A proper panic might be in order regarding Sebastian Vettel’s looming exit from Scuderia Ferrari if we were in 2018. But fast forwarding to the upcoming 2020 off-season where the German has confirmed he will leave the team, the news has a surprisingly anti-climactic tinge.
Déjà vu also has a seat at this table. The parallels between Vettel’s departure from Red Bull for Ferrari following 2014 was hastened as a young usurper by the name of Daniel Ricciardo displaced the four-time Formula 1 world champion as the team’s top performer.
Coming on the heels of a breakout 2019 season where new, young teammate Charles Leclerc left Vettel looking ordinary on too many occasions, Ferrari finds itself in search of a quality driver to complement its new star.
The loss of Vettel, a four-time champion and Ferrari’s third winningest driver, is a bombshell. But judged by his most recent results, the change is timely, and represents an opportunity to break one of Ferrari’s worst habits. Its hiring practices– seeking the best-available driver while satisfying a desire to possess an icon with a cult-like following–have often come in conflict with the underlying need to achieve success.
It’s a case of casting the biggest name for a blockbuster movie without pondering the fit between the actor and the material on the page. In Vettel, and his predecessor, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari had two mercurial drivers with a shared penchant for brooding and turbulent reactions in times of struggle. Despite coming close to winning world championships with both men, tales were rife of shortcomings being revealed as each demonstrated the behavior of disappointed employees when iron-willed resolve was most needed.
And it’s here where Ferrari has an opportunity to explore something different. The names to pursue are well known as six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, his teammate Valtteri Bottas, Ricciardo, and young journeyman Carlos Sainz Jr. from McLaren could be landed. There are other options as well, and altogether, each pick offers Ferrari a chance to ignore the cult-of-personality hiring practices and cast the best actor for the role.
Ignoring the dazzling prospects of prying Hamilton away from Mercedes, Ricciardo stands as the perfect pairing alongside Leclerc. In Bottas, Ferrari has a detuned Kimi Raikkonen. In Sainz, the Scuderia has a Spanish question mark, and the timing may not be right to gamble on Vettel’s replacement. Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi fits the nationality bill, but makes Sainz look like a polished veteran.
Ferrari loves its caped crusaders to have a hard edge—to flirt between saint and anti-hero—of which Leclerc does not fit. It’s refreshing. Imagine adding a second character in that mold with the smiley Australian, whose warm and determined ways would give the Scuderia two drivers cut from relatively relaxed cloths.
Foisting mountain-size pressure on the shoulders of another big-name signing would be the predictable move for Ferrari. It already has Vettel’s replacement with Leclerc, which solves the biggest need. Complementing the Frenchman with a ray of race-winning sunshine in Ricciardo, and leaving the Dark Knight routine behind when Vettel clears his belongings from Maranello, just might be the mechanism to remove Ferrari from Mercedes’ shadow.
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