‘Sebastian Vettel signs Aston Martin deal as F1 gears up for Tuscan Grand Prix’
That is a sentence which, if written 12 months ago, would have led to more than a couple of eyebrow-raising moments.
This is 2020. Not much is normal. A four-time World Champion is joining an ostensibly midfield team after being axed by the most successful Formula 1 operation in history.
But that most successful team is currently two positions behind Vettel’s future employer, which is on an upward curve following Lawrence Stroll’s purchase and subsequent substantial investment.
And what better place to announce it than as part of the build up to the grand prix that celebrates Ferrari’s 1000th Formula 1 race.
Pre-coronavirus that was meant to take place in France, in June, but instead is taking place at a new-for-2020 venue in mid-September, as the ninth race in a brutal 11-week spell.
Mugello has been the scene of many iconic MotoGP moments for Italy’s two-wheeled deity – Valentino Rossi – but in Formula 1 terms the 2020 season is such a state for circuit owners Ferrari that merely making Q3 might be worth ringing the celebratory bells at Maranello.
It probably didn’t expect to turn up to its home track sixth in the Constructors’ Championship and without a top 10 finish across back-to-back events, which included strategic blunders, a brake failure and an enormous accident in which the recalcitrant SF1000 got the treatment it deserves.
Look! New paint! Anyway…
Perhaps then Vettel’s Aston Martin announcement not so overshadows Ferrari’s party but ensures it can build up to the weekend with the fanfare focused elsewhere.
Since receiving the call in May from Mattia Binotto that his services were not required for 2021 Vettel has spent time contemplating his future.
He admitted he came “close” to retiring but once the realisation was “clear” that he wanted to remain in Formula 1 then Aston Martin was the destination of choice – even if his options weren’t exactly wide open.
“It wasn’t an easy call [to sign the deal] because the last weeks and months have been quite intense, a different and new situation to be in,” he said. “As I have put out from day 1 obviously I felt like I wanted to remain in Formula 1 if there was something that really attracts me, I think it was getting more and more clear the team’s performances this year are encouraging.
“What is even more [hopeful] is the fact the regulations are going to an even more to a level playing field and there will be a lot of firsts, first time for the team to be in a position to have probably the same money as other teams, and show what they’re capable of.
“For obvious reasons not having the money in recent years to perform in a similar level to big teams they’ve done remarkably well and I think there’s definitely enough guts in that team to prove people wrong.
“There’s a huge performance for growth, I’m looking forward to joining with the experience I have, what I can do in the car, grow the team as much as possible so we find ourselves with a competitive spot on the grid. Obviously I can’t make predictions but there’s definitely hope and belief in the team I think they’re capable and I think for the first time they’re equipped with a decent toolset.”
But the Vettel/Aston Martin tie-up leaves one nose out of joint and on this occasion Checo Perez is the one out in the cold.
He has been with the team since its Force India guise in 2014, claiming five podiums, and has been one of Formula 1’s perennial midfield fighters. He was instrumental in saving the team mid-2018, pushing it into the administrative position that provided the catalyst for the rescue, though even back then alluded to Formula 1’s minimal options on the grid. That scene in Netflix’s Drive to Survive, knowing one day he would lose his seat, reared its head on social media today. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, for after several seasons of sorting one-year deals in alignment with his sponsors he agreed a three-year deal through 2022, and had often spoken excitedly about the team’s potential.
But after weeks of rumours Perez received a phone call from Lawrence Stroll on Wednesday informing him that he would not be staying on for 2021.
Perez cut a wounded figure on Thursday as he explained the situation, remaining professional and courteous to the team while dropping sufficient hints to show he feels hurt by the events.
“There were a couple of things in the contract that we went through and they just officially told me yesterday that I am not continuing,” he said. “I didn’t expect that but it’s how it is.
“I’ve been long enough in this business… it’s part of this crazy world called F1.
“I think a better opportunity came to the team, to the brand, so there’s nothing I can do. It’s not a performance-related thing so as a driver there is not much I can do or think back.”
Perez was nonetheless grateful for the opportunity he received and took pride in the events of 2018.
“There is no secret, I put a lot of effort into this team in many ways,” he said. “At the same time the team back then, with [former team owner] Vijay [Mallya], they gave me a great opportunity to carry on with my career. In the end it didn’t work out.
“I think we’ve been extremely successful, especially they early days with Vijay.
“I think when we look back, so many podiums with cars that were not capable of achieving podiums. But not just the podiums, also the endurance, two times fourth in the Constructors’ Championship with the budget we had and so on, so we were always very good.
“The main highlight for me that I will take away was saving the team and saving the jobs of so many team members.
“That is the thing that is the most special for me and that I will always be very proud of this team, looking at them I think they have a great future ahead of them and I wish them the very best.”