By: Ashley McCubbin

There has not been a lap turned during the 2020 season to date, and already the focus is shifting towards 2021 and what is ahead for Formula 1 teams and their drivers.

All the discussion can be thanks to Ferrari making a shocking announcement, in letting Sebastian Vettel go, while bringing in Carlos Sainz to be Charles Leclerc’s teammate next year in the span of two days. The move comes following Sainz spending the past two seasons at McLaren.

“I am very happy that I will be driving for Scuderia Ferrari in 2021 and I’m excited about my future with the team,” said Sainz. “I still have an important year ahead with McLaren Racing and I’m really looking forward to going racing again with them this season.”

The move of youth for Ferrari comes as a surprise, as they have featured a current or previous world champion in their line-up since 2007. However, team principal Mattia Binotto believes in Sainz due to his experience over the past five seasons, talent, and technical ability.

“We’ve embarked on a new cycle with the aim of getting back to the top in Formula 1,” Binotto added. “It will be a long journey, not without its difficulties, especially given the current financial and regulatory situation, which is undergoing a sudden change and will require this challenge to be tackled in a different way to the recent past.

“We believe that a driver pairing with the talent and personality of Charles and Carlos, the youngest in the past fifty years of the Scuderia, will be the best possible combination to help us reach the goals we have set ourselves.”

Sainz’s replacement at McLaren has already been announced as well, with Daniel Riccardo leaving Renault to join the team in a multi-year deal. Riccardo left Red Bull at the end of 2018 to join Renault, where he had spent the past two years. Riccardo’s teammate has been confirmed, as well, with Lando Norris sticking with McLaren for a third season.

McLaren’s move comes after Zak Brown has been re-organizing the team since atking over, bringing in Andreas Seidl as team principal and James Key as Technical Director.

“Signing Daniel is another step forward in our long-term plan and will bring an exciting new dimension to the team, alongside Lando,” Brown said. “This is good news for our team, partners and of course our fans. I also want to pay tribute to Carlos for the excellent job he has been doing for McLaren in helping our performance recovery plan. He is a real team player and we wish him well for his future beyond McLaren.”

So what happens to Vettel?

Ultimately, his departure from Ferrari was a direct result of him and the team unable to come to terms on his new contract in “perfect harmony.” For the record, according to Vettel, it wasn’t about financial matters, either, as he says, “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,” he added. “One needs to use one’s imagination and to adopt a new approach to a situation that has changed. I myself will take the time I need to reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future.

“Scuderia Ferrari occupies a special place in Formula 1 and I hope it gets all the success it deserves. Finally, I want to thank the whole Ferrari family and above all its “tifosi” all around the world, for the support they have given me over the years. My immediate goal is to finish my long stint with Ferrari, in the hope of sharing some more beautiful moments together, to add to all those we have enjoyed so far.”

Arguably, the top two teams currently on the grid right now are Red Bull and Mercedes, leaving those as the big options for Vettel moving forward. However, Max Verstappen has a long future with Red Bull and the friction there could spell bad news. On the flip side, Lewis Hamilton is a shoo-in for an extended stay at Mercedes with his championships, but does that mean Vettel replaces Valtteri Bottas? It would seem unlikely to put two big stars against each other, and Vettel in that position being in the second half of his career.

Therefore, the options are limited and a driver of Vettel’s caliber may not want to “supposedly” step-down into a less caliber ride, unless he wants to help Renault or another organization with their re-growth process. Are we getting ready to see the veteran retire?

The Rest of the Grid

As noted, Hamilton and Mercedes are a marriage matched in heaven. It’s all about small details delaying the inevitable announcement. Meanwhile, Bottas has helped up his end of the bargain with performance so him remaining with the Silver Arrows is very likely. However, outside of Vettel, there are other options for them to consider in promoting junior George Russell, or bringing Esteban Ocon back from Renault. Though it’s worth nothing that Ocon’s current contract goes to the end of next year.

If you’re looking at Mercedes and curious as to how they make decisions, Chief Toto Wolff shed some light recently.

“There is a data side of things,” he said in a video interview released by Mercedes. “You look at race results, back into the junior formulas, you look at comparisons with team mates and how these team mates compared to other people, and then there is the personality side, which is very important. How would the driver fit into the team structure? What would the dynamic be with the driver who could be his team mate? What’s the planning for the future? All these factors are being in a way compounded. We are discussing that in a forum, everyone gives their opinion, and most often everybody in that group has the same opinion anyway.”

Red Bull has secured Max Verstappen’s future, but there is the possibility of the other seat opening up. However if Alexander Albon delivers, then this is a moot conversation.

Renault is also stuck in a bit of a bind, as they hoped Riccardo’s experience would help them in their return to F1 stardom. Now in an unwarranted situation, what do they do? Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso have both expressed interest in returning to the grid – more so Hulkenberg, so both of them could be exactly what Renault needs at a time like this. Otherwise, promoting their test driver Guanyu Zhou may be their only option.

Racing Point / Aston Martin Racing has Sergio Perez under contract, and it’d be strange to see Lance Stroll drive for somebody other than his father’s own team.

Franz Tost at Toro Rosso is very happy with Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly, so it appears that things should lock up their quickly. The only thing that may ruffle feathers is if Red Bull wants to shift things around, which they have done so in the past.

Alfa Romeo better hope when they get back to the track, their performance is strong if they want to keep Kimi Raikkonen on-board, and hopefully Antonio Giovinazzi shows improvement to be retained. However, if Mick Schumacher continues to impress in F2, Ferrari may have a say in the junior replacing one of the current faces.

When it comes down to Haas and Williams, there have been much discussion on the table, considering Haas chief Guenther Steiner stating that setting their line-up for 2021 isn’t a high priority, and Williams is normally the last team to solidify things.

 

Current Confirmed F1 Grid

  • Ferrari – Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz
  • Red Bull – Max Verstappen
  • McLaren – Daniel Riccardo, Lando Norris
  • Renault – Esteban Ocon
  • Aston Martin – Sergio Perez

 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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