Ferrari claims it changed its mind on keeping Sebastian Vettel for the 2021 Formula 1 season because of the coronavirus pandemic, which stopped Vettel being able to ‘prove his motivation’.
Vettel was touted as Ferrari’s first choice for 2021, alongside Charles Leclerc, despite the four-time world champion being out of contract this year and no progress being made on re-signing him.
The indication from Ferrari and Vettel was they wanted to continue working together, but in May Ferrari announced it had signed Carlos Sainz Jr instead.
It claimed it was a mutual decision between the team and Vettel, but as The Race revealed at the time Vettel was understood to have never been offered a new contract.
He confirmed that ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix this weekend, speaking about the matter for the first time, and said it came as a surprise to him.
Asked to explain Ferrari’s change in public position, team boss Mattia Binotto insisted Vettel was always Ferrari’s main choice – despite Sainz negotiations taking place over the winter – until the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the season and made F1 make major rule changes for this year, 2021 and 2022.
“We have always said during the wintertime privately to him and publicly that he would have been our first chance,” said Binotto.
“It’s normal that during winter time, many drivers have asked if there were any opportunity to drive for Ferrari.
“So we have been contacted. But that didn’t change our position so Seb was our first choice.
“What happened since then, the virus and the unique situation that changed the entire world.
“The budget cap has been changed by quite a lot, a lot more strict (reduced from $175m for 2021 to $145m).
“Regulations have been postponed from 21 to 22 which was something important for us. Cars which have been almost frozen for 2021.
“So, let’s say that the entire situation has changed.”
Vettel has finished runner-up in the championship twice so far with Ferrari but failed to string together a sustained title bid.
He suffered his worst season with Ferrari in 2019, being beaten by new team-mate Charles Leclerc – who he also had team-orders controversies with and collided with on-track.
Binotto suggested Ferrari was not sure Vettel was the right driver beyond 2020 and the postponement of the season meant there was no opportunity for it to be convinced otherwise.
“On top of that even the season has not started so there’s been no opportunity even for Seb to be back on track to prove how much he was really motivated to drive for Ferrari, which has been somehow unfortunate for him,” he added.
“So during the shutdown as Ferrari we had to reconsider eventually our position. We took a decision.
“That is our responsibility, and we communicated to him.
“I heard that he was surprised.I remember that he was surprised, yes, certainly. I understand it, I think it’s normal to be surprised.
“I think that while he accepts our decision I think that even still today he is not fully happy with it which is again something which is normal.”
Binotto said that despite parting company, he and Ferrari continue to hold Vettel in high esteem.
“It has been a great period, five years so far, six with the current season,” said Binotto.
“He’s a great champion. But he’s as well a great person. And everybody in Ferrari, our fans, the people working internally they really love the time with him.
“I think that’s something which we fully respect. I personally myself, appreciate a lot him as a professional and as a person.
“That is fully unchanged compared to our decision.”