Just seven years ago, the future seemed so bright for Sebastian Vettel.
The then 26-year-old prepared for the 2014 season having just achieved four back-to-back Formula One World Championships.
Fernando Alonso, his nearest challenger in 2013, finished 155 points behind the German, yet, after a first-corner spin this afternoon, it is clear that Vettel is no longer the driver he used to be.
Vettel turned 33 last month, but has struggled to perform at the top end of the World Championship standings. Since those four consecutive titles, the German has been starved of a fifth career title.
Vettel needs to dramatically improve his fortunes in 2020 if he wants to bag himself a seat for 2021. With a move away from Ferrari confirmed, the German is on the search for a new team. Mercedes have already chosen to back Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton for 2021, while a return to Red Bull is out the window with Christian Horner intent on keeping the Max Verstappen and Alex Albon double act.
A move to Racing Point is reportedly ‘done and dusted,’ but the German’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years.
The former Red Bull driver joined Ferrari in 2015 with hopes of continuing his personal success as world champion. He has been the Italian team’s number one driver since he first made the switch, but with Charles Leclerc signing a contract until the end of 2024, the 33-year-old is soon to depart Ferrari with very few teams looking at him after a rather dramatic fall from grace.
At GiveMeSport, we’ve taken a look at the 10 moments that have proven Sebastian Vettel is no longer the Formula One driver we used to know.
2018 - A close-run to the title that was by no means ‘close’ at all
The closest Vettel came to challenging Hamilton for the title was in 2018, but even that is a stretch, given the German finished 88 points behind the Mercedes driver.
Vettel started the 2018 season the brightest, winning back-to-back in Australia and Bahrain, however, he then had to wait four races until he could claim victory once more, beating fifth-placed Hamilton in Canada.
The swinging point appeared to be in Germany, where Vettel failed to finish, while Hamilton continued his impressive run of victories to leave the Ferrari driver well behind him.
2019 - The year when Vettel was undermined by Charles Leclerc
After Vettel’s two run-ins for the championship, the arrival of Leclerc in 2019 signified a clear drop of fortune for the German. Leclerc was named as the designated number for the 2019 season and went on to out-score Vettel on every possible metric - wins, poles, points and pace.
In that first season, the Ferrari duo were split by just one position on six occasions, however, tensions reached boiling point following a collision at Interlagos. The duo were battling for fourth as the race headed towards its conclusion, but contact between them meant both were forced to retire.
Vettel ended the season 24 points behind his teammate and, with the Monégasque racer being offered a new contract, it was always likely that Vettel would depart Ferrari.
Collision with Max Verstappen at the 2019 British Grand Prix
It was one of Vettel’s lowest finishes of last season. On lap 36 of the British Grand Prix, Max Verstappen comfortably overtook Vettel on the Hangar Straight. But, as Vettel looked to restore his position, his brakes locked up, colliding with his Dutch rival as they were both forced onto the gravel.
Fortunately for both, they were able to continue the race and cross the finish line. Verstappen ended up finishing fifth, whereas Vettel was handed a 10-second time penalty, demoting him from 15th to 16th.
Suspension failure leads to USA DNF
Hopes were high for Vettel when he started in Texas in second position, but the German was unable to make a great start as he quickly began to fall down the standings.
On the first lap, a lock-up allowed Lando Norris to pass, but it was seven laps later that Vettel’s fortunes collapsed. As he exited from turn nine, the German took a wide departure, breaking his suspension as he left the track - it meant he was forced to retire, his second DNF of the season.
Radio drama spoils Russian Grand Prix for Ferrari
It’s unlikely that Ferrari’s battle for success in Sochi last year will be remembered for Leclerc’s top three finish. More likely, it’ll be noteworthy for the tension between the team’s two drivers’ radio communications.
Vettel’s surprise start to the race meant he leap-frogged teammate Leclerc and Mercedes’ Hamilton. As the Ferrari duo restricted Hamilton any attacking chances, Vettel was asked to hand the lead back to Leclerc, but he simply refused.
Words were exchanged over the radios and Leclerc was forced to wait until the Red duo pitted before overtaking the German.
It got worse for Vettel, however, as an energy recovery problem forced him out of the race and triggered the Virtual Safety Car, hindering Leclerc’s chances of a race win.
Unforced error at Monza leads to another lowly position
Ferrari were desperate to achieve their first Monza win since 2010 when they arrived in 2019. That target was achieved by Leclerc, fighting off a late challenge from Bottas, however, Vettel’s luck in Italy continued to fall short.
For the second successive time at Monza, he spun his Ferrari out of contention. After heading onto the grass, Vettel slowly emerged onto the track seemingly unaware of Lance Stroll’s fast-approaching car.
The duo were fortunate not to cause large amounts of damage to their respective cars - Vettel was given another 10-second penalty and crossed the line 13th, one lap behind the rest of the pack.
Losing his cool at Montreal
On only two occasions has Vettel had an overall finish lower than his fifth place standing in 2019. He finished his debut season in F1 14th with Toro Rosso and Sauber, the year after, he finished eighth.
Pressure mounted on Vettel throughout the season and frustrations clearly began to show. After an unforced error in Montreal, in which he went onto the grass, he forced Hamilton towards the wall as the duo went head-to-head for the race lead.
It led to the stewards issuing Vettel a five-second penalty and a far from happy German at the chequered flag.
Initially he tried to boycott the podium presentation, but an FIA official forced him to fulfil his duties, which he unwillingly obliged - albeit swapping the ‘number one’ board in front of Hamilton’s car to ‘number two’ on his way.
2020 season begins with 10th place finish
The last thing Vettel will have wanted, if he was to try and quash any questions about his ability, was a slow start to 2020. The German’s weekend, however, indicated struggles to follow.
While rival Leclerc qualified seventh, almost a second off pole, Vettel had to settle for 11th after failing to make it to Q3.
On the Sunday, meanwhile, Vettel’s poor positioning led to him colliding with Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard is set to replace Vettel at Ferrari, but as Sainz tried to overtake his soon-to-be teammate Leclerc, his exit from the turn concluded with a nudge against Vettel, spinning the Ferrari car.
The collision knocked Vettel down the grid to 15th. While he was able to rise up the standings to eventually finish 10th, it was still seen as a disappointing afternoon of racing for Vettel.
Further frustrations follow in Styrian Grand Prix
After qualifying 10th, Vettel fell down to 12th after turn one. In an attempt at overtaking his teammate on turn three, Leclerc collided with Vettel, breaking the German’s rear wing.
Leclerc escaped with damage to both his front and rear wings. He continued to race for a further three laps, but as the fourth lap came to an end, Ferrari deemed the damage to Leclerc’s car too great to continue, withdrawing him from the race.
Vettel, on the other hand, was unable to resume after the initial collision.
70th Anniversary Grand Prix brings no more luck to Vettel
Before Vettel knew it, his afternoon was over. The four-time world champion always faced an up-hill challenge after he failed to make it to Q3 on Saturday, qualifying in 12th.
But the 33-year-old ran too wide on turn one, spinning his rear, but, fortunately, avoided making contact with his competitors. The spin meant he fell to the back of the grid, where he eventually rose to finish 10th.
- Hamilton now has as many F1 podium finishes as Schumacher
- Bottas signs new deal with Mercedes
- Vettel to Racing Point is reportedly 'done and dusted'