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Formula 1

Cagey Thursday shows reality of Vettel/Aston ‘rumours’

by Matt Beer
6 min read

Sebastian Vettel says he is holding “loose talks” about his Formula 1 future but avoided directly addressing his rumoured Racing Point contract offer, as those involved engaged in a cagey Hungarian Grand Prix Thursday.

Outgoing Ferrari driver Vettel made a determined effort to avoid getting caught out by repeated questions about a potential move to Racing Point, which will become the Aston Martin works F1 team in 2021.

When asked by The Race if the rumour in Germany that he had received a contract offer was true, Vettel replied: “Rumours are called rumours for a reason.

“Anyway, I think now only a couple of days after Austria there is not much that has changed.

“Given you mentioned that I was talking at length, there’s no point for me to expand on this.

“But the fact is that there’s no news.”

Sergio Perez Racing Point Styrian Grand Prix 2020

Vettel suggested he has held initial conversations with Racing Point, though, even if he would not say it has gone as far as knowing there is a definite seat available for him.

“Well at this stage I think it’s talks,” said Vettel. “I said last week that obviously I’ve been in talks with Renault for example, so I think it’s all sort of just talks.

“At a later stage with anyone I think then it would get a bit more concrete but at this stage the truth is there’s nothing to announce and nothing more concrete than just loose talks.”

He went on to say that “nothing has changed within a week”, having provided a detailed update on his options in Austria last weekend.

“I said last time that it will probably take some time most importantly for myself to make the right decision,” Vettel added.

“Once there is something to announce or something to say, then I think there will be the right time in the future to do so.

“But anything at this stage is still open, driving next year, not driving next year and maybe coming back, or not driving anymore and, I don’t know, doing something different.

“So I’m not pressured or feeling pressure to make my decision too quickly.”

Vettel was quizzed shortly after Racing Point drivers Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll faced their own line of questioning about the possibility of the four-time world champion ousting one of them from their respective “long-term deals”.

So what did those guarded exchanges tell us about a rumour that will not go away?

There’s fire behind the smoke

– Mark Hughes

Sebastian Vettel

The Hungary press conference was when it became very clear there was more than just a bit of smoke to the Vettel to Aston Martin rumours.

The reactions of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll to the question – and Perez’s volunteering of the info that another team had been in touch with him about a drive – made it quite clear something was afoot.

Vettel’s turn beneath the spotlight a little while later certainly didn’t extinguish that smoke.

It began a few weeks ago as just an abstract exercise in logic: which 2021 seats could be available for Sebastian Vettel given that Ferrari had released him?

Mercedes? It was always a long-shot, given how well the Lewis Hamilton/Valtteri Bottas partnership works. Even in the highly unlikely event that Hamilton ‘did a Rosberg’ and retired, Mercedes would surely just plug-in George Russell. The hyper-competitive Vettel – at the back end of his career and with a big point to prove – alongside Hamilton never sounded like something Toto Wolff would be keen to embrace.

Renault? There was a Daniel Ricciardo-size hole there, after all. Vettel admitted last week he had been in talks with Renault. But they weren’t serious talks – and it’s now clear that Cyril Abiteboul was already in the process of putting his eggs into the Fernando Alonso basket.

Aston Martin suggested itself, given the sometimes sensational speed in Austria of the Racing Point that was last year’s Mercedes and will be next year’s Aston.

But it seemed still just an abstract question – until team principal Otmar Szafnauer answered the direct question of whether he would be retaining the Perez/Stroll line-up next year with: “We have long contracts with both our drivers, so it would only be logical that we don’t have space”.

Otmar Szafnauer

That answer in itself was a big red flashing light: such awkward, stilted wording, clearly stepping around minefields.

In the few days gap between those two races the rumours have only intensified.

Amusingly, Vettel spotted the obvious booby trap question of what was his favourite James Bond car – opting for the BMW Z8 (actually from The World Is Not Enough).

He also implied he had yet to reach a decision about whether to continue but admitted – inadvertently? – there had been talks with the team.

Careful wording but no denial

– Scott Mitchell

Sebastian Vettel

Vettel was given an immediate opportunity to say emphatically he has not received a Racing Point contract offer but instead opted for the route out of an answer offered by calling the validity of “rumours” into question.

But saying something is a rumour isn’t the same as saying it’s not true. Rumours aren’t necessarily false. Vettel had the chance to dispel the Bild story with absolute certainty and didn’t.

He even laughingly tried to avoid answering one question when he thought he’d already answered it, and then when suggested he should answer again he replied: “I can’t remember what I said the first time.”

It was said half in jest, and Seb did go on to give his answer, but it was a reminder of the importance of keeping one’s story straight over such matters…

Vettel will decide what he wants to do, and then things will get serious. But that doesn’t mean the ball’s not rolling already, and that’s at the heart of the current story.

He and Racing Point could have initial discussions – the “loose talks” that Vettel has admitted to – and then work out the finer details later.

Ultimately it’s not up to Vettel to worry about whether the team’s got an escape clause with Stroll or Perez, or fix it if the team ends up pulling a Sauber and contracting all three.

Sergio Perez

When Perez took to the stand, for that’s what Thursday’s press conference felt like at times for the drivers at the heart of this matter, his performance was the same as Vettel’s: never confirming there is something going on, but deliberately choosing his words to the point of leaving everything on the table.

Talk of ‘logical’ contract arrangements, contracts being in place, stories being “rumours” and everything else we’ve over the last week, including today, has done little to kill this story.

Everybody’s been careful not to pour petrol on the fire, but the flames are definitely flickering.

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