Vettel in Formula 1 – With Alonso at Renault, where can he go in 2021?

With Renault hiring Fernando Alonso to partner Esteban Ocon in 2021, Ferrari outcast Sebastian Vettel is left with one fewer option to stay in Formula 1 next year.

Ferrari announced in May that it is parting ways with Sebastian Vettel after the 2020 season, six years after beginning a partnership that was supposed to replicate the kind of success the Scuderia enjoyed with Michael Schumacher at the turn of the millennium. 

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto explained that Vettel had been the outfit’s “first choice” until the beginning of the year, but the coronavirus pandemic forced it to look for other options and ultimately secure Carlos Sainz’s services for the 2021 season.

Vettel, however, has disputed Binotto’s claims and also revealed that he was never offered a deal for the 2021 season.

Vettel and Ferrari have been repeatedly criticised for failing to take the final step to end Mercedes’ domination of F1 since the beginning of the V6 turbo era in 2014.

Although Ferrari has made significant strides in the last few years to emerge as Mercedes’ closest challenger, the Italian outfit’s performance has tended to tail off in the second half of the last three campaigns.

Vettel, meanwhile, has been criticised for several mistakes on his own part, and was outscored by new teammate Charles Leclerc during their first year together at Ferrari in 2019.

Which teams have an empty seat? 

Vettel’s exit comes at a time when all leading outfits either have firm driver contracts for 2021, or are in course of renewing deals with existing drivers.

Both Mercedes seats are vacant for 2021, but Daimler CEO Ola Kallenius strongly hinted in Austria that both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will continue their partnership for a fifth season next year.

Red Bull is yet to sign a teammate for Max Verstapen for next year, but Helmut Marko was quoted saying earlier this year that Red Bull was not looking at Vettel as it “can’t afford” to sign the driver that delivered all four of its drivers’ titles between 2010-13.

With McLaren and now Renault having also firmed up their driver line-ups, Vettel is running out of options to secure a competitive seat.

Vettel could follow in the footsteps of his former teammate Raikkonen and secure a berth at a midfield team, although he would have to take a considerable pay cut and would not enjoy the prospect of fighting for regular wins.

Among midfield teams, Haas and Alfa Romeo are yet to announce their drivers for 2021, while there is also a seat vacant at Williams, with George Russell being the only driver confirmed by the Grove-based team.

Red Bull’s rebranded junior team AlphaTauri also has two vacant spots, but it is unlikely the outfit will go against the practice of exclusively fielding budding racing drivers.

Vacant spots on 2020 grid

Mercedes –  two seats

Ferrari – none

Red Bull – one seat 

McLaren – none

Renault – none

Aston Martin/Racing Point – none

AlphaTauri – two seats 

Alfa Romeo – two seats

Haas – two seats 

Williams – one seat 

Which driver contracts end this year?

As stated previously, contracts of both Hamilton and Bottas are up for renewal at the end of the season. Alex Albon’s one-year deal with Red Bull also expires after 2020.

AlphaTauri is yet to re-sign either Daniil Kvyat or Pierre Gasly, and the outfit’s decision will depend on a combination of factors.

Red Bull will be keenly looking at the performance of Albon during his first full year at the senior team, but it will also continue to evaluate how its junior drivers Juri Vips, Yuki Tsunoda and Jehan Daruvala perform in Formula 2 and Super Formula.

Elsewhere, both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Givoinazzi do not have contracts for next season, while Nicholas Latifi is on a one-year deal with Williams.

Drivers that are out of contract at end of 2020

Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas

Ferrari – none

Red Bull – Alex Albon

McLaren – none

Renault – none

Aston Martin/Racing Point – none

AlphaTauri – Daniil Kvyat, Pierre Gasly

Alfa Romeo – Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi

Haas – Kevin Magnussen, Romain Grosjean

Williams – Nicholas Latifi

What will Vettel do if he isn’t in Formula 1?

With chances of securing a top level seat all but gone, Vettel could spend 2021 away from F1.

He could either take a complete sabbatical from racing and return to the grid in 2022, which is something his former Red Bull teammate Mark Webber suggested recently, or dip his toes in another racing category and stay sharp for a planned comeback in F1.

Vettel could potentially follow in the footsteps of Alonso, the driver he replaced at Ferrari in 2015. 

Alonso took back-to-back wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours en route to the 2018/19  FIA World Endurance Championship title with Toyota. The WEC is introducing a new LM Hypercar class next year, potentially making it an attractive choice for the German.

Vettel could also have a crack at IndyCar and its flagship Indy 500 race, another series where Alonso has participated in since his exit from F1 at the end of the 2018 season.

Another potential option for Vettel is the DTM, given both his and the series’ German roots.

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