July 23, 2024

Although the Scuderia is one of the few teams with a known driver line-up for next season, the same cannot be said for Mercedes.

Who might replace Hamilton at the Silver Arrows is one of the sport’s burning questions and continues to bring up surprise names.

Carlos Sainz, Esteban Ocon, Mick Schumacher and even F2 rookie Andrea Kimi Antonelli are all legitimate suggestions mooted since Hamilton’s announcement.

But a world champion name has also popped up and it is the one I struggle to comprehend – Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel is one of F1’s legendary drivers, sitting P4 in total wins and pole positions, P3 in front-row starts and podium finishes, P2 in career points, and he still outright holds the record for most pole positions in a single season by a three-race margin thanks to his dominant 2011 campaign.

All of that doesn’t even mention the four consecutive World Drivers’ Championship crowns the German took between 2010 and 2013.

Sadly, all of those storied Vettel accomplishments are very much achievements of the past.

The German driver fell from his untouchable status shortly after his final championship once Daniel Ricciardo joined Red Bull Racing and comfortably outperformed his vastly more experienced teammate.

Flashes of Vettel excellence did return when the four-time champion swapped Red Bull for red overalls and almost pushed Hamilton for the title when the car beneath him had the speed.

Yet something changed with Vettel on that fateful day at Hockenheim in 2018 when he crashed from the race lead, and he never seemed to find the same performance peaks during his remaining four F1 seasons.

2019 saw Charles Leclerc repeating Ricciardo’s ways of shaking up Seb by being the hotshot newcomer who found more success than the de facto team leader.

That was the beginning of the end, and much like Carlos Sainz faces this year, the German had to endure an entire season knowing he would be leaving Ferrari after Maranello’s top brass wanted someone else.

Yes, there was a swansong two seasons at Aston Martin, but that a driver with Vettel’s record had half a year to find another home and he could only join a team that sat slap-bang in the midfield was a damning indictment of his late-career reputation.

A cameo podium at Baku, somewhat fortunately achieved after Max Verstappen’s tyre failure and Hamilton’s restart from hell, was a high-water mark thanks to Vettel’s Hungarian GP ending in disqualification.Sebastian Vettel Speaker Agent | Hire Motorsports Speaker

There’s no denying that the Aston Martin Vettel drove was never at the level of the early-2023 highs that reopened Alonso’s trophy cabinet, but the German driving it was also not at the level of his early-2010s dominance either.

Silly season is always such a fascinating facet of F1 fandom as the months of wild speculation, rumour, and flat-out fabrications can all appear somewhat believable.

Carlos Sainz to Sauber, Alex Albon to Red Bull, Andrea Kimi Antonelli to Williams… they all have a sense of believability.

Sauber’s Andreas Seidl has worked with Sainz. Albon had Red Bull backing to reach F1. Williams has incubated a Mercedes junior before. I can understand why people can get behind these possible changes.

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