Sebastian Vettel to Aston Martin: Assessing the big F1 2021 move

Aston Martin start new era in style with major coup

“A Statement of Intent.”

Not our words, but the team’s, in the first headline of their press release announcing the capture of four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel on a contract from 2021 to effectively launch their new Aston Martin era.

Their statement then went on to say:

“The signing of Sebastian is a clear statement of the team’s ambition to establish itself as one of the most competitive names in the sport.”

Whether or not you feel the consistent and fast Sergio Perez has been hard done by to lose his seat, or Vettel is perhaps not the driver he was in his title-winning pomp, the signing of a proven world champion, serial race winner and arguably still the second-biggest name in the sport certainly does send out a powerful message.

Particularly as drivers of Vettel’s standing have generally not joined a team which for most of its 30-year existence and numerous guises has been a midfield runner.

In fact, the only former world champion the ‘Silverstone-based team’ have ever signed was Damon Hill in 1998-99 when still in their original incarnation of Jordan. The 1996 champion won them their first race. (Michael Schumacher did drive in one race for Jordan, but that was at the start of his F1 career in 1991, three years before he was world champion and a household name).

Vettel certainly is that and his presence will grab attention and exposure when the team reveal the first F1 car to carry the Aston Martin name for 61 years ahead of next season, when the German will swap Ferrari Red for British Racing Green.

But it won’t be long until attention turns to prospects and all-important performance…

F1 star Vettel has chance to reinvent himself

Although Vettel is now seven years removed from his last world championship – and wasn’t able to bring success back to Ferrari – his slight downturn in form in recent seasons shouldn’t detract from the fact he is still one of F1’s elite.

Vettel, after all, has provided Lewis Hamilton with his only real title threat of the Mercedes era since Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes exit and, only 33, is two years younger than the man who now has six titles and seemingly continues to improve.

The Aston Martin move provides him with a career refresh away from the pressure cauldron that is Ferrari, puts him in position to shine in a very-winnable team-mate battle, and gives him the opportunity to reinvent himself as a driver in F1’s ever-competitive upper-midfield.

Add to that the fact Racing Point are actually quicker than Ferrari this year, and this is essentially a win-win transfer for Vettel, who will be motivated to prove himself once again.

“I still have so much love for Formula 1 and my only motivation is to race at the front of the grid,” said Seb. Will he get that chance?

Will Aston Martin be a threat moving forward?

The most consistent midfield threat to Mercedes and Red Bull in F1 2020’s first eight races, Racing Point’s start to the season surely must have been one of the biggest factors in convincing Vettel to sign.

Given their rather successful, yet controversial, ‘copy’ of the 2019 Mercedes, the soon-to-be Aston Martin team should be well placed to be competitive again in 2021, with few changes permitted to the current cars.

But what about the following year?

“When the rules significantly change in 2022 and everybody has to build a brand new car, that is where Vettel will have a big question mark,” said Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz. “Is this Aston Martin team the top team to compete with Mercedes?”

Aston Martin have lofty ambitions and a new factory in the works but are still a relatively small team, so creating a race-challenging car from scratch for 2022 will be a big ask – particularly with the likes of McLaren also ready to attack a clean slate with the same Mercedes power.

A sprinkle of star dust for 2021 grid

As partly evidenced by Charles Leclerc’s usurping of Vettel at Ferrari over the past 18 months, there has been a changing of the guard in F1 and nothing is ultimately going to hold that back.

But that doesn’t mean the seasoned older-guard are going to go quietly and with Hamilton heading for the biggest F1 records and surely signing up with Mercedes again very soon, four-time champion Vettel sticking around for a new adventure, and evergreen double champion Fernando Alonso returning at Renault/Alpine, F1 2021 should have the best of both generational worlds.

And, who knows, 2007 champion and Kimi Raikkonen, who turns 41 next month, might just stick around for another year too.

Next season’s grid will contain no shortage of star dust, whatever the age.

Did Perez deserve to lose seat, and what now?

Assessing the head-to-head stats between Perez and Lance Stroll and it’s fair to say the Mexican is rather unlucky to be losing his seat.

He beat Stroll 17-3 in the qualifying head-to-head last year, and scored more than double his points. Even this season, when he has missed two weekends after contracting coronavirus, Perez is 4-2 up in the qualifying standings and although Stroll is much more competitive in races, the 23-point difference between them in the standings comes mostly from the Canadian’s Monza podium. And that should probably be seen more as an opportunity missed rather than a monumental achievement given his big strategy advantage.

Stroll is by no means fortunate to be on the grid and is definitely underrated as a driver. Only 21 years old, he can point to notable improvements, coupled with impressive consistency, over recent years, while there is certainly growth to develop further. But this is very harsh on Perez.

So, what now?

There aren’t exactly countless opportunities on the 2021 grid. Perez, who said he doesn’t have a “Plan B” in F1, has Red Bull as a best-case landing spot – although that is extremely unlikely given their public backing for Alex Albon, and the form of Pierre Gasly in the same Red Bull family.

With AlphaTauri also almost certainly not an option, the only other teams (discounting Mercedes) with spots open are Alfa Romeo and Haas – and both have been frequent backrunners so far this season.

Perez leaving F1 altogether seems a distinct possibility.

(c) Sky Sports 2020: Sebastian Vettel to Aston Martin: Assessing the big F1 2021 move


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