We’ve been waiting four months to finally get an official announcement of where we might see former four-time World Drivers’ Champion Sebastian Vettel land for the 2021 Formula One season. While I secretly hoped he would retire, or pull a Nigel Mansell and move to IndyCar, on Thursday it was announced that he would continue in F1 with Aston Martin Racing, the re-branded Racing Point.
On Wednesday night Racing Point announced that it would be ending its relationship with driver Sergio Perez. This wasn’t an unexpected move, and was perhaps the worst kept secret in sport this year. Signing Vettel was simply going through the motions that everyone kind of assumed would be the case anyway.
Once Vettel was forced out of the Scuderia Ferrari seat he has occupied since 2015, it was a mad dash to fill the domino effect of seats emptied in the aftermath. Ferrari filled Vettel’s seat with Carlos Sainz, who is probably regretting the decision after McLaren’s recent resurgence and the Maranello horse prancing right off a cliff. McLaren hired Daniel Ricciardo from Renault. And then Renault pulled Fernando Alonso back from the reserve list to re-join the Enstone team for the third team. Interesting that Renault would want Alonso more than a now-free Vettel.
“I am pleased to finally share this exciting news about my future,” Says Vettel. “I’m extremely proud to say that I will become an Aston Martin driver in 2021. It’s a new adventure for me with a truly legendary car company. I have been impressed with the results the team has achieved this year and I believe the future looks even brighter. The energy and commitment of Lawrence [Stroll] to the sport is inspiring and I believe we can build something very special together. I still have so much love for Formula 1 and my only motivation is to race at the front of the grid. To do so with Aston Martin will be a huge privilege.”
Vettel has had a woeful go of things in recent years. He’s been close to the front for much of his stint at Ferrari, winning fourteen grands prix for the Scuderia in six seasons, but only managed to win one in 2019 at Singapore and 2020 has been abysmal for the car and Vettel alike. As a 53-time winner, he ranks third all-time in race wins, but it looks like this will be his first season without so much as a podium finish since he became a full-time driver.
Does Vettel still have what it takes to race in F1, sure, of course he does. Does he have what it takes to be a champion again? I’m not convinced that he does. This move to Aston Martin pushes Vettel on the long slow march toward Kimi Räikkönen-ville, just trudging along as a mid-packer or back-marker continuing to dig until he finds the rock bottom of his career.
Aston Martin Racing, née Racing Point, in its current form will never become a title contender as long as it exists as a Mercedes field team. Perhaps even more importantly, so long as the team continues to employ Lance Stroll simply because his father is the team boss, it cannot transcend. It can be good, as it is proving in 2020, but it cannot achieve greatness. If Aston Martin is serious about putting together a truly good team, it needs to hire a young gun, someone with a proper F1 title chance in the future, to learn from the once-great Seb.
If I were Lawrence Stroll, and thank fuck I’m not, I would be on the phone with a George Russell or a Pierre Gasly immediately. Vettel needs a protege, and Stroll isn’t it, chief.
Is signing Vettel a mistake? Of course not. He brings a lot of cachet and likely bucket truck loads of sponsorship dollars for the team. Will he end up an albatross around the team’s collective neck when his multi-year contract comes to a close and he’s not any closer to a fifth championship and is being outshone by a younger and more talented teammate? It’s possible.