Sebastian Vettel shocked the world last week when he announced his retirement from Formula 1 after 16 long, fruitful years of racing. It’s a huge loss for the sport – but it’s also a huge opportunity.
The 35-year-old German, who won four World Drivers’ Championship titles, holds countless F1 records and is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time, announced his retirement on social media – itself a surprising move, as Vettel was famous for his dislike of social media and indeed has never used social media before this announcement.
Seb’s announcement, which you can watch below, is highly poignant and alludes to how his climate and LGBT activism is increasingly at odds with his career in motorsports, as well as how he wants to spend more time with his family.
“Next to racing, I have grown a family and I love being around them. I have grown other interests outside Formula 1. My passion for racing and Formula 1 comes with lots of time spent away from them, and takes a lot of energy. Committing to my passion the way I did and the way I think is right, no longer goes side-by-side with my wish to be a great father and husband,” Vettel explains.
WATCH Sebastian Vettel’s retirement announcement below.
While we’ll all probably miss Vettel – who evolved from being a true enfant terrible in his early days (Multi-21, Seb!) to becoming a well-loved elder statesman of the sport in recent years – a spot opening up on the F1 grid is ultimately a rather good thing.
At the same time that F1 drivers are starting in the sport at increasingly younger ages (indeed, Vettel himself started in F1 when he was only 19), other drivers are sticking around in the sport for longer and longer.
For example, Lewis Hamilton has been racing in F1 for 15 years non-stop. Fernando Alonso, who is now in his 40s, has been racing for over 20, albeit while taking multiple spells away from the sport. Same deal for Kimi Räikkönen, who retired from F1 last year.
No one is saying we should be pushing these legends out of the sport, especially when they’ve still got plenty of speed still in them… But we’re currently at a crisis point where so many talented young drivers are being kept out of F1 when they really deserve to be there.
Oscar Piastri, who was the F2 World Champion last year yet found himself without an F1 seat in 2022, is the most obvious example. Frankly, it’s a travesty that Piastri isn’t in F1.
Other talented drivers waiting in the wings who also deserve a go in F1 include Nyck de Vries (F2 champion in 2019), Jamie Chadwick (3-time Formula W champion) and Colton Herta (youngest-ever IndyCar race winner).
It’s not clear who will take Vettel’s spot at Aston Martin alongside Lance Stroll (who thanks to his dad’s ownership of the team, has a very safe seat – but that’s a whole other issue…)
The odds-on favourite to take Seb’s seat is Mick Schumacher, who is not only a prodigious talent that’s arguably been wasted at back-marker team Haas for two years but also has a strong personal relationship with Vettel. Vettel, who long idolised Mick’s father Michael, has actively mentored the young German.
Other drivers that have been tipped to take Vettel’s seat include Pierre Gasly, who has been cooling his heels at Red Bull’s junior team AlphaTauri after being unceremoniously booted from the top team after half a season in 2019, and Daniel Ricciardo, who has suffered two lacklustre years at McLaren and has been the subject of intense media speculation around his future in F1.
Still, rather than circling like vultures speculating about who’s going to take Vettel’s seat at the end of this season, let’s take some time to reflect on Vettel’s extraordinary career as well as his sterling reputation.
“Everyone in the paddock loves him, you know? You will not hear someone speaking bad about Seb,” Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz has said.
Legendary F1 journalist David Tremayne sums it up adroitly. “As a racer, he’ll be missed. As an intelligent, perceptive and articulate observer, he still has much to offer.”