Silly season has officially begun.
Sebastian Vettel’s announcement this week that he will leave Ferrari at the end of the 2020 season has triggered a dramatic shake-up of the Formula 1 grid — and the turbulence may just be beginning.
Reports on Thursday claimed Carlos Sainz is deep in negotiations with Scuderia Ferrari to replace Vettel at the iconic Italian team in 2021 — and an announcement could be made this week.
It was followed by reports Daniel Ricciardo has been in extensive negotiations with McLaren to replace Sainz at the English team — and is expected to announce his decision to leave Renault as early as this week.
Those moves further slashed the few attractive options still available to Vettel for the 2021 season, but rumours are now swirling there is a coveted seat the Formula 1 world has forgotten about.
Unconfirmed speculation on Thursday claimed Vettel has his sights set on a move to world championship rival Mercedes in 2021 in a mind-blowing possible partnership with six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
The 32-year-old German has also been linked as a possible replacement for Ricciardo at Renault.
Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg have also been linked to Ricciardo’s seat.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff poured fuel on the burning Vettel rumours on Thursday when he admitted his team would consider Vettel’s Ferrari departure as it decides on its driver pairing for 2021.
Even before his comments, rumours claimed Vettel had already made a decision that it is Mercedes or bust.
F1 Insider reported on Thursday Vettel is not attracted by the potential move to a development team and would instead elect to retire.
The report claims Vettel, at the age of 32, would only accept a seat at a team that would allow him to compete for a world championship.
With Red Bull boss Christian Horner on Thursday dismissing any interest in bringing Vettel back to the team where he won four world championships, Mercedes looms as his only option.
The Daily Mail reported Thursday the attraction may be mutual with Vettel “firmly on Mercedes’ radar”.
Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas are both out of contract at the end of 2020.
Hamilton has been in extensive negotiations with Mercedes and is expected to re-sign.
Mercedes also has an option in its favour to trigger a one-year extension with Bottas.
The Finnish driver has been on rolling one-year contracts at Mercedes for the past two seasons, despite finishing second in the world championship standings last year.
Wolff on Thursday left the door open for his team to snap up Vettel.
“Sebastian is a great driver, a major personality and an asset to any Formula 1 team,” Wolff said.
“When looking to the future, our first loyalty lies with the current Mercedes drivers.
“But naturally we must take this development into consideration.”
A potential Hamilton-Vettel pairing would be arguably the greatest partnership the sport has ever seen with 10 world championships between them.
Earlier Horner said it was “enormously unlikely” that Vettel would end up back at Red Bull.
“We have a long-term agreement with Max, and I think Alex is doing a good job,” Horner told Sky Sports.
“We’ve got a good dynamic within the team and experience shows that two alpha males doesn’t tend to pan out well.
“Sebastian is still a very competitive grand prix driver so I don’t think it would be conducive for our team to have two alphas. We’re happy with the driver line-up we have. I’m sure he’s not short of options moving forward, but obviously he’s chosen it hasn’t worked out for him at Ferrari.”
His decision has given Sainz a golden ticket to potentially challenge for a world title in 2021.
Sainz was sixth overall in 2019, behind only the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers and Red Bull’s Verstappen, but has yet to win a grand prix. His third place in Brazil last year was McLaren’s first podium finish since 2014.