Ecclestone advises Vettel 'to take a year off'

Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has advised his good friend Sebastian Vettel to take a year off from Formula 1 and observe the sport’s changes before deciding on his future.

The shock announcement of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari at the end of this season has sparked a lot of speculation about the four-time world champion’s next move.

On paper, opportunities exist at Renault and Mercedes for 2021, but there are also good reasons for Vettel not joining either team.

Oddly, the prospect of the German driver taking a sabbatical has seldom been mentioned, but at 32-years-old – two years young than Lewis Hamilton, Vettel could afford to spend 12 months on the sidelines.

And that’s exactly what Ecclestone has advised his friend to do.

“I’ve been talking to him quite a bit and maybe he should take a year off,” said the 89-year-old in an interview with the Evening Standard. “So, come back in 2022 with the rule changes.

“It gives him a chance to wait and see how F1 is going to change. But I think what he’d like to do is drive for Mercedes against Lewis.”

Watching from afar, Ecclestone has taken note of the changes that will sweep F1 from next year, like the introduction of a $145m budget cap.

But Mr. E hasn’t been impressed by the amount of emphasis put on discussions about the cost-cap level.

“It’s been complete rubbish,” he said. “They were messing about over £5million, which is a tiny percentage of their budget, when there’s other things that need to be done.

“When I owned Brabham, we used to spend a lot less than Ferrari and we still won and they didn’t. It’s about the people, not the money.

“The money’s become an ego competition rather than a real competition, one guy just wanting to spend more than the other guy. But again, the public don’t care.”

Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) with Fabiana Flosi (BRA) and Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal.

As for the sport’s truncated 2020 season, Ecclestone reiterated his belief that the entire campaign should have been called off in light of the disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a funny championship, isn’t it?” he said. “You have the Austrian Grand Prix and the next week the same thing but called something else.

“So, you’ll look at the championship, someone wins and you’re not quite sure what they’ve won. And people will forever say that it was a lucky win because it wasn’t really a championship.”

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Ricciardo thinks Vettel is hungry to continue

Sebastian Vettel is “still hungry and competitive enough” to continue in Formula 1, that’s according to his former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

Earlier this month Vettel shocked many when he announced that 2020 would be his final season with Ferrari.

The four-time World Champion joined the Scuderia in 2015 but, as yet, has not won a World title racing in red.

Vettel revealed that he and Ferrari no longer had a “common desire” to continue working together.

Without a race seat for next season, Vettel has been linked to several teams on the grid from Mercedes to Renault to Aston Martin, maybe even Alfa Romeo and rekindle his partnership with Kimi Raikkonen.

His other option is retirement.

Ricciardo, though, reckons the 32-year-old still has what it takes to be competitive in Formula 1.

“If I know him well enough, I believe he’s still hungry and competitive enough to want to continue,” the Aussie told CNN.

“Also, because he’s still older than me. So it makes me not the oldest guy.”

Ricciardo took away one of Vettel’s options for 2021 when he announced he would be heading to McLaren to replace the Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz.

“I like Seb,” he continued. “Obviously, I had him as a team-mate, but as a competitor he brings something to our sport.

“He’s one of the very few if not the only one that isn’t active on social media, and he’s one of the most successful people ever in our sport, yet he’s one of the most private.

“And even that in itself brings a lot of mystery behind him.”

Ricciardo is one of only two team-maes to have beaten Vettel, edging him out in 2014 while Charles Leclerc managed to do the same last season.

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Berger says 'experienced' Vettel can't be dismissed

Former F1 driver Gerhard Berger won’t write off Sebastian Vettel for the 2020 title fight, insisting the Ferrari driver’s vast experience remains a big asset.

Vettel, who won just single race in 2019, was outscored in the championship by Scuderia teammate and two-time winner Charles Leclerc last season and outpaced in qualifying by the Monegasque.

The 32-year-old’s contract with Ferrari runs out at the end of this year, and many believe that if the German is swept under the carpet by Leclerc, he’ll be heading into retirement after Abu Dhabi.

But Berger refuses to dismiss the four-time world champion as a contender for the 2020 world crown despite Ferrari sending a clear signal about the future when it extended recently Leclerc’s contract until the end of 2024.

“We don’t know if it’ll be a decisive year for him personally, he’ll determine that himself” Berger told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

“Is he driving his last year and wants a good retirement? Does he want to extend his stay at Ferrari for another three years? Does he want to take Leclerc apart?

“It’s clear that with Leclerc, he has a tough nut to crack. But he can’t do it. Regardless of whether you drive a Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull, you always have a tough nut to crack.

“That used to be the case with the top teams. There are always two alpha animals that go head-to-head until one remains. When I went to McLaren, I had Senna. You can’t run away from it.”

©WRI

While Leclerc ended the season with an upper hand overall on Vettel, Berger believes the German’s form in the latter part of the season proved that he should still be a force to be reckoned with.

“In the last third of the season, Vettel showed that he can do that [go head-to-head with Leclerc] very well,” added the former McLaren and Ferrari stalwart.

“There’s no question that Leclerc has the future ahead of him and Sebastian is in the last stage of his career.

“But he has some insane experience, he has been world champion four times, has been with Ferrari for five years.

“From this he can draw and balance out the boy’s bravery. It will be an interesting duel, but I don’t dare to predict the outcome.”

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Leclerc: Vettel has stronger race pace than me

Charles Leclerc feels race pace is an area of improvement for him as he believes Sebastian Vettel is better than him in that department.

Leclerc got the better of the Vettel over the course of his first season at Ferrari, outscoring him 264 points to 240 and collecting two wins in Belgium and Italy respectively compared to Vettel’s solo success in Singapore.

However, Leclerc thinks he is still lacking in race pace compared to Vettel and has made it one of his main areas of improvement for the 2020 campaign.

“After the first three, four races, I saw that my weaknesses were more in qualifying than the races,” Leclerc told Autosport.

“So I focused quite a lot on the qualifying, and I did quite a big step from France onwards in qualifying, which was good to see.

“And then in the race, I think I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do.

“Seb has a big experience in the races and he’s stronger than me at the moment.

“So my work this winter is mostly on the races, to try and improve that.”

Leclerc also said he wants to cut down on the errors made over the course of a race weekend and feels that is an area where the whole team can improve as well.

“I hope, or at least I’m working extremely hard, to do fewer mistakes than I’ve done in 2019,” he added.

“I think as a team, we also need to focus on that.

“In terms of performance, it is always very, very difficult to know before the first race.

“Actually I was going to say winter testing, but actually in 2019 winter testing went a lot better than the first race.

“So we will wait for the first race.

“But we’ve been working well, and then to see the performance, we’ll see a bit later on.

“But I feel definitely more ready than at the beginning of 2019. And I hope I’ll be able to prove it on track.”

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‘Vettel still a top driver, he must believe in himself’

Former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has called on Sebastian Vettel to “believe in himself” as he heads into the final year of his current Scuderia deal.

Vettel experienced a very challenging 2019 season with Ferrari after being dislodged as undisputed number one driver with the team by the impressive Charles Leclerc.

The four-time World Champion was also forced to address continued speculation about potential retirement from the sport amid a number of high-profile mistakes throughout the year.

But, Di Montezemolo feels Vettel can still consider himself a “top driver” and stressed the importance of having an “open dialogue” with the team in what could be his final year at Ferrari and, perhaps, in Formula 1.

“Vettel must be calm and believe in himself because he is still a top driver,” di Montezemolo told Sky Sports in Italy.

“He also must have a very open dialogue with the team. When it comes to towards the end of contracts, these are delicate years.

“Recent years has proven to be always very fast and sooner or later the number one has to come out.”

Di Montezemolo also discussed the dynamic between Leclerc and Vettel as they head into a second season together and said Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has a “great responsibility” in continuing to manage the duo.

“Certainly there have been moments that have had a negative impact on the team,” he added.

“The drivers must know that they are not racing for themselves, otherwise they would have to make their own team and I said it once to Barrichello: it takes clarity, a great willingness of both to realise this.

“It will be a very interesting theme next season, because they are two race horses and both want to win and it can be easy to think more of themselves than of the team.

“This is a great responsibility that Binotto and the team will have to manage.”

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Leclerc and Vettel rang Binotto together after Brazil

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has revealed Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel rang him together following their clash at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Their collision at Interlagos, which resulted in both drivers retiring from the race, added another chapter to a rivalry that had developed throughout the 2019 season.

However, looking at the driver dynamic internally, Binotto believes Leclerc and Vettel are part of a united front at Ferrari.

“I am really happy with how the team spirit has grown,” Binotto told Ferrari’s official magazine.

“We are very united, compact, including the drivers, despite what some people insinuate.”

Binotto then said the unity was displayed when both drivers had spoken to each other after the Brazilian Grand Prix before then approaching him together to discuss the way forward.

“On the Tuesday following the incident they were involved in at the Brazil Grand Prix, my phone rang and on the display I saw the names of Seb and Charles, together,” he said.

“They’d been in touch with each other, they’d cleared things up, and they called me together for a three-way call.

“It wasn’t just a gesture, and it really showed an impressive united spirit. And anyway, regarding Brazil, it’s better that such an episode happens now, it will help us to understand each other better for next year.”

Leclerc and Vettel will be partnering up again for a second season at Ferrari, with the latter out of contract at the end of the year.

Leclerc, meanwhile, recently signed a new deal with the Scuderia, tying him down until at least the end of the 2024 season.

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Wurz backs Verstappen to be Hamilton's main threat in 2020

Former Formula 1 driver Alexander Wurz says that Lewis Hamilton’s main rival next season is likely to be Red Bull’s Max Verstappen rather than either of the two Ferrari drivers.

Nonetheless, Wurz is still backing Hamilton to come out on top and claim a seventh world championship next season.

“I think so, but it will be difficult because Max Verstappen will make life difficult for him,” he told German publication Speedweek.

Wurz took part in 69 Grand Prix races during his time spanning ten years in F1, which began with his debut for Benetton in the 1997 Canadian GP. He subsequently became a test driver for McLaren before switching to Williams.

The 45-year-old Austrian continues to remain active in the sport both as a driver coach and TV commentator, as well as in the World Endurance Championship where he is a two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner.

Wurz has tapped Verstappen for greatness based on the progress he and the Red Bull team made this season, in their first season with new engine partners Honda which ‘exceeded expectations’ according to the team itself.

“With the shape and current group dynamics at Red Bull Racing-Honda, he can become world champion,” said Wurz of the Dutch driving sensation. “I am most surprised by Honda’s enormous progress, which was very important for Formula 1.

“This is a great sign for sport,” he added.

Wurz was far from writing off Ferrari’s chances, and made a point of disagreeing that Sebastian Vettel was now a spent force in the sport and likely to retire at the end of the next campaign.

After starting 2019 as hot favourite to challenge Hamilton for this year’s title, Vettel ended up slumping to fourth place in the drivers championship and was even out-scored by his new young team mate Charles Leclerc.

But Wurz insisted that Vettel had already started to turn things around next year, and still had every chance of battling Hamilton and Verstappen to secure what would be a fifth championship of his own.

“Absolutely,” he declared. “He was low because he wasn’t comfortable in the car and with the tyres. But he was recovering.

“He moved closer to Leclerc and is hungry again,” Wurz pointed out. “I noticed that very clearly in personal conversations – that he still has enormous capacities.”

Most of all, Wurz is hoping that the top three teams will all be closely competitive on the track to make it a vintage year in the sport. “I hope Ferrari is fully involved and creates excitement.

“I was hoping for surprises [in 2019] and there were,” he added. “At the end of the season, no experts knew who was the favourite for the pole or the race win.”

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Vettel: I can beat anyone in Formula 1

Sebastian Vettel is confident that he can beat anyone on the grid, saying that winning and fearing opponents “don’t go together”.

The German was beaten comfortably by Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc in 2019, and it was the first time that he lost to a team-mate since 2014 when Daniel Ricciardo got the better of him.

However, he disagrees with claims that he struggles to cope when faced with strong competition from across the garage, saying that he wasn’t outperformed by the Aussie that year.

“I don’t see it that way at all,” said Vettel to German publication Motorsport Magazin.

“I understand that people refer to 2014. I lost on paper and it’s fair to say that because the numbers say I lost to Daniel, but I also know that in 2014 some things did not go as we hoped they would.

“My primary goal in 2014 was not to stand on the podium or to finish fifth. My goal was to win races. Perhaps my attitude at that time was slightly different from Daniel’s, but more than that, 2014 was not a great year.

“I don’t want to say that I was out of luck, but I was let down a few times, the car didn’t work as it should and so on. That may distort the picture and the numbers.”

The 32-year-old’s struggles in 2019 have led to many believing he’s past his best, but he still feels he’s the best on the grid on his day, saying that it wouldn’t make sense not to.

“It’s important that I know how the year went and how I feel about it,” Vettel added.

“I witnessed Daniel’s success in 2014 firsthand and as his teammate. I still do that, I have no problem with that.

“But I’m also confident that I can beat anyone who drives out there. I’m not afraid of the competition.

“The contrary would make no sense. If you want to win and fear competition, these are two things that don’t go together.”

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Singapore win was ‘key’ for Vettel’s 2019

Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto, looking back to the Singapore GP, has said it was the right thing to do to let Sebastian Vettel win the race for the good of his season.

The four-time World Champion was running behind Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton, but by pitting earlier Vettel was able to undercut both of his rivals and take over as race leader.

The Scuderia would not tell the German driver to let Leclerc through again, and he would go on to claim his only win of 2019.

And overall Binotto thought it was an important and correct decision as Vettel’s form improved in the second half of the season after several errors in the previous rounds.

“In the first part of the season, he has been put under a lot of pressure. I think he reacted very well in the second half,” Binotto is quoted by Autosport.com.

“The victory in Singapore has been key for him, not only for the victory itself but the trust in the team.

“He knew that he could count on the team for help, if necessary.

“But I think it was right, it was the right choice and time to let him win.

“When he had a lot of overall confidence in the car, I think he has been very fast.

“And if you look at his race pace he is very similar to Charles, who has been faster in quali instead.

“So I think I would say, well done to him for the second part of the season – well done for the way he reacted after a not easy first half of the season.”

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Vettel and Leclerc 'difficult to manage' from the start

Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto had admitted that the problems managing the team’s two highly competitive drivers started early in the season.

The problems only grew more public as the year went on, with Charles Leclerc complaining when the team seemed to be giving Sebastian Vettel preferential treatment in terms of race strategy.

Then when Leclerc hit a purple patch of pole positions and two race wins, it was Vettel who appeared angry and frustrated. Eventually the two clashed in Brazil, forcing both cars into retirement from likely points-paying positions.

But Binotto revealed this week that rather than getting worse as the season progressed, it had been tough to manage the pair right from the start – and actually got better toward the end, despite appearances to the contrary.

“Believe me, that type of meeting at the very start of the season was full of embarrassments and difficult to manage,” he told Motorsport.com when asked about his early briefings with the pair.

“Both of them are good drivers and need to be respected as individuals,” he said. “Both of them, when starting the race, have one objective – not just beating their teammate, but being first to the chequered flag.

“We are now getting used to it,” he insisted. “By the end of the season it became more and more comfortable, which means that we are getting used to it as a team.

Binotto also held up his hands to times when miscues on pit wall had added to the tension between Vettel and Leclerc.

“In the race we can still make eventually mistakes, but I’m pretty sure that mistakes are part of this process,” he said. “Certainly it was not an easy exercise and everybody can do better.

Mattia Binotto (ITA) Ferrari Team Principal in the FIA Press Conference.

“It is often said we should have let them race in the very first race,” he continued. “But we are still very convinced that trying to manage them is the best way in order to score team points.

“If you are optimising the team points at the end as well, you also optimise what may be the outcome for the drivers. So we were trying to manage them in the very first race.”

As for the clash near the end of the penultimate race of the season at Interlagos, Binotto continues to believe that it’s better that it happened when it did, when the 2019 titles had already been decided, rather than simmering over the winter to cause more problems in 2020.

“I believe that we can be stronger next year,” he stated. “We now have meetings with the drivers before the race to discuss scenarios – what may happen, what can be the team’s strategy.”

It remains to be seen just how successful the team is in achieving lasting harmony between its two highly rated drivers when the cars line up on the grid for the next race in Melbourne on March 15.

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