Talking Heads: The Vettel to Ferrari rumours
The fact that Felipe Massa has only signed a one-year contract extension at Ferrari has already kick-started the rumour mill that Sebastian Vettel could be Maranello-bound in the not too distant future. Could it really happen? Over to our Talking Heads to have it out...
Last Updated: 24/10/12 1:30pm
Just when I thought it was safe to stop frantically checking the websites and newspapers every day to see when the music would stop in the driver market, I hear we have another saga brewing...
We do indeed and should it ever happen it could be the most dramatic move of them all: Sebastian Vettel to Ferrari as a partner for Fernando Alonso.
What? Two multiple title winners fighting over the same piece of turf? At Ferrari of all places?
That's the rumour - as inconceivable as it might sound. The speculation has been around since the summer and will not exactly be muted by Felipe Massa's contract extension. The fact that Felipe has been retained for just one more year leaves the door wide open for Sebastian in 2014.
And we think he might be preparing to walk in to Maranello?
It's been rumoured since the summer that the World Champion had signed some sort of pre-contract agreement to join the Scuderia in two seasons' time.
And what's this particular 'agreement' supposed to dictate?
That Vettel will be half-bound to Ferrari if certain performance criteria are met by the Italian team before a certain point next year.
Surely Red Bull would have something to say about that?
Contracts are notoriously complex in F1 but Helmut Marko seems to have let the cat out of the bag by telling the German press a few months ago that, although Vettel is under contract at Red Bull until 2014, the final year isn't necessarily fixed. "It depends on the rankings in next year's world championships," Helmut helpfully revealed in June. "If Vettel and Red Bull slip in the drivers' or constructors' championship, he could go."
But would Vettel really want to leave a winning team?
You're looking at it the wrong way round. It's not a question of Vettel wanting to leave Red Bull. It's a question of whether he wants to join Ferrari, the most renowned name in motorsport.
And we think he does?
That's our educated guess. According to Sky Sport F1's Ted Kravitz, "We all know in F1 that, at some point in his career, Sebastian Vettel will drive a Ferrari."
What have Ferrari said about the Vettel rumours?
A great deal. The team's mysterious 'Horse Whisperer' blogger responded to the latest round of rumours with his (or hers) customary scorn on Monday, mocking the media for engaging in "fantasies" and announcing that an agreement was "inexistent". We're not sure that's officially a word but you get the gist.
Then again, why wouldn't Ferrari want Vettel?
Aha, we have a an answer to that one from the man himself after Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo also told the team's website on Monday he didn't want "two roosters in the same henhouse". Unsurprisingly, that line was widely interpreted to mean that Vettel wouldn't be joining while Fernando Alonso is still in town. By our count, it was as long ago as 1990, back in the days of Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell, when the team last had an all-superstar driver paring - and look what happened then...
Okay, so what you're telling me is we've spent all this time talking, and both teams are saying the reports are a load of nonsense?
Not quite, because there's two or three caveats that ought to be applied to Ferrari's latest denial.
Such as Team Principal Stefano Domenicali's nudge-nudge, wink-wink statement in June that Alonso and Vettel could "coexist", and Montezemolo himself identifying Vettel as the one driver he would like to sign just two months ago. Oh, and before we read too much into Montezemolo's apparent denial, note that the Horse Whisperer was also at pains to insist he had not ruled out Vettel's capture. "This phrase was immediately picked up by a wide range of sources, many of whom were exactly the same ones who had just written the precise opposite, as the denial of a possible partnership - which remains completely hypothetical, better to stress that before someone takes advantage of the poor Horse Whisperer - made up of Alonso and Vettel," he/she/it wrote. "It's a pity that Montezemolo had simply stated a principle, nothing more, nothing less."
How very coy. So it could actually happen?
Yes, if not in 2014, then certainly for 2015.
But what of Alonso?
Fernando is under contract until 2016 so he isn't going anywhere fast. But, as The Independent noted this week, 'By 2014, Alonso will be 33, while Vettel will be just 27. Any deal would seemingly hinge on whether Ferrari consider Alonso to be their No 1 driver going forward, and if not, he may have to accept that he will have to play second fiddle to the younger man, or find a new team.'
Wait a second. Didn't Alonso veto Hamilton moving to Ferrari earlier this year? Wouldn't he have vetoed Vettel as well?
Either the veto is a figment of the media's imagination or he believes he can beat Vettel in a straight fight. One of the two.
Hmm. A bit of a worry for Red Bull, of course...
To put it mildly. With Mark Webber expected to retire at the end of the season, the team could be in the market for two drivers for 2014 after five successive (and successful) years of stability. Worse still, all the leading drivers will be under contract elsewhere. Still, it does make us wonder: if Red Bull had any concerns about 2014, would Hamilton have signed a three-year deal at Mercedes?
Perhaps his Mercedes contract has an opt-out as well then?
Let's not even go there.
But we do think Vettel will be going to Ferrari?
At some stage in his career, yes. It's just a matter of when. Probably.