Sebastian Vettel has revealed he had to be convinced of two key factors before signing up to join the rebranded Aston Martin Formula 1 team.
Speaking for the first time since Thursday morning’s announcement that he would join what is currently called Racing Point in place of Sergio Perez in 2021, Vettel laid out his reasoning and stressed it was a combination of both the “exciting” potential growth of the team and what he wanted to achieve personally in the future after admitting he came “close” to retirement.
“There’s really two things, one sort of due diligence in terms of the numbers of where the team is, where it might go,” said Vettel when asked by The Race about his decision.
“Obviously, I know some of the people, I’ve known Otmar [Szafnauer, team principal] for more than 10 years so you ask certain questions and I’m very pleased with that.
“The second key factor for me has been answering to myself the question of what I want to do and what I want to get out of myself [for] the potential future in Formula 1.
“I think the performance side was ticked fairly quickly and then there was a lot of thinking on my side in terms of what I would like. Once those things were clear, it was clear what to do.”
Vettel was in discussions with Racing Point for some time before agreeing to sign up and had previously admitted that all options were on the table for his future. This included retirement or taking a sabbatical, with the former a serious possibility according to the 33-year-old.
Vettel’s departure from Ferrari was confirmed in mid-May and Racing Point is known to have started its pursuit of the four-times world champion some time ago. This means we can take seriously Vettel’s claim that he took time evaluating if this was the right opportunity for him both personally and professionally.
“Close,” he said when asked how close he came to retirement. “I don’t know is there a measure of how close you can get? It was close in terms of having a lot of thoughts.
“Ultimately, I have to put myself first in that regard, what’s best for me. What I’ve decided now, I believe is the best for me, and I’m looking forward to prove that.”
Vettel would not be drawn on exactly when the deal was agreed, although did reveal it was not concluded that far ahead of the announcement.
This is also consistent with Vettel’s need for time to come to a decision about his F1 future, as well as the fact Perez only discovered that he was being dropped yesterday.
“It wasn’t an easy call, because the last weeks and months have been quite intense for me,” said Vettel.
“[It’s a] different and new situation to be in. As I’ve put out from day one, I’ve felt like I want to remain in Formula 1 if there’s something that really attracts me and it was getting more and more clear. The team’s performances this year are very encouraging.
“Even more so is the fact that where the regulations are going into a more and more level-playing field. It will be a lot of firsts – the first time for the team to be in a position to have probably the same money as other teams and show what they’re capable of. Anything I can do to help, I’m very excited about and looking forward to.
“In terms of the announcement, it’s not been a long time since it was final. Obviously, Checo made the announcement last night, then I think it was only right to respond straight away.”
Vettel would not be drawn on the length of the contract, but given he repeatedly stated that the real focus is on the opportunity presented to the team by the new technical regulations in 2022, it stands to reason that he has at least a two-year deal.
Most likely is a ‘2+1’ contract that is commonplace in F1, with the third year subject to various options and conditions, but exact details of the deal remain unclear.
Vettel is positive about Aston Martin’s chances of fighting at the front despite it being a customer Mercedes team given the widespread changes to F1 with the introduction of the cost cap next year ahead of 2022’s technical regulations.
“Right now, Mercedes has the edge over everyone and that’s not just valid for next year, probably they’re in a very strong position for the years after that,” said Vettel.
“I obviously want a race at the front of the grid, not at the back of the grid, so I think the team is giving me that chance. The team is ready to grow.
“For the short-term, if you look at next year there’s still some exciting news – the fact that we will have the first year with the budget cap, we’ll see how it will work out and pans out, but I think the team is in a much better place than in the past, so it’s a team that’s growing.
“Other teams have to go down in size, so there’s lots of things that make me quite confident and happy. But only time will tell. It’s an exciting project and I’m sure we’ll fight for some good results in the near future. And in the future after that, we’ll see.”
Although the announcement of Vettel’s move follows just days after the prospect of an appeal against the FIA stewards verdict on Racing Point’s illegally-designed rear brake ducts, he stressed this was not a factor.
When asked about his feelings on the impact the rules restricting the extent on copying rival cars had on his decision, he insisted it did not play a big role. This is in keeping with Racing Point’s own ambitions, as it always saw its ‘Pink Mercedes’ clone design as a short-term move. It was always going to have to produce the 2022 car based entirely on its own work aerodynamically given there will be no rivals running in public to duplicate.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of talk in the recent weeks about this topic, but this didn’t really play a big role for me because I’m more convinced of the strength of the team,” said Vettel.
“Not having the money in the recent years to perform on a similar level to the big teams, they’ve done remarkably well, and there’s definitely enough guts in that team to prove people wrong.
“I don’t think they [the rule changes on copying] will change things much. There’s a huge potential for growth and I’m looking forward to joining the team and trying to help with everything that I know, all the experience that I have, with what I do in the car to grow the team as much as possible so we find ourselves in a competitive spot on the grid.
“I can’t make any predictions, there’s definitely hope and belief in the team and in the people that are there. I think that they’re capable and for the first time they’re equipped with a decent tool kit.”
Inevitably, Vettel was also asked about whether he felt Aston Martin could beat Ferrari in 2022, but he was quick to dodge the question.
Given the well-known unhappiness at the way Ferrari’s decision not to offer him a new deal for 2022 was handled, it’s reasonable to assume that Vettel would relish the chance to prove his current employer wrong in the future.
Although Vettel himself has said nothing that indicates this, underlining that the timing of the announcement was motivated by other factors, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that this was announced at the start of Ferrari’s celebratory 1000th world championship race start event at Mugello.
But Vettel said all the right things and stressed his desire to deliver for Ferrari in his final races. But he quickly moved on to talking about his future, declaring Aston Martin’s F1 return to be an exciting story for grand prix racing.
“I’m still at Ferrari and we have a big weekend ahead of us. I want to make sure that I can do the best job that I can for the team,” he said.
“Time will tell but I have a good feeling, I’ve known some of the people there for a long time and, where the team is going is a very positive trend.
“The results this year have been encouraging and where Formula 1 is planning to go in the next year, it could be something really exciting.
“The comeback of Aston Martin to Formula 1 is probably one of the most exciting things to happen, and it’s great to be part of that.”