Red Bull have announced that Defending Quadruple World Champion Sebastian Vettel is leaving at the end of the current season. Immediately after confirming the key driver’s departure, team boss Christian Horner insisted that Vettel is leaving the team in favour of Ferrari.
Vettel’s timely decision paves the way for Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat to join the Red Bull team, but with Horner divulging that the four-time title winner is bound for Maranello, it also effectively confirms Fernando Alonso’s imminent move away to fresh pastures at the end of the current season.
Horner later stated he had only been informed by Vettel of his decision as late as Friday evening. The Red Bull Team Principal finished his statement in a reflective manner;
“Seb’s been with Red Bull for 15 years as a junior driver and as a Formula 1 driver, so he’s obviously been giving this a great deal of thought,” he said.
“He informed us last night and obviously had his reasoning behind that. I don’t think he’d taken the decision lightly and was obviously very emotional about it.
“But if it’s his desire to be somewhere else, then it’s not right for us to stand in his path.
“We’ve achieved a great deal together and we’ve enjoyed a lot of success. We’ve had some great times – on and off track – and we’ll look back on those with great fondness and affection.
“As of January 1st he’ll be a competitor. He’ll be a Ferrari driver.”
Red Bull Motorsport Advisor Dr Helmut Marko says he believes the news has not left any ‘bad feelings’ between Vettel and his championship winning team.
Vettel has consistently been linked with a move to the Scuderia over the last couple of seasons and this weekend’s race has so far been dominated by rumours that Alonso is on the verge of leaving.
Speculation ahead of the recent Singapore GP suggested that the pair might swap seats, with the two highly rated Champions both seeking pastures new. Daniil Kvyat’s subsequent announcement in Red Bull’s 2015 lineup was somewhat more unexpected.
Instead, it appears increasingly likely that Alonso will return to McLaren, with whom he endured a fractious season in 2007, and who make a switch to Honda power next year. The Japanese engine provider have not attempted to avoid their eagerness to prize Alonso away from his Ferrari team.
The Spaniard’s future whereabouts have been seen as the key to unlock the so-called ‘driver market’, with other drivers openly admitting that their future plans had effectively been put on hold until Alonso’s future was clear.
In June last year, Red Bull announced that Vettel had extended his contract to the end of 2015. Red Bull’s Motorsport Advisor Dr Helmut Marko, however, clarified that the agreement contained a clause that enabled him to leave.
Alonso’s Ferrari deal runs until the the conclusion of the 2016 campaign, yet the suggestion in recent days has been that relations between the 33-year-old and new management headed by Marco Mattiacci have deteriorated to the extent that both parties have agreed to an early exit. Additionally, Alonso’s constantly exceptional results, combined with the uncompetitive packages provided by the team has led to some fans and pundits labelling the relationship as something of an unequal, disjointed partnership.
Vettel’s imminent departure and Kvyat’s subsequent promotion has clarified certain positions within the F1 hierarchy, and has thus unlocked the metaphorical driver merry-go-round, leaving some drivers stranded – including Jenson Button, who is currently without a McLaren contract for next season. Alonso’s strong links to the team has therefore placed the 2009 World Champion’s future under even closer scrutiny.
And there is also the quesion of who might replace Kvyat at Toro Rosso. With Jean-Eric Vergne due to be replaced by 17-year-old Max Verstappen, one obvious suggestion is Carlos Sainz Jr.
Marko did not discuss that but insisted Red Bull was right to promote 20-year-old Kvyat and thinks the Russian and Ricciardo can challenge for the title.
When asked why Red Bull hadn’t considered Alonso, he also suggested that their new pairing would be more harmonious.
“We have our junior programme and as you saw with Ricciardo, it’s working,” he said.
“We want to have a productive, constructive atmosphere in the team and that’s what we have with the youngsters.”
The reverberation of today’s news is expected to last over the coming days, with further announcements expected throughout the weekend.