Could Vettel follow Alonso's example of going 'home'?
The news of Fernando Alonso rejoining Renault for 2021 is an important piece in the driver market puzzle, and it also takes a possible option away from Sebastian Vettel.
Alonso has returned to the team with which he grew up, made his name, and won the world championship. It's a great story. Is there a chance that Vettel could follow suit and go back to his spiritual home at Red Bull?
It's an obvious choice, of course, and one that Christian Horner and Helmut Marko have been playing down since Vettel's departure from Ferrari was first announced.
It's totally understandable – Red Bull has access to an embarrassment of riches in terms of young talent, and it's never been a company that looks to the past. Time to move on.
However, sources in Austria have suggested that company boss Dietrich Mateschitz recently told his motorsport guru Marko to find a way to re-employ Vettel after he leaves Ferrari. If that really is the case then Marko and Horner may have to make some difficult decisions.
The main issue is obviously that Alex Albon has performed well since landing the Red Bull seat in the middle of last year, and he is still improving. Twice in the last three races he's made a move on Lewis Hamilton, only to be punted off and lose a podium finish. Had he earned both of those results his long term future at the team would probably be secure already.
You could argue that notwithstanding his right to a Red Bull seat, Albon could be parked at AlphaTauri for a couple of years. And given the upcoming rule changes the Faenza team should be a stronger position than it is now, so it might not be so bad.
However, a demotion for Albon to AlphaTauri would mean no seat for either Daniil Kvyat or Pierre Gasly. In addition, adding Vettel to the mix for the next couple of seasons would make it even harder for Red Bull youngsters like Juri Vips to progress.
This logjam of talent leaves Marko and Horner in a tricky position, but at the end of the day Mateschitz is their boss and pays the bills. He is known to have a soft spot for Vettel, and they have retained a close personal friendship. Having said that the Thai co-owners of Red Bull are big supporters of Albon, and that would have to be addressed.
Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing, with Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images
Inevitably the subject of a return came up when Vettel joined team boss Horner and Max Verstappen joined Vettel for a Q&A session on Red Bull's ServusTV, in a show broadcast from the circuit media centre on Monday evening.
He admitted that he had phoned Marko immediately after being told by Ferrari that he wasn't required for 2021, although he insisted he was only asking for advice rather than pitching for a job.
"I called him right after the decision," he explained. "But not to ask, 'Helmut, do you have a place?', but because I get along very well with him, and he has been a confidant for years.
"I asked him for advice. I described the situation to him as it is. He's known for putting his heart on his sleeve. And then I spoke to him. What will come out in the end remains to be seen. The talks in this regard are of my own making."
In the course of the Servus show, the German's spell with the team was celebrated with a video that included contributions from his former teammate Mark Webber and other team members.
After viewing it Vettel was clearly emotional, especially when Horner heaped further praise on him.
"If you watch the video we had so many special memories with Sebastian," said Horner. "Thirty eight races won together, the four titles. We had an incredible time in that period of his career. If he leaves F1, it will be F1's loss.
"But time is always moving. We're only at race one, we have two drivers who are doing a super job. It would be difficult to see how we could accommodate him, because we weren't expecting him to be on the market. We never expected Ferrari to so rudely not offer him another contract."
Asked if Vettel or Alex Albon would be a more pleasant team mate he said: "I've never worked with Sebastian before. So I have no idea. I don't think there will normally be a problem. But of course, every driver in F1 wants to win."
The story took another turn in Thursday's FIA press conferences. Firstly Verstappen noted that his response was indeed influenced by the fact that Vettel was sitting alongside him.
"I was of course on the TV show on Monday and I was sitting next to Seb and I got this question," he said. "I was just trying to be polite and nice and saying I could imagine it but I think at the moment I think the team is very happy with both of us and I have to say I am also really happy with Alex as a team mate.
"First of all he is a very nice guy in the team which is really good for everyone, he is good with set-up, so we both have good feedback for the team and he is a fast guy so I don't think there is any reason to change and I think Christian and Helmut can back that up."
Shortly afterwards Vettel expanded on the other side of the equation, in other words would he like to take on Verstappen in the same car?
"I think generally I'm of the conviction that if you want to win, you have to be happy to take on anyone," he said. "I don't think that is a question of your potential team mate, no matter where you find yourself.
"I know the team very, very well from my past, so of course I'm still in contact with a lot of the people there, whether it's Christian, Helmut, or others. The appearance on Servus TV had nothing to do with that or potential future.
"Red Bull has a winning car, I believe so, they are a very strong team, I know how strong they are from the past, obviously a part of the team is not the same anymore and the team has evolved.
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, with Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
"So it's not fair to say I know the team inside out, because it also has changed and moved on. I know why they were strong back then, and they are still a contender. It's a car that you can win races in, so for sure that would be interesting."
Asked outright if he would take a Red Bull seat he replied: "As I said, it's a winning car, and as I said earlier, I'm here to compete and here to win, so probably the answer would be yes."
It would be a huge shame for Albon if he was to be dropped in favour of Vettel, but stranger things have happened in the Red Bull camp – and the bottom line is that British/Thai driver still has to maintain his upward curve and get consistent results. That's the norm at Red Bull of course, so the ball is in his court.
If he doesn't have a great first half of the 2020 season he would be vulnerable anyway. And then Vettel would have to be a serious option, given that both Gasly and Kvyat have had a shot at Red Bull, and been demoted.
What if it happens? Honda would certainly be overjoyed to have Vettel. And like Alonso at Renault he could enjoy a building year with the current cars in 2021, before launching into the new rules in 2022, at which point his experience and technical savvy would prove invaluable.
Don't forget too that when the cost cap comes in, driver salaries remain outside the limits. Vettel has made it clear that money was not the issue with Ferrari, and he's unlikely to ask for (or receive) a mega fee.
But the point is that whatever figure they ultimately receive, drivers are now see as the key differentiator that sits outside those financial restrictions. So why not take a four-time world champion?
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull RB9 Renault
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
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