Assessing Rumours Linking Sebastian Vettel Joining Ferrari from Red Bull

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing looks on next to Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrar during a press conference ahead of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 8, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari.

It's an alliance that seems so wrong, but feels so right.

Vettel has been the thorn in the red team's side since his rise to prominence in 2010. In two of his four World Championship-winning campaigns thus far, he has snatched the title from Ferrari's grasp at the very last race of the season.

Vettel is a source of irritation for all those who swear by the Prancing Horse.

Every single wave of his celebratory index finger acts as a reminder to Ferrari of what they once were in the spell of Michael Schumacher's dominance—and what they should have become under the stewardship of Fernando Alonso.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 13:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 13, 2013 in Suzuka, Japan.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Yet the romance of the most successful driver of his generation joining Formula One's most iconic establishment is—despite Vettel being Ferrari's only true barrier to success in recent years—difficult to ignore.

That notion has led to a flurry of media reports linking Vettel with a move to Maranello, Italy, in previous seasons, with Andrew Benson of BBC Sport claiming in October 2012 that an agreement was in place for the German to join Ferrari for 2014—which clearly has been proven wide off the mark.

With that window of opportunity now firmly shut, the attention has now turned to the beginning of the 2016 season, when Vettel's current contract with Red Bull expires.

Even Mark Webber, Vettel's teammate between 2009 and 2013, has been quoted by Sky Sports as suggesting that Ferrari will take advantage of the German's status as a free agent to signal the start of a fresh, new era in 2016.

So what are the chances of Vettel wearing red overalls in the near future?

Well, if it is to happen, it is entirely plausible that a deal might already be in place. Ferrari, after all, have made a habit of negotiating high-profile contracts well in advance of their start date.

ANTONIO CALANNI/Associated Press

Kimi Raikkonen's transfer from McLaren to the Scuderia for 2007 was signed, sealed and delivered by the end of the 2005 season, as BBC Sport's Andrew Benson attests. Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, had an agreement to join Ferrari for 2010 at the end of 2008, according to James Allen, the respected F1 journalist.   

And Robert Kubica, the former BMW and Renault driver, simply laughed—without a hint of denial—when questioned directly by Ted Kravitz in a Sky Sports television interview in 2013 whether Ferrari had an option to sign him.

An agreement between the two parties would have come into effect in either 2012 or 2013 had the Pole not suffered life-threatening injuries in a rally crash at the beginning of 2011.

Interestingly, the rumours linking Vettel with Ferrari have been as frequent and robust as the speculation surrounding Raikkonen and Alonso, prior to their arrivals in 2007 and 2010 respectively, and Kubica's non-arrival.

The speculation has never shown the slightest sign of going away, despite Vettel extending his contract with Red Bull last year—implying that something really is going on behind the scenes.

The claim of Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari president—as reported by Andrew Benson of BBC Sport in February 2013—that the team would never employ Vettel and Alonso as teammates is understandable, given their occasionally volatile temperaments and eagerness for preferential treatment.

Vettel himself suggested there would be a clash of personalities if he were to be a stablemate of Alonso when he was quizzed by BBC Sport's Lee McKenzie following last summer's Hungarian Grand Prix, when it appeared the Spaniard interested in a move to Red Bull.

And if Vettel wouldn't entertain the thought of partnering Alonso, but would like to drive for Ferrari in the future, the key to any deal is at which point Alonso—who is contracted until the end of 2016—leaves the Scuderia.

It is clear that Alonso is plotting an escape route from Ferrari after growing bored of their continuous underachievement, which could accelerate the process of Vettel arriving at the Prancing Horse.

Although Alonso's exit may be delayed with the driver market set to remain relatively static between 2014 and 2015 (unless, of course, the Spaniard swallows his pride and returns to the McLaren team whom he departed after one acrimonious season in 2007), it won't be until the end of 2015 that the path to another team will be clear for Alonso.

And with Vettel's Red Bull contract ending at that time, it doesn't take a genius to pinpoint the beginning of 2016 as the moment for the German to make the move.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing is seen in parc ferme after finishing first during qualifying for the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2010 in Shanghai, China.
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

But consider this: If a driver of the calibre of Fernando Alonso would feel the need to jump from Ferrari's sinking ship, why would Sebastian Vettel happily walk on to it?

It is true that Vettel has a deeper understanding of the heritage and the history of F1 than any other driver on the current grid. He is more than an average driver, your average world champion; he is a philosopher, the fan who grew up to become the centre of the fanfare.

With that in mind, the opportunity to join Ferrari, F1's most mysterious, sacred team, would be so much more than a career move—it would be a privilege, an experience.

The prospect of emulating Michael Schumacher, his compatriot and childhood inspiration, in making the Ferrari team his own is also a factor that is likely to entice Vettel.

However, Ferrari—having failed to win a drivers' or constructors' world championship since 2008—are not the same team whom Schumacher led to the last of his seven world titles a decade ago.

They are stuck in a rut and without a grand prix win in over a year—a factor which sparked a recent period of transition, with team principal Stefano Domenicali, a man who was frequently pictured in discussion with Vettel, replaced by the inexperienced Marco Mattiacci.

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 20:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing speaks with Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali after qualifying for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 20, 2013 in S
Vladimir Rys/Getty Images

Ferrari's recent, failed move for Red Bull's chief technical officer, Adrian Newey—as reported by Paul Weaver of The Guardian—could be interpreted as an effort to compensate for the loss of Domenicali with a face familiar to Vettel, in addition to the prime motive of producing a leading car.

It seemed like a frantic move to declutter and freshen the place up ahead of the expected arrival of someone accustomed to a more exotic environment.

Newey's haste in committing his future to Red Bull, though, sent a sharp message to Vettel.

The German's obsession with breaking Formula One's records, which range from becoming the youngest four-time world champion to risking the reliability of his car by setting new fastest laps in the latter stages of grand prix, is clear to see.

Under the guidance of Newey and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, Vettel has over the last four years been on a relentless pursuit to reinforce his superiority over his peers, plunging his name deeper into the history of F1.

And he will not allow anyone—not even Ferrari—to obstruct his path to greatness.


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