Once brought in as the star to finally end Ferrari's latest lengthy wait for glory, Sebastian Vettel will leave Maranello at the end of 2020 without too much fanfare. Where has it all gone wrong for the four-time F1 champion?
In the Spanish Grand Prix two years ago, a slow Vettel pitstop cost him a podium and gave Hamilton a 17-point championship lead as the two heavyweights continued their very close ‘fight-for-five’ world title battle.
On Sunday at the Circuit de Catalunya, the German was voted Driver of the Day as he finished seventh after qualifying 11th for Ferrari. How time flies.
Let's go back to the beginning, and following a winless 2014 at Red Bull, after being outscored by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel left for pastures new with Ferrari, pairing up with another world champion in Kimi Raikkonen.
The Michael Schumacher comparisons - a title-winning German in a Ferrari - inevitably followed, yet Vettel’s first two seasons in Maranello were complete write-offs.
While he managed to win three races in 2015, he never came close to the dominant new force in Mercedes, while 2016 was an echo of his final year with Red Bull as for the second time in three seasons he ended the campaign without a victory.
In 2017, the first full season with Mattia Binotto as the chief technical officer, Ferrari finally had a worthy contender - for the first half of the season, at least.
Vettel took four wins before the summer break and one more in Brazil, although the championship was done and dusted by that point. Mercedes were simply too dominant, too consistent, too relentless.
During that campaign, there were signs of frustration, notably in Baku where he drove into the side of Hamilton, claiming the Briton brake tested him behind the safety car, earning a 10-second stop-go penalty for his troubles which eventually cost him a crucial win.
Such hot-headedness is perhaps a product of the relentless pressure that comes with being the number one driver at Ferrari.
The Scuderia, after all, is where the spotlight shines brightest, where critics are the harshest, where the tens of millions of fans are the most passionate. Not to mention the Italian press, who can be merciless after a bad showing.
It seemed like this status started to get the better of him from 2018 onwards.
While there have been instances of crumbling under pressure in the past - Canada 2011 springs to mind - nothing perhaps compares to the race that followed his win at Silverstone two years ago, and where Vettel's time with Ferrari really started to unravel.
In wet conditions at Hockenheim, race and championship leader Vettel understeered into the barriers at his home grand prix. Hamilton rubbed salt into such embarrassing wounds by claiming victory, resulting in a 32-point swing from which the German never recovered as his rival ran away with the title from that point on.
Come 2019, and enter Charles Leclerc. The Monégasque became the second-youngest Ferrari driver in history and quickly won over the Tifosi with his aggressive style and fluent Italian.
This was all at the cost of Vettel, who seemed to become engaged in a power struggle within the team as Leclerc demanded greater status as the year progressed.
More so now than before, Vettel made errors while under pressure from Hamilton in races in Bahrain, and most famously in Canada.
‘The moment’ on this day last year👌🏻 Sebastian Vettel feels he was wrongly penalised for blocking Hamilton after going wide and received a 5sec penalty, so swaps the finishing boards in Parc Ferme in Canada 2019👌🏻📷 pic.twitter.com/SDlrHqrJ86
Leclerc and Vettel clashed all year, although it was the young driver who was getting the results. The true passing-of-the-torch moment came at Monza, where Leclerc became the first Ferrari driver since Fernando Alonso in 2010 to win on the team’s home soil, all while Vettel had the worst race of his season, if not his career, finishing a lap down in 13th.
A driver out of favour with the fans and with the team but still with all the pressure on his shoulders, it arguably was the worst year of Vettel’s time in F1, even though he did win the Singapore Grand Prix and took two pole positions, albeit now under a cloud of suspicion given the power unit furore of last season.
After the 2019 campaign finished, Ferrari signed Leclerc to an extended contract through to 2024, a clear indication they saw him as its future.
As for Vettel, with one season remaining on his contract, Binotto - who a year earlier had taken on the role of team principal - declared at the launch of the SF1000 in February that the German was the first choice for the other seat from next year.
Three months later, it was announced this season would be Vettel's last with the team who surprisingly confirmed Carlos Sainz as his replacement.
With the German already with one foot out of the door, favouritism at Ferrari towards Leclerc is becoming more obvious.
In the season-opening race in Austria, an optimistic move from Vettel that ended in a spin was met with fierce criticism from Binotto.
When driving in such conditions, he’s not delivering on his best. The spin and the contact was certainly not a great action from his side. I think he’s conscious of it.Mattia Binotto on Sebastian Vettel's collision with Carlos Sainz
A week later, the Italian completely let Leclerc off the hook when the 22-year-old took Vettel out at the start of the Styrian Grand Prix, ending both of their afternoons. At the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after an early spin, Vettel had a go at Ferrari's race strategy before Binotto fired back at Vettel's personal mistake on the opening lap.
So after six seasons, Vettel will clean out his locker in Maranello to be replaced by Sainz, leaving him in limbo.
Rumours continue to swirl with regard to a move to Racing Point - Aston Martin from next year - otherwise, a sabbatical beckons, or maybe he will call time on his F1 career altogether. As of now, nothing is sure.
The only thing for certain is that Vettel’s tenure at Ferrari has been a desperately unfortunate one - if only Mercedes weren’t enjoying the most dominant dynasty in F1 history.
Whoever wrote this about Sebastian Vettel seems to be such a nice a person, talk about kicking somebody when they're down, damn disgusting, just leave the guy alone, he has enough talent and the brains to work out what is actually going on, you and a lot of other pundits whatever you like to call yourselves, seem to have a down on Vettel, there are plenty other drivers who make little mistakes but you lot don't exaggerate them, and that includes Hamilton, and plenty others, it is part of racing.
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