Grazie, Seb: A Post-Mortem on Vettel with Ferrari
This month’s race in Abu Dhabi was more than just the finale of a strangely unfamiliar 2020 Formula One season. It was chock-full of drama and surprises, twists and turns like chicanes on a circuit. We witnessed the emergence of usual midfield teams and drivers as possible near-future contenders, with F1 remaining the Lewis-Hamilton-and-Mercedes show. For a lot of us, it was also the end of an era as we watched Sebastian Vettel drive for Scuderia Ferrari one last time.
Dream come true
Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015 after winning four consecutive world championships from 2010 to 2013 while driving for Red Bull Racing. Many projected him to be the savior the legendary Italian racing team was waiting for. The move to race for The Prancing Horse was also a dream come true for Vettel, who grew up idolizing his German compatriot Michael Schumacher, often considered to be greatest Ferrarista of all time and, quite arguably, of the sport itself.
Post-Schumi, the tifosi (hardcore Ferrari fans) have had their hearts broken year after year. In stark contrast to Ferrari’s dominance in the early 2000s, the last driver to win a title was Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, while the last time the Scuderia took home a constructors’ championship was in 2008. Their never ending misfortunes on the track in recent history have coincided with Mercedes’ absolute dominance of the sport.
After Vettel’s four world titles, the Silver Arrows have won both the constructors’ and drivers’ championships the last seven years. Retired racer Nico Rosberg won the championship in 2016 while Lewis Hamilton, who also won while with then-Mercedes-powered McLaren in 2008, has been king of F1 the rest of the way, ultimately tying Schumacher’s record total of seven world titles just this past season.
Again, Vettel was widely considered to be Ferrari’s savior who would finally bring the team back to the top of the podium but the fact of the matter is his arrival at Maranello was right smack in the middle of a rebuild. Vettel inherited a car inferior to that of Mercedes’, plain and simple. The six seasons he’s had at Ferrari have seen him fall short year after year, partly due to the car’s powertrain and reliability issues but also because Vettel was an impatient, stubborn millennial with immense talent growing frustrated with how his car was limiting the great things he could do behind the wheel. The change in management last year with Mattia Binotto replacing former team principal Maurizio Arrivabene and the arrival of zoomer Charles Leclerc, seen by many as the future of Ferrari, has not helped Vettel’s confidence one bit. It also brought many to conclude a shift of the team’s priority in the younger driver’s favor.
Binotti and Leclerc both joined the oldest and most famous team in Formula One in the same season. It’s not far-fetched for the new team principal to prefer the future of Ferrari over the aging former champ that his predecessor built the team around for so long. We’ve pretty much grown accustomed to all the losses but the last two years have been too much change too fast and too soon and Binotti should take responsibility for what has been an utterly disappointing 2020 season even for our standards.
It was announced earlier this year that Scuderia Ferrari and Vettel would be parting ways at the end of the 2020 campaign. Taking his seat will be Spanish driver Carlos Sainz.
In retrospect, I really feel like Vettel deserved a better goodbye than having to drive a car that absolutely could not compete after wasting his best years with Ferrari. The former champion’s move to Ferrari meant having to drive unreliable, work-in-progress cars at the prime of his career. Before losing Arivabene at the helm, Vettel also helped the team develop a more competitive car, but Binotti’s arrival and the changes that came with it resulted in pretty much an overhaul of a car that was already getting there, as well as of the entire team in general. In 2020, Scuderia Ferrari’s lemon caused them to plummet from perennial bridesmaid to bona fide midfield team with a sixth place finish, its worst in 20 years.
Grazie, Seb, for the many unforgettable moments you gave us while racing in rosso corsa. One hudred and eighteen races. Twelve poles. Fifty-five podiums. And 14 wins.
Witnessing a champion
I never got to watch him finish at the top of a podium in the flesh. For some strange reason, Vettel has had some of the worst luck when I watch races live. He retired in just the first lap of Sepang in 2016 after a collision with Rosberg, and crashed into then-teammate Kimi Raikonen and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in fantastic fashion also in Lap 1 of the 2017 Singapore GP.
The author with former UP Maroons Coach Lito Vergara at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix
But I did get to witness flashes of his brilliance in two other races. He experienced power failure in his car during qualifying of the last Malaysian GP in 2017, started last on the grid, and fought back to finish fourth. The lone podium finish I got to see was Singapore in 2018 where he placed fourth.
Something tells me his racing days are far from over and we’ll be seeing more of #5. The possibility of a fifth championship for Vettel with his new team is something I wouldn’t discount, but maybe that’s just the fan in me talking. Here’s hoping that Vettel finds his new car at Aston Martin next season a lot more comfortable and, fingers crossed, faster than his last one.