In many ways it was one of this year’s worst-kept secrets in Formula 1, but then it all blew up rather quickly as Sebastian Vettel was confirmed as joining Aston Martin next year.
Sergio Perez made clear he was not happy to be leaving, and that it had not been his decision, but still acted gracefully as he announced his departure from the team currently known as Racing Point. But then came the Vettel news this morning, and his own chance to face the media later on Thursday in Tuscany.
Firstly, it was a delicious piece of guerrilla marketing that you could see coming. Vettel announcing his switch on Thursday morning meant a race weekend that is supposed to be a celebration of Ferrari’s history in F1 – 1000 races, according to the team – at a venue that Ferrari owns. Instead, questions about the Scuderia’s legacy and the Mugello circuit were largely pushed aside for a four-time world champion’s next move.
But aside from getting to stick two fingers up at Ferrari after being told by the team his services were no longer required (in a way about as gracious as Perez is experiencing now), why does Aston Martin appeal to Vettel? In part, it’s something that is very similar to Ferrari. It’s the history. The brand. The name.
And then it’s also a team that is on the up, showing impressive performance this year and receiving fresh investment to grow even further.
“Obviously I’m still at Ferrari and we have a big weekend ahead of us, and still I want to make sure I can do the best job I can for the team, but it’s those things you mentioned that I’m very interested in and looking forward to,” Vettel says.
“Time will tell. I have a good feeling, I’ve known some people there for a long time, and as I said previously, the way the team is going is a very positive trend. The results this year have been encouraging, and with where F1 is planning to go in the next years, it could be something really exciting. The comeback of Aston Martin to Formula 1 is probably one of the most exciting things to happen, and it’s great to be part of that”
With a budget cap coming into effect next year – before new regulations in 2022 – Vettel is also expecting to see Aston Martin able to compete at the front longer-term, rather than just benefiting from the largely frozen rules next season.
“It is a very exciting challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” he says. I obviously want to race at the front of the grid and not at the back of it; I think the team is giving me that chance. I think the team is ready to grow, happy to do it together.
“Next year… will be the first year with a budget cap. We will see how it works and pans out. The team is already in a much better place than in the past. It’s a team that is growing; other teams have to go down in size, looking at big teams, so there’s lots of things that make me quite confident and happy. It is a good step, it’s an exciting project and I’m sure we will fight for some good results in the near future, and then in the future after that we will see.
“There’s a lot of potential growth, and that’s always exciting. For me there’s two things; due diligence, in terms of the numbers where the team is, where it might go, obviously I know some of the people – I have known Otmar (Szafnauer) more than 10 years – of course you ask certain questions; I’m very pleased with that.
“The second key factor for me has been answering to myself the question of what I want to do and want to get out of myself in a potential future in F1. Once those things were clear, the performance side was ticked fairly quickly and a lot of thinking on my side in terms of what I want to get at again – once those things were clear, it was clear what to do.”
In fact, all of that comes together to create the very real possibility that Vettel will be in a quicker car next year than he is currently, and perhaps beyond 2021, too. But the German insists that is not something that factored into the move.
“I’m looking forward to the change because I believe we can do well,” he says. “I think it is irrelevant where other teams will be. It’s mostly like always in life; looking after yourselves and trying to control what you can, and the rest we shall see.
“I believe the team has huge potential. There’s some clever people on board, I’m looking forward to helping and show those qualities are there and demonstrating that with results. Obviously it’s always great if you have great results straight away, but everything is a bit [difficult] the first time, so I’m looking forward to obviously helping make that growth possible and enjoying the work there is ahead.”
In hearing Vettel talk, it was clear why he is so motivated to join Aston Martin, far beyond just staying in F1. This is a chance of a fresh start, an exciting new era for a team that is going to bring an iconic name back to F1 and with new backing. After all, even though Aston Martin might not quite have the same potential, but the last team to do that was Mercedes…