Sebastian Vettel wasn't on McLaren radar for F1 2021, says Zak Brown
McLaren boss speaks to Sky F1 about Carlos Sainz's move to Ferrari, the signing of Daniel Ricciardo, and why not Sebastian Vettel...
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 16/05/20 9:05am
McLaren boss Zak Brown has told Sky Sports that Carlos Sainz's move to Ferrari "didn't come as a surprise" as discussions had started over the winter - while also revealing that Daniel Ricciardo, not Sebastian Vettel, was always the team's number one contender to replace him.
McLaren have been at the forefront of a bumper week of transfers in F1, with news of Vettel's Ferrari exit swiftly followed by Sainz being confirmed as a Scuderia driver for 2021, with Ricciardo switching Renault for Woking.
In Ricciardo's case, it was a long time coming for McLaren.
"We went after Daniel a couple of years ago and narrowly missed out," Brown said on Friday's Sky F1 Vodcast. "So we've been a fan of Daniel's for some time.
"Obviously he went to Renault [from Red Bull] and we brought in Carlos and Lando [Norris] who have done a fantastic job.
"But as things turned out we were out of contract with Carlos [for 2021] and he had some opportunities. We're going to miss Carlos, he's done a fantastic job but now we have a seven-time Grand Prix winner in the car and we couldn't be more excited."
Don't miss the Sky F1 Vodcast above as Brown joins Simon Lazenby, Rachel Brookes, Damon Hill, Paul Di Resta and Anthony Davidson to discuss the latest driver market moves - and what now for 2021.
Brown admitted that McLaren had "stayed close to Daniel ever since he left Red Bull" and so had a "good sense" he would be ready to replace Sainz should the Spaniard leave.
Sainz, who will join Ferrari on a two-year contract as Vettel's replacement, was given permission to speak to the Scuderia during the off-season after a conversation with Brown, McLaren's CEO, and team principal Andreas Seidl - and "it was all very above board".
"I've come to learn in Formula 1 don't expect anything except for the unexpected," Brown explained. "We had a sense, we started talking to Carlos in the off-season about his future with us and whether he wanted to drive for McLaren or Ferrari.
"We've got a very strong, open relationship with Carlos, his management and his father. This didn't come as a surprise given how quickly we announced Daniel, and how quickly Carlos announced what he was doing. We were very joined up through this entire process."
Brown also added: "I think these movements would have probably happened with or without COVID because we started these conversations pre-COVID."
Why not Vettel at McLaren?
Given how early the talks started between Sainz, as well as Ricciardo, Brown revealed that Vettel - Ferrari's departing four-time world champion - was never really a 2021 option for McLaren.
"Obviously Seb's an awesome driver and a four-time champion," he said. "But I think we were pretty far down the path in the off-season and knew we would either land with Daniel or Carlos.
"We never really entertained anyone beyond that, and especially with Seb's late breaking news - we were pretty far down the path at that point."
Vettel's options on the grid for next season appear limited - with Renault perhaps the leading contender - although Brown believes the German may well retire.
"Clearly it's not a nice environment inside the Ferrari garage at the moment with the drivers and management, it seems to not be a happy family at the moment," he stated. "Which I think is going to make for some pretty exciting racing in 2020 because I think we saw in Brazil the fireworks that were inevitable and building up... I'm anticipating more of that this year.
"It really depends, if Seb looks around, it doesn't look like there's a Mercedes or Red Bull opportunity for him, there's not a McLaren opportunity for him, clearly not at Ferrari, so the next best is Renault.
"And the next question is does Seb want to go with a team that is probably not going to win in 2021? It's a great team and they too should be moving up the grid but I think unless Seb wants to restart a journey with a team that's back on a journey - then I think he'll end up probably leaving the sport unfortunately."