Sebastian Vettel will leave Ferrari at the end of the current Formula 1 season in a move that could spark a major reshuffle among teams across the grid.
The 32-year-old former world champion has found himself locked in a battle with rising hotshot Charles Leclerc at the Italian team, with the young protege in sparkling form last season on a far lower salary than Vettel.
Speculation is rife over the future of both Vettel and Ferrari, but where could he go next? And who will step up to replace him? We run through some of the key options…
Where will Sebastian Vettel go next?
Providing Vettel continues in Formula 1, there will be a number of teams in competition for his signature. The seasoned German star currently earns around £36 million, making him the second-highest paid star on the grid after Lewis Hamilton, more than double the next top-paid driver. He is unlikely to rake in anywhere near that level of cash, but which teams could tempt Vettel to their cause?
It feels only right to tout Mercedes as the top landing spot for Vettel, no matter how many more huge headlines would need to emerge before he could take his place in the iconic silver car. Everyone, absolutely everyone, would want to see Hamilton and Vettel duelling between each other for a title on the same terms, but given the astronomical sums required to keep both on the payroll, and reluctance from both drivers to unite, it’s a near-impossible scenario.
However, with Hamilton reportedly open to a seismic Ferrari switch to round off his career, Vettel could take his place. Again, we’re aware a Hamilton move is by no means a certainty, but if he did decide to run with the reds, a Hamilton-Vettel swap would be fascinating.
The first of two teams who would be in the market for a big name should one of their drivers depart. McLaren have progressed well in the last few years and have carved out a place as the ‘best of the rest’ outside Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Should they lose a driver between now and the end of the season, Vettel would represent a terrific chance of tying down a world class driver in a competent and improving car.
Secondly, if Daniel Ricciardo decides his future lies away from his top-dollar contract with Renault, Vettel would be highly sought after.
Renault haven’t been able to provide Ricciardo with a great platform to succeed on the grid, and that may put off Vettel somewhat, but if Ricciardo departs, it may be the best Vettel could hope for, and he’d be compensated handsomely.
Who will replace Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari?
The Ferrari reserve driver – currently plying his trade at Alfa Romeo – seems like an obvious choice if the Italians choose to throw all their eggs in the Leclerc basket.
Giovinazzi would be following in Leclerc’s footsteps, but he has not excelled to the same degree. He would very much fall into line as the second driver for Ferrari, and would be given time to develop behind Leclerc as part of a super-young tandem going forward.
Arguably the hottest tip is McLaren ace Sainz. He has shown plenty of promise in orange, he wouldn’t command an astronomical fee, and would sit nicely in competition with Leclerc with the same tools.
Sainz would be a great well-rounded choice for all parties – the team, the financial boffins behind the scenes, the driver and Leclerc – but would Ferrari prefer to really shake up the pack with a box office signing?
Ricciardo is the man many want to see replace Vettel. Some say he shied out of a duel with Max Verstappen at Red Bull, but in reality, the contract numbers presented to him by Renault make his switch seem like a no-brainer. His move to non-competitive Renault was a disappointment to many, but with a Ferrari hole opening up, this could be his golden ticket back into the elite ranks.
He would find himself up against Leclerc in a not-so-different battle to the one he engaged in against Verstappen, but with Ricciardo having crept over the 30-year-old line, he needs a big season in a competitive car soon to avoid his career sliding into the ‘what might have been?’ pile.