The scene looks like it has been arranged. In terms of content, it is. But the visual details, which now fit perfectly with a racing driver’s accounting, are random.
A shady room in Spielberg. The curtains are drawn, more artificial light falls on the gray tiles than daylight. Sebastian Vettel sits in the front on a chair. He is half dressed in red, which also explains why the wild bull of the Red Bull group gallops towards him with lowered horns, which they brushed onto the cardboard wall behind him. Red shirt, red cap, red face mask, even his watch has a red border. Vettel on fire? It’s not like that.
“We never had a discussion. There was never an offer on the table.”
He sits there very calmly. Put the right leg over the left. American leg flip. Only now and then does he bob his foot. He speaks in a calm voice. Everything about him says: I have carefully considered what I am doing, I really want it that way: I put the fuse on the Ferrari powder keg, which almost exploded last year when Vettel and his teammate Charles Leclerc, who was ten years younger rubbed so intimately that the sparks danced.
Vettel looks over to the questioner, and because humanity is living in a pandemic, he’s sitting somewhere on the horizon. If you were to connect a net, Vettel and the Formula 1 representative who asked questions could play badminton. This is not an unimportant detail. It is not a familiar journalist who is eliciting an answer from Vettel that he actually does not want to give. He is simply the first person to have the opportunity to publicly ask Vettel what ultimately led to the negotiations between him and Ferrari failing. And Vettel, who had been diving on his nicely renovated farm in Switzerland since May, after the announcement of the termination of his carpool with the Scuderia: He now wants to unpack. On the largest stage that he can climb so that his cracking hook also sits: in the international TV round of Formula 1.
Sticking point? There was “no sticking point” in the negotiations for a new contract, says Vettel. Because no negotiations took place at all. The call from team boss Mattia Binotto with the decision not to extend the contract, which expired at the end of the year, came as a surprise to him: “We never had a discussion. There was never an offer on the table.”
Washed away in one sentence, all the whispering words of the joint press release. It takes courage, especially when someone uses it to correct his own words in the official divorce declaration. At that time Vettel also spoke of a “joint decision”, a joint decision to go separate ways. The SZ knew beforehand of Vettel’s plans that he wanted to disclose the non-negotiations. The only question was: would he pull it off? According to SZ information, the campaign was not previously coordinated with Ferrari, the racing team would of course never have agreed to the ignition. But Vettel was forced to take the step. In order not to have to live with an untruth when leaving Ferrari, which would at least have simulated harmony to the outside world. And that, it is heard, was made to affect him. As a result of a “shock” triggered by Binotto’s call to him. So now the correction. If he has to leave Ferrari, he sees it well, he goes as an upright. With a bang and roar.
It was clear that this separation could not have been made by mutual agreement. Ferrari had been a longing for Vettel since he saw Michael Schumacher hurry from record to record in the red car as a young boy. It is still a place of longing. Although, from Vettel’s point of view, he may now be driven by the wrong people.
It had been considered possible that they would at least have submitted an offer that he could not accept. Not even that. A proper contract term would have been important to him. But Vettel would not have driven his salary, but for the longed-for title in red, that’s for sure.
The next day, team boss Mattia Binotto sits on the stage, completely in red, in front of the angry bull. He too: Quiet, matter-of-fact. But Binotto is not well prepared, he doesn’t even contradict Vettel’s version. He probably cannot, however, says that Vettel was still the “first choice” for Scuderia in winter. Then, however, the pandemic broke out over Formula 1. “The whole situation has changed,” he explains. That led to a rethink at Scuderia. He understood that Vettel was “surprised” when he was told that. Which factor exactly led to the decision against Vettel? He doesn’t know that, everything is just responsible for it! The new budget ceiling, the postponement of the new rules to 2022, the overall package led to the decision. And anyway: Corona!
The perfidy of the process must be thought through to the end. When Vettel invited the journalists to a virtual chat on his farm in April and cheerfully chatted that he was confident that he had signed a contract until the first race of the season, Ferrari had already removed him from the board and put him on a table next to him – After all, Corona already existed. Vettel, however, was sitting at the cat table and thought he was opening a game with his comments (“gladly again a long-term contract”). A negotiation game with Binotto that would never take place: Bauer E2-E4. But nothing happened. At some point the phone rang. It was Binotto’s turn. Sicilian Defense. And you’re out!
Vettel was on his own, in the lockdown in Neumüli. As throughout his career, he had no management that would advise him tactically. His team-mate Leclerc, 22, on the other hand, to whom they had presented a lavish, long-term contract before Christmas, knows the son of Jean Todt, once racing director at Ferrari in the Schumacher era, now president of the World Automobile Association. Vettel has never built a home power at Ferrari, and so he could fall victim to a political game that he might not even recognize when it was too late. A racing team that announced the successor Carlos Sainz, 25, 48 hours after the separation from Vettel, has probably already had negotiations when the snow was still falling in northern Italy.
Now the opponents at Ferrari travel together for a while around the world on their farewell tour, which could be painfully slow. Eight races have only been scheduled, nobody can say how long this World Cup will last, or whether it will be completely washed away by a second wave of the pandemic. Vettel was never able to do anything about the tactical and strategic mistakes of the team leadership, he does not build the cars. However, he was behind the wheel when his Ferrari flew off the wet track of the Hockenheimring two years ago in the property curve, Vettel was in the overall lead, closer to the title than he was never. Yes, he did have a chance to fulfill his childhood dream. But under pressure he made mistakes.
And now he falls away from him, what else has he got to lose? However, there are increasing signs that the uninhibited Vettel in this year’s Ferrari with the exuberant anniversary name “SF1000” could get the worst partner screwed under the seat for a long time. While the competition tried out upgrades during the Corona break and now also dragged them to Spielberg for the late start of the season, Ferrari came to the realization that the basic version, which was supposed to roll in Melbourne in March, is such a mess that the further development is not worth it. Only at the third race in Hungary do they want to introduce a completely new version. Hopefully this is going in the right direction. Those that Red Bull and Mercedes might have rushed to.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to imagine in the most colorful pictures how harmonious the behavior of the Ferrari drivers will be on the track this year. Even if Leclerc and Vettel sometimes did not comply with the specifications of their curly boss Binotto last year, his authority should hardly reach Vettel at least. “I was always a team player,” said Vettel on the day of the settlement. “If stable control makes sense,” he would drive for the team. However, he “would not make it easier for Charles”. And when stable management makes sense, Vettel and Binotto can be quite divided.
As things stand, a four-time world champion will leave the big stage at the end of the year
Vettel’s 33rd birthday was on Friday, the day after billing. The team that has been home for five years probably dedicated a video to him for the last time. “I love Disch”, Leclerc whispered in it, that alone will certainly not give him a favorite place in the Vettelarchiv. Sebastian Vettel has eight, ten, fifteen, maybe even more races in Formula 1. To extend this time, “the right package and the right people around me are necessary”. That doesn’t sound like Renault, not like Aston Martin, not like Haas. An offer from the world champion racing team Mercedes was attractive, said Vettel, but his team boss Toto Wolff promptly followed his advertising on Friday, an extension with the pilots Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas was his priority.
As things stand, a four-time world champion in the best racing age will leave the big stage at the end of the year because he excludes a sabbatical. Sebastian Vettel says: “I am convinced that you must close the door when you are ready and should not expect the door to open again.” That is also consistent.