It is safe to say that 2020 has turned the world upside down but back in May Ferrari rocked the Formula 1 paddock when it announced it would not be offering a new contract to four-times World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
Three months and six races into the rescheduled F1 campaign and the lacklustre performances from the German coinciding with the clearly frosty atmosphere between himself and the team has prompted a potentially outrageous question.
Could Sebastian Vettel walk away before the season ends?
The once attractive prospect to try and rekindle the flames of yesteryear by linking a German World Champion with the scarlet red cars seemed so appealing back in 2015.
By 2017, it appeared as if the partnership was truly beginning to blossom as the wins started to come early in the season and the points tallied up, putting Vettel comfortably atop the standings. That title bid went awry but it was an encouraging year.
The following campaign initially yielded more promise but Vettel’s title bid collapsed mid-season, which included an agonising crash from the lead on home soil, and he finished adrift of rival Lewis Hamilton.
Once the 2019 season got underway, it appeared Vettel held the upper hand over new team-mate Charles Leclerc but the youngster soon got his feet under the table and it didn’t take long for Vettel to appear isolated in the team that once seemed to be his own.
Vettel profited from an off-set strategy to win in Singapore but that came amidst an increasingly tense atmosphere within the team, after miscommunications with Leclerc during qualifying in Italy and the race in Russia.
Tensions rose once again as Leclerc and Vettel collided at the Brazilian Grand Prix and the finger pointed at Vettel. But from there it looked like the writing was on the wall.
Ferrari and Vettel indicated pre-season that a new deal was a formality but a couple of months later the parties announced that they would go their separate ways.
Once the campaign got underway it was clear that Ferrari had dropped the ball with its lacklustre SF1000, which lacks aerodynamic ability as well as straight-line speed, following a private agreement with the FIA over its power unit.
Meanwhile, for all of Ferrari’s failings, Leclerc has scored two podiums and 45 points to just 16 for Vettel, who sits a lowly 12th in the standings.
Ferrari may always race in red, but the relationship with Vettel is appearing more blue as any comments made between either party seem to be devoid of any emotion, as well as what appears to be almost a reluctance to help the German improve his pace.
As Vettel returned to the pits having dropped out of the second part of qualifying at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Vettel told the team over the radio “Okay, that was all I had, it’s all that there was in this car, so I’ve tried. Thank you.”
His race engineer simply replied: “Understood, thanks.”
Would it put a stain on his career?
Vettel’s position in the record books will always be secure. He has taken 53 wins and four world titles – an astonishing achievement. But he is passionate about Formula 1 and wants to add to his legacy.
Talks over a potential deal with Racing Point – soon to be Aston Martin Racing for 2021 – are continuing, amid speculation that Vettel is in line to take the seat currently occupied by Sergio Perez.
It would also guarantee Vettel a rapid 2021 car – given the stability of the regulations – and also keep him in the championship, aligned with a team that has a close relationship with current powerhouse Mercedes.
Who would replace Vettel at such short notice?
There is the outside possibility of all parties hurrying up their 2021 positions – though this would involve a level of negotiation and agreement that is improbable.
Ferrari has Alfa Romeo racer Antonio Giovinazzi as its nominated reserve driver; the Italian has been part of the team since 2017 and has tested its Formula 1 machinery in previous years.
Alfa Romeo would then ostensibly call up its reserve Robert Kubica to join incumbent Kimi Raikkonen.
What is the likelihood of it all happening?
This is the biggest unknown. But should the already fractious aura continue to fester between Vettel and Ferrari then the chances of an early split are likely to increase.
The two parties are going through the motions and each race that passes is one to tick off as December’s Abu Dhabi finale draws closer.
But could they bring that relationship to an end even earlier?