On Tuesday the F1 world was shaken by the announcement that Sebastian Vettel will leave Ferrari at the end of the 2020 season.
He joined the team hoping to emulate his idol Michael Schumacher and bring multiple world championships to Maranello, but bar a remarkable 2020 season, will leave without even taking the title fight to the final race.
While Vettel was Lewis Hamilton’s main title rival in 2017 and 2018 he’s failed to emulate his Red Bull success with the Scuderia, but has still played a key role in the team’s resurgence after they finished winless in their first season of the V6 era.
Here we look back at the highs and lows of his career with the team.
March 2015 – High: Vettel wins at the second attempt
After joining Ferrari for 2015 season, Vettel scored a podium in his debut with the team in Australia, but went one better next time out at Sepang. He overtook Nico Rosberg into turn one and was able to stay with Hamilton before a Marcus Ericsson spin brought out the safety car, and the Mercedes both pitted, meaning Vettel inherited the lead.
Once he’d made his first stop he was behind the pair, but he overtook Rosberg on lap 22 and would’ve passed Hamilton a few laps later had the Brit not pitted. The leaders took their final pit stops around lap 40, with Vettel leading Hamilton by twelve seconds, a gap that would prove insurmountable for the Mercedes.
Vettel crossed the line to win by nine seconds and took Ferrari’s first win since Alonso won the Spanish Grand Prix in May 2013, a gap of nearly 700 days. Considering the performance deficit to the Mercedes, Vettel had a strong season in 2015, picking up a further three wins and nine podiums while only failing to finish once.
He was the only non-Mercedes driver to win a race, took nearly twice as many points as his teammate Raikkonen, and finished closer to Rosberg in the championship than his compatriot did to champion Hamilton. However, there was never a serious chance that he’d take the title, and his hopes were officially over after finishing third at the US Grand Prix, with three rounds still to run.
October 2016 – Low: Out of championship in winless season
Retirement in the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix put Vettel mathematically out of the championship, with five rounds of still left to run. After the optimism of the 2015 season, where Vettel had finished on the podium for the six of the last eight races, the German only scored seven podiums in the season with no wins.
At the scene of his first victory for Ferrari, Vettel launched a clumsy move on championship leader Rosberg into turn one, and broke the suspension on his front left wheel, spinning Rosberg in the process. He retired without having completed a lap to leave him fifth in the championship, with barely over half of Rosberg’s points total. Although part of the drop-off from 2015 was due to Rosberg’s more competitive showing, it was still a massive step back.
He finished fourth in the championship behind Daniel Ricciardo who’d ousted Vettel from Red Bull, and only scored eight more points than Max Verstappen who’d started the first four races for Toro Rosso.
March 2017 – High: Rebounds to win season opener
After the poor second season at Ferrari, Vettel showed they’d be serious challengers for 2017 with a commanding victory at the Australian Grand Prix. He started second but had a clear advantage on pace, keeping with Hamilton before his rival entered the pits, having struggled to manage his tyres as effectively as the German.
Vettel put in a series of fast laps while Hamilton was unable to get past Verstappen, so when Vettel made his stop six laps later he emerged in front of the pair. He survived an early attack from the Dutchman to win, with a gap of ten seconds to Hamilton, and hoist the Jack Brabham trophy aloft for the second time in his career.
He’d go on to win the third race of the season in Bahrain, again with Hamilton second, and finished in the top two for the first six races of the season. After victory in Monaco at the end of that run, he had built a 25 point lead over Hamilton.
September 2017 – High: In contention as season leaves Europe
At the other end of the European leg, Vettel was still in the championship hunt. He won the Hungarian Grand Prix after the summer break to increase his lead to 14 points. Hamilton won the next two races at Spa and Monza with Vettel third and second, allowing the Brit to retake the title lead by a slim three points, but still a marked improvement from the same stage in 2016 where he was 107 points down on Hamilton’s lead.
The win at the Hungaroring was his first since Monaco but he’d scored points in every race and was coming up to the Singapore Grand Prix, a track Ferrari was expected to perform well at.
October 2017 – Low: Concedes championship in Mexico
However, that optimism dissipated in the space of four races, two of which he retired from. At Singapore, a first corner crash with his teammate and Verstappen ended his race while Hamilton took a commanding win. An engine failure ended his race at Suzuka after he finished fourth, two places behind Hamilton, in Malaysia. Two more wins for the Mercedes driver in Japan and Austin (where Vettel came second) left the German’s championship hopes hanging by a thread.
At the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez Vettel another fourth place wasn’t enough to keep himself in the fight. He and Hamilton collided on the opening lap, the Brit punctured and dropped to last while Vettel needed a front-wing change. Hamilton recovered to ninth, and those two points were enough to confirm him as champion, leaving Vettel to rue the missed opportunities of his first competitive year at Ferrari.
July 2018 – High: Silverstone win extends championship lead.
Vettel’s best win for Ferrari came at the 2018 British Grand Prix, where he overtook Hamilton off the line and lead the first 30 laps. After an Ericsson crash brought out the safety car, Vettel pitted for soft tyres and rejoined second, then overtook Bottas for the lead at Brooklands with five laps to go.
The German was the only frontrunner to make the two-stop strategy work, as the Mercedes stayed out and Raikkonen and Ricciardo finished 3rd and 5th, while Verstappen spun out of the race in the closing laps.
Hamilton led a strong recovery drive after spinning on the opening lap and dropping to the back of the field, but the win at Silverstone extended Vettel’s lead in the championship to eight points, with his home race at Hockenheim next on the calendar.
July 2018 – Low: Retires from the lead in home race
The turning point in the 2018 championship; after the stunning drive to take victory in Britain Vettel was leading at Hockenheim, while Hamilton was ten seconds back after a strong recovery drive from 14th on the grid. However, on lap 51 he ran off and crashed into the barriers, ending his race and allowing Hamilton to take the victory.
Vettel sounded close to tears on the team radio, and cameras showed him beating the steering wheel in frustration at the victory that had slipped away. The crash cost Vettel all the momentum he’d built up in the first half of the season, and his title campaign never really recovered.
He only took one more victory in the ten remaining races of the season, whilst Hamilton produced a stunning turnaround to take seven victories over the same period.
June 2019 – Low: Penalty costs first win of the season
After dominating the weekend in Montreal, Vettel had led from pole and retained his lead through the pitstops. However, he was struggling on the new tyres with Hamilton closing up despite the Ferrari’s higher top speed. Then on lap 48, Vettel understeered on the turn 3-4 chicane and as he wrestled to regain control of the car nearly crashed into Hamilton, who was looking to overtake on the outside.
The stewards gave Vettel a five-second penalty, much to the ire of the Ferrari driver and his fans, and Hamilton just had to follow him home to take the win, while Leclerc nearly took third.
The penalty was hotly-debated during the remaining laps and after the chequered flag, with many thinking it was harsh to take the win from Vettel for the mistake (even now the highlights video has more dislikes than likes) and the German infamously swapping the signs in the winner’s area to proclaim Hamilton’s Mercedes as second place.
Despite the theatre though, a driving error by Vettel had ended up costing him his first win of the season – it was now 288 days since he last made the top step of the podium at Spa 2018.
September 2019 – High: Bounces back to win in Singapore
The last win of Vettel’s career to date, Vettel started third on the grid but made a strong start and overtook Leclerc in the pits to be in net first place. He passed Antonio Giovinazzi for the lead on lap 31 and never surrendered it from there, winning by two and half seconds from Leclerc with the win starting a partial revival of form as he made the podium on his next two finishes.
Although not his most spectacular victory, Singapore was important as it prevented another winless season and after Leclerc’s back-to-back wins in Belgium and Hungary, helped Vettel re-establish some reputation at Ferrari. He also avoided a third winless season since winning the title in 2013, but that ultimately wasn’t enough to earn an extension of his stay at Ferrari.
Is this the race that he grazied his last regazzi?
Sept & Nov 2019 – Low: Team-mate tensions culminate in race-ending collision
Despite the win in Singapore tensions continued to rise between the young pretender and the world champion he was upstaging. The following race in Sochi saw Leclerc take his fourth pole position in a row, but Ferrari devised a plan for Leclerc to allow Vettel through and ensure a 1-2 for the team, then swap back once they’d dropped the chasing Mercedes. However, Vettel refused to let Leclerc past, citing his quicker lap times whilst the Monegasque driver didn’t believe that was part of the deal. The team still gave Leclerc the prime strategy, leaving Vettel out too long on worn tyres and they swapped places in the pitstops, with Vettel retiring on lap 28 with engine problems and Leclerc finishing third behind the Mercedes.
The Russian Grand Prix saw trust fall away from the pairing on strategy, and the situation came to a head in Brazil as a collision between them saw a double retirement. Leclerc passed Vettel in the Senna S but the German looked to have got back at him on the run to turn 4 when the cars touched, sending both out of the race with suspension damage. After the crash, the general consensus was that Vettel had been at fault, starting his overtake on the far right hand of track and then drifting (albeit slightly) to the left. It was unlucky that such light contact between the cars caused terminal damage, but that wasn’t enough to save the team, whose blushes rivalled the scarlet of the cars’ liveries.
A month later Leclerc was signed on a five-year deal to stay at Maranello until 2024, a clear message from the team as to where they viewed their competitive future lying.