No F1 return with Mercedes for Vettel – source

Sun, 7 April 2024, 07:00

Apr.7 (GMM) Sebastian Vettel will not be launching a return to Formula 1 with Mercedes.

That is the confident claim of Germany’s largest newspaper, Bild, citing sources who profess to know that Toto Wolff’s short-list to replace Lewis Hamilton next year has only three names on it.

“And the German is not one of them,” correspondent Michel Milewski said.

That is despite the fact that quadruple world champion Vettel, who retired two years ago, says he’s been in talks with Wolff.

And Mercedes boss and co-owner Wolff said at Suzuka: “Sebastian is someone that you can never discount.”

Another top contender is Fernando Alonso, or Max Verstappen if he leaves Red Bull amid the team’s internal turmoil. Hamilton, though, would prefer if Wolff picks 36-year-old Vettel.

“I think the only thing I really care about is that the team takes on someone with integrity and values that are aligned with the team,” the seven time world champion said at Suzuka.

“There are some drivers that are more selfish than others. Some that are good drivers but perhaps not the best within team environments,” Hamilton added.

Veteran Formula 1 journalist Roger Benoit, however, believes Vettel’s time in F1 has passed.

“Too many things in motorsport simply no longer fit with his new attitude to life,” he wrote in Blick newspaper, “even if his urge to get into the cockpit has returned.”

But racing driver and pundit Jason Watt, speaking with the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, thinks the real problem is that Vettel is simply not fast enough.

“I think most people can see that it wasn’t pretty when he was next to Lance Stroll in an Aston Martin,” he said. “Given how Alonso is now dealing with Stroll, it screams to the heavens that Vettel no longer has what it takes to be a Mercedes driver.

“And whether you get even slower from sitting out for two years seems to be a rhetorical question,” added Watt.

Much more likely for Mercedes, given that George Russell is locked up in the other silver cockpit, is that Wolff will take a gamble on his 17-year-old protege Kimi Antonelli.

Wolff admitted at Suzuka that while he had intended to wait until Antonelli turns 18 in August, “more days” have been added to the young Italian’s comprehensive F1 test program for 2024.

It kicks off at the Red Bull Ring in a 2021 Mercedes later this month.

“We want to give him a feeling of what a really good car feels like before we put him in the ’22 car,” said Wolff.

Antonelli could even be among a trio of F1 rookies next year, with Oliver Bearman linked with Haas and Liam Lawson likely to replace Daniel Ricciardo at RB.

“Drivers like Logan Sargeant, Daniel Ricciardo, Guanyu Zhou and Valtteri Bottas will have to brace themselves for the coming summer,” Benoit observed.

“They are all threatened with dismissal for 2025. And whether they will stay in Formula 1 at all is something you shouldn’t bet on.”

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