Formula 1 superstar Sebastian Vettel has officially parted ways with Scuderia Ferrari, casting his future beyond 2020 into doubt.
During one of his weakest seasons in nearly a decade, Vettel finished fifth on the 2019 standings, below inexperienced teammate Charles Leclerc. The four-time world champion has not been able to win a fifth championship since joining Ferrari in 2015.
After he was unable to agree on the terms of a new deal with Ferrari, Vettel confirmed his stint with the team was coming to an end after the 2020 season.
“In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it’s vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony,” Vettel said.
“The team and I have realised that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of this season. Financial matters have played no part in this joint decision. That’s not the way I think when it comes to making certain choices and it never will be.
“What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life. One needs to use one’s imagination and to adopt a new approach to a situation that has changed. I myself will take the time I need to reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future.
“Scuderia Ferrari occupies a special place in Formula 1 and I hope it gets all the success it deserves.
“My immediate goal is to finish my long stint with Ferrari, in the hope of sharing some more beautiful moments together, to add to all those we have enjoyed so far.”
Watch F1 Classic Races on KAYO including every race of the 2019 Championship. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >
Vettel’s desire to focus on “what really matters” prompted several fans to speculate whether the 32-year-old would retire at the end of the 2020 season. Sports reporter Joel Sebastianelli tweeted it was “plausible” Vettel would not return to F1 next year.
Team principal Mattia Binotto congratulated Vettel on his successes at Ferrari, and said there was “no specific reason” for the mutual decision to part way.
“This is a decision taken jointly by ourselves and Sebastian, one which both parties feel is for the best. It was not an easy decision to reach, given Sebastian’s worth as a driver and as a person.
“There was no specific reason that led to this decision, apart from the common and amicable belief that the time had come to go our separate ways in order to reach our respective objectives.
“Sebastian is already part of the Scuderia’s history, with his 14 Grands Prix wins making him the third most successful driver for the team, while he is also the one who has scored the most points with us.
“In our five years together, he has finished in the top three of the Drivers’ Championship three times, making a significant contribution to the team’s constant presence in the top three of the Constructors’ classification.
“On behalf of everyone at Ferrari, I want to thank Sebastian for his great professionalism and the human qualities he has displayed over these five years, during which we shared so many great moments.
“We have not yet managed to win a world title together, which would be a fifth for him, but we believe that we can still get a lot out of this unusual 2020 season.”
With the fresh vacancy at Ferrari, some fans predicted Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo was the rightful successor.
Ricciardo’s contract with Renault also finishes in 2020, and after his underwhelming performance last year, it would not be surprising if the 30-year-old jumped ship. However, Ricciardo would be reluctant to play second fiddle to Leclerc.
Carlos Sainz, however, was seen as the front-runner to replace Vettel.
In December, Ferrari openly admitted they had spoken with six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, whose contract with Mercedes also ends in 2020.
Italian journalist Leo Turrini revealed Vettel received contract offers from Renault and McLaren, who would potentially be looking to replace Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz respectively.
“I know that Vettel has some contract offers from Renault and McLaren … but I don’t know how much he is interested in them” Turrini said to Sky Italia.
“I think Ferrari would go after Carlos Sainz.”