Sebastian Vettel hasn’t had the best of seasons the last couple of years. The four-time Formula 1 champion hasn’t tasted championship success since 2013, and his tenure at Ferrari is not delivering the desired results.
Vettel’s F1 career began in 2007 when he, then as a BMW-Sauber reserve driver, made the step up to race in that year’s American GP. On his first outing in Free Practice 1, he got a fine for speeding in the pit lane. In the race, he finished in eighth place and scored one championship point in the process.
For the remainder of the 2007 season, Vettel worked with race engineer, Andreas Seidl. The relationship and friendship blossomed, but at the end of 2007, Vettel moved to Toro Rosso, where, in September 2008, at a very wet Italian GP, he took his first F1 career victory.
Seidl remained with BMW until the end of 2009, and returned to F1 in May 2019 when the McLaren F1 team appointed him as new team manager.
When Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015, everyone believed that the new relationship would bring similar success as the (Michael) Schumacher-Ferrari era. Unfortunately, now its sixth season, the partnership brought no success.
In 2017, Vettel came close to beating Lewis Hamilton to the championship, but a slew of errors and poor strategic calls on Ferrari’s part saw the dream evaporate.
To make matters worse, Vettel's Ferrari contract is running its course at the end of 2020. Ferrari made their intent for retaining his services going into 2021 known, but a host of drivers are knocking on the door to replace the German at the fabled Italian team. Including Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton. Before the coronavirus tossed the 2020 season into turmoil, Ferrari gave Vettel until the Spanish GP in May - six races, basically - to prove that his services must be retained.
But against the new kid on the block, Charles Leclerc, Vettel failed to impress in 2019, which is fair to assume that 2020 would have been another challenging year against his younger - and faster! - team mate.
What’s the meaning of it all?
In July, Vettel will be turning 33-years-old. Though he still has speed and plenty of race craft, Ferrari’s patience with him is slowly running dry. To maintain his credibility as a reckoned driver, Vettel needs a change of scenery that could, possibly, give his F1 career new life.
But where can he go? Hmm, maybe McLaren?
With Seidl running the McLaren team, acquiring Vettel’s services for the all-important 2021 season has to rank up there. Vettel is a proven racer, and his feedback on a car’s development has been lauded by both Red Bull Racing (2009 - 2014) and Ferrari. If Vettel does move to McLaren, it puts the team’s current drivers, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris, in a precarious position.
Both drivers are hot properties and, with their skill, pulled McLaren out of the doldrums to a fourth-place finish in last year’s championship.
But is McLaren competitive?
When Honda returned in 2015 to become McLaren’s engine partner, the venture was an absolute nightmare. In 2018, McLaren became a Renault engine customer and, since then, only went from strength to strength, which resulted in last year’s solid result.
Next year, McLaren will become Mercedes engine customers again. The Mercedes engine is perhaps the strongest in F1 today and should gell well with McLaren’s on-par racing car. On the face of it, McLaren should return to a podium-fighting position - maybe even for race wins - which should be a deciding factor if Vettel should make the move.
It’s been more than a decade since McLaren has been competitive in F1, but this year and next should see the team return to its former glory years. If they have to wait until 2021 to win again, Seidl and co. would want a high-profile driver to head up the team. Perhaps someone like Vettel. And who knows, maybe Vettel can write one more championship behind his name before he retires.