Italian GP.

“The next stage of my Formula 1 career will be spent with Scuderia Ferrari and for me that means the dream of a lifetime has come true,” Vettel said.

“When I was a kid, Michael Schumacher in the red car was my greatest idol and now it’s an incredible honour to finally get the chance to drive a Ferrari.

“I already got a small taste of what the Ferrari spirit means, when I took my first win at Monza in 2008, with an engine from the Prancing Horse built in Maranello.”

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix – First Ferrari win

Sebastian Vettel succeeded almost immediately with Ferrari. He won his second race for the team at Sepang and gave Ferrari its first win since 2013.

The win breathed new life into Ferrari fandom and the team was expected to halt the domination of Mercedes. Until the summer break, Vettel stayed in title contention but the SF15-T car proved to be less consistent than the Mercedes cars.

As Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton clashed amongst each other, Sebastian Vettel stayed close in the points tally but ultimately proved insufficient to challenge the might of Mercedes.

2016 Bahrain Grand Prix – A sophomore slump begins

After a promising first season, hopes were high at the start of the 2016 season. However, the Ferrari car proved to be far too unreliable while Mercedes stayed at the top of their game. At the Bahrain Grand Prix, almost 12 months on from his first Ferrari triumph, Vettel suffered engine failure on the warm-up lap with thick plumes of smoke escaping from his exhaust which forced him to log the first DNS of his F1 career. The SF16-H continued to struggle throughout the season and Vettel did too.

2016 ended up being winless for Vettel and to rub salt on his wounds, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo beat him in the points table. 

2017 Australian Grand Prix – Back with a bang

Vettel’s third season featured revised regulations and Ferrari were expected to challenge Mercedes’ dominance. Vettel bolted out of the starting blocks with victory in Australia, a feat he repeated in Bahrain and Monaco.

Even when he didn’t win races, Vettel finished strong on the podium in China, Russia and Spain. This put him in the lead for the first time in his career as a Ferrari driver. He lost a major chunk of his lead after a puncture dropped him from fourth to seventh. However, he bounced back strong in Hungary with a win and extended his lead over Hamilton to 24 points heading into the summer break.

2017 Singapore Grand Prix – Crash and burn

When Vettel captured pole position in the SIngapore Grand Prix, most Ferrari fans felt confident about his chances at winning the World Championship. However, the dream scenario turned into a nightmare before Vettel could even reach the first corner.

Vettel, looking to defend his pole position against Verstappen, was unsighted to Raikkonen launching his own attack up the inside, having made a brilliant launch from the second row.

Three into one didn’t go and the trio clashed heavily, putting Raikkonen and Verstappen out of the race on the spot. Vettel tried to push through the wreckage but he spun again because of the damage suffered by his car. It was the first ever Ferrari double DNF on the first lap of a grand prix. Lewis Hamilton went on to win the race and extended his three point championship lead to 28. A disastrous hat-trick of Asia flyaway races were completed for Vettel when technical issues with the car ruined his chances in Malaysia and Japan, allowing Hamilton and Mercedes to pull clear and clinch the title.

2018 Chinese Grand Prix – Momentum breaks

After fading out near the end of the 2017 season, Ferrari started 2018 with a bang and proved to be as good as (if not better than) Mercedes at the start. Vettel drove the SF71H to back to back wins in the opening two races. He suffered a setback in China after colliding with Max Verstappen. However, wins in Canada and Great Britain (bolstered by Hamilton’s retirement) restored the German’s control in the world championship and he headed to his home grand prix at Hockenheim with an eight point lead.

2018 German Grand Prix – Inexplicable Crash

Vettel started from the pole in Hockenheim while Hamilton was languishing at the 14th spot. He drove a masterful race and looked in complete control of the race. However, a little spell of rain started the series of events that eventually drowned Vettel’s championship hopes. With the race firmly in his grasp, Vettel inexplicably went off the track and collided into a barrier. The complete loss of concentration proved to be extremely costly as Lewis Hamilton charged through the field and won the race. The dramatic points turnaround proved to be the turning point of the season.

2018 Italian Grand Prix – Monza mistakes

While Vettel managed second place in the next race at Hungary and won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps, he still trailed Lewis Hamilton by 17 points entering the Italian Grand Prix.

But the pressure began to tell again heading to the Italian Grand Prix, with the adoring Tifosi starving for a Ferrari win since 2010. A qualifying mix-up saw teammate Raikkonen take pole position ahead of a fuming Vettel, who was left exposed to the Mercedes pair directly behind.

Under attack from Hamilton approaching the second chicane on the opening lap, Vettel was sent into a spin and dropped to last. He did manage to recover and finish fourth, Lewis Hamilton managed to pip Raikkonen for the win and extend his lead over Vettel in the championship standings.

After clashes with Verstappen at Suzuka and Ricciardo at Circuit of the Americas, the turnaround was complete and an eight point lead had turned into a 70 point deficit over a nine race span and that was the end of another failure of a campaign.

September 2018 – Arrival of Charles Leclerc

One week after his Monza disappointment, it was confirmed Vettel would have a new teammate from 2019 with the Scuderia picking Charles Leclerc to effectively swap seats with Raikkonen.

The youngster was billed as Vettel’s eventual successor, but the German would remain the team leader for the foreseeable future, as Ferrari broke from tradition of signing established drivers to go for a promising junior from within its ranks.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix – Leclerc upstages Vettel

Despite encouraging signs from pre-season testing, the SF90’s pace didn’t come through in the early rounds of 2019, while Vettel struggled with the handling of a car that proved fundamentally aero-deficient.

In only his second race for Ferrari, Leclerc grabbed pole position – beating Vettel by almost three-tenths of a second – and had looked set to convert it into victory had it not been for a late engine issue. Vettel collided with Hamilton and spun out of a strong finish.

2019 Canadian Grand Prix – Vettel lashes out

In a trouble-free weekend and with pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix, Vettel finally looked his former self after an underwhelming first half of the season. However, he failed to manage the pressure during the race and slipped off the track while trying to keep Hamilton at bay. The ensuing penalty for an unsafe re-entry angered the Ferrari driver as he was rendered helpless while watching the weekend  (one he had dominated) being handed over to Hamilton. 

An infuriated Vettel initially refused to take part in the podium ceremony, then swapped around the #1 and #2 finisher boards as a sign of protest.

2019 Italian Grand Prix – Leclerc wins at Monza

After winning his first ever race for Ferrari at Spa, Leclerc sent the Ferrari fandom into frenzy by winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. 

Vettel on the other hand, struggled throughout the race and finished 13th, one lap behind Leclerc.

Race strategy grumblings in Singapore – where Vettel cruised to a victory – and Russia didn’t ease the tensions building between Vettel and Leclerc, which reached a tipping point later on.

2019 Brazilian Grand Prix – Double retirement

In the closing stages of the Brazilian Grand Prix, with the F1 world title decided two races previously, the underlying tension between Vettel and Leclerc bubbled over when the pair clashed fighting for a podium spot.

Going down Turn 4, the two Ferrari drivers collided with each other and ended up taking each other out of the race. Neither driver was apportioned full blame, but it was clear the issue was allowed to boil over as the experienced hand and young gun partnership gradually deteriorated.

December 2019 – Leclerc signs new deal with Ferrari

Charles Leclerc received an advance Christmas gift from Ferrari in the form of a five year, mega contract, a week before Christmas.

The deal put Vettel’s status at Ferrari under question and while team principal Mattia Binotto said he remained the team’s “number one target” to continue beyond 2020, it became clear that Vettel would only be offered a short-term deal on a reduced pay grade.

February 2020 – Vettel isn’t impressed during testing

After missing the opening day of pre-season testing due to illness, Vettel reaffirmed his position at Ferrari despite a low-key showing by the team in Barcelona.

The German felt confident the SF1000 was a step in the right direction compared to Ferrari’s difficult 2019 car, but conceded the Italian manufacturer was on the back-foot against its front-running rivals.

“If you look at the big teams, then nobody is really trying to do anything fancy,” Vettel said. “Most of the work is done in the background and you don’t really see.

“I’m curious to really see where we are in Australia. But for sure, it’s not like we leave the very strongest impression right now.”

Noises from the team were positive about Vettel’s contract talks, although he indicated that happiness rather than money would be key to his next decision. With the 2020 season being suspended because of the COVID-19 crisis, contact discussions were stopped.

May 2020 – Vettel’s departure from Ferrari is confirmed

During the COVID-19 shutdown of the 2020 F1 season, Ferrari announced that they would be releasing Sebastian Vettel from the team at the end of the 2020 season.

Vettel played down the lower money offer and conditions from Ferrari and hinted at the “real priorities” which he has focused on in recent months, having become a father for the third time in 2019.

“In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony. The team and I have realised that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of this season,” Vettel said.

“Financial matters have played no part in this joint decision. That’s not the way I think when it comes to making certain choices and it never will be.

“What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life.

“I myself will take the time I need to reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future.”

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