There’s a time in any given Formula 1 season that rumours begin to start about which drivers will or might be driving where the following season. It’s typically around August/September time, and can run until the very end of the season before it’s concluded. We call this ‘silly season’.
It’s known as silly season because the rumours tend to be quite fanciful, because the more high profile the driver/team, the more newspapers it sells and the more clicks it generates. And the majority of these rumours prove to be total nonsense, and yet people want to believe them because, well, it’s interesting to imagine a top driver moving to a rival team.
This year’s silly season – like the rest of the season itself – is different. It has begun before a single wheel has been turned in anger. And just as quickly as it arrived, it has all but concluded.
It began on Monday night when rumours started to emerge from Germany that said Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari would not be extending their partnership beyond the end of 2020 when his current contract expires.
Ferrari pay Vettel a fortune, and agreed to do so thinking he might be the man to win the Scuderia their first championship in over a dozen years – a championship that failed to materialise despite a couple of seasons challenging.
So when Charles Leclerc arrived in 2019 and started beating the German on a tenth of the money, Vettel found himself being edged towards the door, like so many Ferrari drivers before him, and his exit was confirmed on Wednesday morning.
Immediately, people started speculating on who would step in at Ferrari – the two leading names being Daniel Ricciardo – disgruntled at the progress Renault have made in his time there and Carlos Sainz, who once matched Max Verstappen as Toro Rosso team-mates.
It didn’t take long for Sainz to be confirmed as Vettel’s replacement, and just as quickly Ricciardo to be announced as Sainz’ replacement at McLaren for 2021, much to the chagrin of Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul – the Frenchman reacting to the news with typical petulance, making a barbed comment about ‘unity and commitment’, and Daniel Ricciardo’s seeming lack of it.
Where four-time champion Vettel ends lands for 2021 is still to be determined. It’s difficult to imagine him happy to play second fiddle to either of Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen which is exactly what would be required of him if he were to want a winning car.
It’s also difficult to imagine Mercedes or RBR paying a #2 anything like the money Vettel receives at Ferrari.
So his best chance of a drive is in tier 2. McLaren have their lead driver in Ricciardo and seem very happy with the progress Lando Norris is making. Renault have an empty seat, but if their progress wasn’t sufficient to keep Danny Ric happy, there’s nothing to suggest that Vettel – probably still aiming for wins and championships – would be any more content.
But then comes Racing Point. The Silverstone based outfit are moving in the right direction after being bought by mega-rich Lawrence Stroll in 2018. They’re to be rechristened Aston Martin in 2021 and have just received investment from Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. Might they just be able to convince a four-time world champion to buy in to their project?
It would be quite the statement of intent if they could.