x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A Vettel move to Ferrari could be check and mate

Whispers of the German's possible move from Red Bull to Ferrari in the media is a way for the Italian marque to play at some gamesmanship with their rivals this year while solidifying 2014, explains Gary Meenaghan.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali says that a pairing of Sebastian Vettel, left, and Fernando Alonso ‘could work. Fernando’s strength is that he is not afraid of anyone, a force that comes with maturity’.
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali says that a pairing of Sebastian Vettel, left, and Fernando Alonso ‘could work. Fernando’s strength is that he is not afraid of anyone, a force that comes with maturity’.

Why would a driver en route to a third successive drivers' title voluntarily leave his team to join a marque that has not produced a world champion for five years?

That is the question being digested following Sunday's reports that Sebastian Vettel is ready to quit Red Bull Racing in favour of a switch to Ferrari in 2014.

The rumours betrothing Vettel and Maranello are not new, although Red Bull consistently deny them.

The German has been linked with Ferrari for more than a year and is consistently asked for his views on the Prancing Horse, which - credit to him - he always answers honestly.

The 25 year old has made no secret that one day he wishes to drive for the tifosi and while leaving the reigning two-time constructors' champions would appear foolhardy, scratch below the surface and it is not so implausible.

The 2014 season will see radical new rules implemented that will seriously effect chassis and engine development. Teams such as Mercedes and Ferrari are capable of developing their future cars around these rules, but Red Bull and McLaren-Mercedes, who purchase their engines from Renault and Mercedes respectively, are limited in what they can do and thus will likely, initially at least, be chasing the coat-tails of the manufacturers.

This advantage is the primary reason Lewis Hamilton has already announced he is leaving the established, successful team of McLaren-Mercedes to move to Mercedes' works team, a marque that has won just one race in the past three seasons.

In 2014, Mercedes should be better positioned to prosper.

In terms of Ferrari, with Felipe Massa expected to have a one-year contract extension confirmed Tuesday, and with the longer-term options of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg being allowed to move elsewhere, the Italian manufacturer appears to be keeping a seat ready and vacant for 2014.

The BBC reported Monday that a source at Ferrari confirmed Vettel has already signed a pre-contract agreement with an option to move to Maranello at the end of next season.

It does not take the IQ of a chief aerodynamicist to appreciate why the Italians should look to leak such information at this stage of the season. Fernando Alonso has been knocked off the top of the championship standings for the first time in four months and Red Bull have looked utterly dominant at the past two races.

There is nothing like a bit of rumour-mongering to destabilise a garage.

While Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari president, played down the reports, telling an Italian radio station: "I've always said that I don't want two roosters in the henhouse. I don't like that and it creates instability in the team", it does nothing to dampen the speculation.

Alonso has already confirmed he is central and privy to discussions to replace his teammate.

If he does not give the thumbs up, it does not happen.

Interestingly, however, when Stefano Domenicali was asked about a potential Vettel-Alonso pairing for 2014, he replied: "I think it could work. Fernando's strength is that he is not afraid of anyone, a force that comes from his maturity."

And yet the BBC reported Alonso privately vetoed a move for Hamilton earlier this season, as the two drivers previously endured a tumultuous partnership when teammates at McLaren in 2007.

How Alonso would adapt to having Vettel as a teammate and no longer being seen as the No 1 driver would be fascinating to witness.

Whether it would be worth Ferrari's - and Vettel's - risk remains to be seen.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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