World championship leader Sebastian Vettel will stay with Ferrari until 2020 after agreeing a three-year contract extension, the Italian team announced on Saturday.
In a statement that ended weeks of speculation over the future of the four-time champion German, Ferrari said it had “extended its technical and racing agreement with driver Sebastian Vettel for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 racing seasons.”
It had been widely rumoured that the 30-year-old German was flirting with the possibility of joining Mercedes, a prospect dismissed on Friday by his title rival Lewis Hamilton.
The announcement came as little surprise to paddock observers, even if the timing was unexpected. Ferrari usually make their driver announcements at their home Italian Grand Prix at Monza, scheduled for next weekend.
The three-year extension ties in with Ferrari’s own contract with Formula One that runs until 2020 when the team will seek to negotiate new terms for its participation with the sport’s new US owners Liberty Media.
Vettel’s original contract with Ferrari was scheduled to run to the end of this season, a situation that allowed him to use possible talks with other teams as leverage in his negotiations to stay.
However, given the team’s resurgent form this year — he was second behind team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who has re-signed for 2018, in the third free practice on Saturday morning — there has been little doubt that he would remain with the Italians.
MERCEDES ADMIT APPROACH
Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda revealed on Saturday that discussions had taken place with Vettel, but they did not go far.
“We discussed it briefly once with him, but the more competitive Ferrari goes, the less the reason he would want to leave,” Lauda told Sky Sports F1. “So therefore we stopped right away a couple of months ago.
“I think every driver, if he’s clever, talks to more than one team. Then when you negotiate you’re in a better position. That’s what he did.”
The duration of his new contract will keep Vettel out of the driver market beyond d 2019 when a hectic spell of activity is expected in the sport with Dutchman Max Verstappen, still only 19, likely to become available unless his current Red Bull team become serious title contenders.
Raikkonen’s extension for just one year signals also that Ferrari may swoop for Verstappen or any other rising star to partner Vettel in 2019.
Following Ferrari’s announcement, it is now expected that Mercedes will extend Finn Valtteri Bottas’s contract. He was signed on a one-year deal for this year as a replacement for retired 2016 champion Nico Rosberg.
Both Red Bull drivers Verstappen and Australian Daniel Ricciardo are under contract until the end of next year, as is Hamilton with Mercedes.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) August 26, 2017
Team orders. It’s an issue that has reared its head – often in ugly fashion – since the inception of Formula 1.
As F1 packs up for the month-long summer break, we take a look at team orders and team play. More specifically, the events at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
When Lewis Hamilton was allowed past Valtteri Bottas – quicker at that point in the Mercedes – to chase the Ferraris and make a real race of it in the final laps, it seemed the German manufacturer was, for the first time this season, making a clear, public call on who was the team’s No1.
Hamilton adhered to the orders and then let Bottas pass him at the death for the final podium spot to his teammate. At that stage, Hamilton was seven seconds ahead and, with three world titles to his name and so much more experience at Mercedes, remains the clear best bet for the title.
But graciously, he slowed to allow Bottas to pass – almost at the risk of losing another spot to Max Verstappen.
It equated to three lost points and team boss Toto Wolff admitted that “yes, it might cost him the world championship” but the team pushed the concept that it was the right thing, and it was just that.
Hamilton has always pushed the premise that, while he wants to win, he wants to win fairly, or in this case simply get the upper hand fairly.
Sure, he was faster than Bottas but he was making the point with his late gesture that he did not deserve that third spot behind the two Ferraris. There is the sense that Ferrari will go into the break buoyed by finally halting the Mercedes juggernaut, which had been building in Hungary.
But the decision by Hamilton and Mercedes to allow Bottas through for that deserving third spot is a subtle warning to Ferrari.
Essentially, the defending world champions have said they’re confident enough to lose three points in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship for the rest of the season’s fight. And there is good reason for such a stance.
In recent weeks, it has become clear that Mercedes have been winning the development race. They might not have gained the upper hand in Hungary but they will have the power advantage at subsequent circuits, plus they know they have solved their greatest problem of the season.
There have been moments in the past when the team have not been able to get their rubber working properly. In places such as Russia and Monaco, Hamilton had all sorts of trouble with the Pirelli tyres underneath him.
Mercedes have widened that window in which the tyres best work, and the team go off on their respective summer breaks confident of the races and race weekends that lie ahead.
Of the other team orders on the weekend, Ferrari once again made it clear that Vettel is No1, Kimi Raikkonen’s body language in the immediate aftermath of the race merely accentuating that point.
And what of Red Bull? The team have refreshingly allowed their drivers to race with the one caveat in the team briefing beforehand being they give each other space in turns one and two.
Max Verstappen clearly was not listening and had a coming together with Daniel Ricciardo, which led to the other’s race demise from the outset.
So who says team orders have to be boring and negative? For once, it added all manner of frisson to the on-track action.
Jenson Button has weighed into Lewis Hamilton’s row with Sebastian Vettel by insisting that the Ferrari driver should not face further punishment for causing a deliberate collision in Azerbaijan.
Vettel is under investigation by the FIA after he banged wheels with title rival Hamilton during Sunday’s chaotic race.
The sport’s governing body will convene on Monday, six days before the next round in Austria, to determine whether the 10-second stop-and-go penalty that the championship leader served for dangerous driving was enough.
Button, who returned for a one-off appearance at the Monaco Grand Prix last month but has effectively retired from the sport, agreed that Vettel had not helped himself by refusing to accept blame for the incident.
But the 37-year-old feels the German, who leads Hamilton in the title race by 14 points, should not face further sanctions. The FIA could choose to fine Vettel, strip him of the 12 points he scored for finishing fourth in Baku, or indeed ban him.
“(The) Azerbaijan GP was a pleasure to watch,” Button, who partnered Hamilton for three years at McLaren, said on his official Twitter account. “Why? Because adrenaline and emotions were high.
“What Vettel did was silly but he’s been punished. Move on. A driver now knows that he will get a 10-sec drive (sic) which equates to 30 seconds with pit entry and exit, race game over.”
Vettel’s actions on lap 19, in which he hit Hamilton from behind before he pulled alongside the Briton and swerved into his car, could be deemed to have brought the sport into disrepute.
“I don’t think you can class it as road rage when it’s not on the road,” Button, the 2009 world champion, added. “You can’t compare racing with driving on the road as racing wouldn’t exist.”
The outcome of the FIA summit will be announced before the Austrian Grand Prix which takes place a week on Sunday.