How Vettel’s dream of emulating Schumacher at Ferrari ended

2020 F1 season

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When Sebastian Vettel left Red Bull for Ferrari in 2015 his intentions were clear. The four-time world champion wanted to follow in the footsteps of his childhood racing hero Michael Schumacher.

Five seasons and 101 starts later, Vettel has won 14 races in red but no championship. Today he and Ferrari confirmed they will part ways at the end of this season.

Vettel was the most successful driver competing in Formula 1 at the time of his move to Ferrari. His tally of four would championships meant he had as many titles as Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso put together.

But the introduction of V6 hybrid turbo power units in 2014, and the arrival of new team mate Daniel Ricciardo, had halted Vettel’s winning ways. That season was his first full year in F1 without registering a win.

Ferrari’s fortunes were at a low ebb as well. The team had also endured a win-less 2014 – their first such season since 1993 – and team leader Fernando Alonso lost patience with them, throwing his lot in with McLaren-Honda.

Growing frustrations boiled over in Mexico four years ago
But the partnership between F1’s longest-running team and a driver with immense passion for and knowledge of the sport’s history gelled immediately and, most importantly, delivered on-track. Vettel won his second start as a Ferrari driver at Sepang in 2015.

Together they added two more wins over the course of the season and Vettel remained an outside threat to the dominant Mercedes pair until the final third of the championship season. He only lost second place in the championship to Nico Rosberg with three races to go, and ended the year with more than twice as many points as team mate Kimi Raikkonen. RaceFans named him our driver of the year, and so did our readers.

After this encouraging start, much was expected from the partnership in 2016. Instead the team suffered a dismaying setback. Vettel failed to win a race, partly due to retirements, though Ferrari made little appreciable headway in narrowing their deficit to the all-conquering silver cars.

Worse for Vettel, his former team Red Bull took the fight to Mercedes instead, winning twice and beating Ferrari to second in the constructors championship. Ricciardo relegated Vettel to fourth in the drivers’ standings.

Vettel apologised over Baku clash with Hamilton
Unusually Vettel, typically a one-lap ace, was out-qualified over the year by Raikkonen, who for all his abilities has seldom been considered a qualifying specialist. Theories abounded that Ferrari’s focus on the opportunity afforded by new aerodynamic regulations for the upcoming season had been a distraction from their 2016 campaign.

If so, their performance at the start of 2017 justified that decision. Ferrari made a significant step forward and Mercedes faced their first serious competition for the championship.

Victory in the season-opening race at Melbourne, and two more wins over the opening six rounds, put Vettel ahead in the points and gave him a serious chance of preventing Hamilton from matching his tally of four world titles. The rivalry between the pair intensified in Azerbaijan where Vettel, mistakenly believing Hamilton had brake-tested him, swiped into the side of his rival’s car.

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This was the second time in the space of a few months Vettel had visibly lost his temper. In Mexico the previous year he launched into an astonishing, expletive-landed tirade at race director Charlie Whiting over a penalty decision. It hinted at the pressures Vettel was grappling with under the intense scrutiny experienced by Ferrari drivers, especially those who arrive with multiple titles in their pocket and the expectation of more to come.

Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Singapore, 2017
This crash with Raikkonen wrecked Vettel’s 2017 title hopes
Vettel only won one more race in 2017. A potentially vital win, and a chance to regain the championship lead from Hamilton, was in the offing when he put his car on pole position in Singapore. But he collided with Raikkonen and Max Verstappen on approach to turn one, eliminating all three. Hamilton took the win and a big step towards title number four, which he clinched in Mexico.

The 2018 started even more promisingly for Vettel, as he won the first two races of the year. But a series of errors let Hamilton in to become the first driver since Schumacher to win five world titles.

Needless grid penalties in Austria and Austin, collisions with Bottas (at Paul Ricard), Hamilton (Monza), Verstappen (Suzuka) and Ricciardo (COTA) added up to a huge number of points squandered.

But the most painful error came at Vettel’s home race. Leading in slippery conditions, the Ferrari driver skidded into a barrier in the Motodrom, clearing the way for Hamilton to win from 14th on the grid. Vettel ended the year a distant 88 points behind his title rival, runner-up once more.

Meanwhile at Ferrari the tectonic plates were shifting. The unexpected death of president and CEO Sergio Marchionne in July that year shook the team. Mattia Binotto, Marchionne’s preferred replacement for team principal Maurizio Arrivabene, took up the role ahead of the 2019 season.

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There was a change in the second seat as well. The reliably compliant Raikkonen was replaced by Charles Leclerc, who had dazzled in his first F1 season at Ferrari’s customer team Alfa Romeo. From their first race as team mates he threatened to upstage Vettel, and did so at their second race together in Bahrain, where he shrugged off the team’s insistence that he wait two laps before overtaking their number one driver.

The rivalry between the pair intensified over the second half of the year as Ferrari became contenders for victory. After scoring his first victory at Spa, Leclerc added a second at Monza but vexed the team by failing to heed their running order instructions during qualifying. An unhappy Vettel spun in the race, clumsily rejoined the track and collided with Lance Stroll before finishing outside the points.

A much-needed win came Vettel’s way in Singapore at Leclerc’s expense, aided by a questionable strategy call by the team. It was his only victory of the year. More acrimony followed between the pair.

In Russia it was Vettel’s turn to ignore the team, repeatedly spurning calls to wave Leclerc through into the lead following a choreographed start. Then in Brazil the pair collided as Vettel squeezed Leclerc while re-passing his team mate. It was an incident which had strong overtones of Vettel’s 2010 collision with Red Bull team mate Mark Webber, only on that occasion Vettel had been the team’s upcoming young star.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2004
Schumacher won five world championships at Ferrari
It spoke volumes about Ferrari’s priorities that they extended Leclerc’s contract in December before agreeing new terms with Vettel. In his announcement today, Vettel spoke about how he had reassessed his priorities in the light of the disruption the pandemic has caused to the start of the 2020 F1 season.

What are those new priorities? Is he contemplating retirement? This remains to be seen.

For now, Vettel will join Alain Prost and Fernando Alonso as multiple champions who arrived at Maranello and left before taking another title. Unless, of course, he bags a swansong triumph in this uncertain season which lies ahead.

Even if that does happen, Vettel’s hopes of building a Schumacher-style empire at Ferrari, achieving multiple title successes which propel him beyond the benchmark achievements of his childhood hero, are over.

Video: What next for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel as they announce split?

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Author information

Josh Holland
USA-based Josh joined the RaceFans team in 2018. Josh helps produce our Formula 1 race weekend coverage, assists with our social media activities and...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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57 comments on “How Vettel’s dream of emulating Schumacher at Ferrari ended”

  1. The Ferrari culture is poisonous. Schumacher did well until the end as the team was controlled by foreigners outside that core culture. But in the end it got him too. Alonso at first thrived in that poisonous environment but then he was eaten by his own politicking. Vettel has been damaged because of the Maranello Madness. As the years have gone on the team has worn him down, now it has spat him out.

    If Vettel does move to another team, preferably German or British (based at least) in which cultures he has thrived previously, we may see a reincarnation of the multiple cheerful hard racing champion complete with Monty Python jokes and pet names for his car which are real not PR.

    I hope so.

    1. Vettel could have easily won the title i 2018, if he was good enough to capitalise on a slightly superior car.
      The “culture” would have drastically changed, as we all know this happens when you become a winner.
      You know nothing about italian culture. Pay respect.

      1. sigh. check the scoreboard. there has been 1 superior car in f1 through the hybrid era. their margin of dominance is only emphasized by their repeated spells of taking their foot off the gas (to maintain PU reg stability). repeating an obvious untruth does not make it magically true.

        1. Typical wikipedia fan.
          “The scoreboard” can’t explain things to a person who hasn’t watched a race.
          Sorry to tell you that, mate.

      2. Yes Vettel has made many costly errors, but the team has its fair share of it and certainly didnt help to ease the pressure on Vettel.
        In the infamous Hockenheim Race Raikonnen impeded Vettel who was on fresh tires for 10 laps+ even though they were on different strategies.
        In Monza they gave preferential treatment to Raikonnen in Qualifiying even though he had no chance at the title anymore.

    2. Schumacher did well until the end as the team was controlled by foreigners outside that core culture

      The team was controlled by Luca Di Montezemolo who signed the senior foreign staff you used to see in the Ferrari pit wall (Todt, Brawn, Byrne, Stepney…). In the Luca Di Montezemolo era the team was as Italian as ever, they even shutdown their British based operation and brought all the activities back to Maranello.

      If Vettel does move to another team, preferably German or British (based at least) in which cultures he has thrived previously

      There is no German F1 team.

      1. What constructor national anthem do they play when a Mercedes car wins?

    3. Vettel has been damaged because of the Maranello Madness. As the years have gone on the team has worn him down, now it has spat him out.

      That’s nonsense. Vettel wasn’t a victim of Maranello madness, but instead a victim of his own poor performances and his inability to live up to the expectation of a Ferrari #1 driver.

  2. proud_asturian
    12th May 2020, 9:53

    Sebastian never collided with Verstappen.
    Verstappen hit Raikkonen and knocked him into Sebastian.
    After 3 years, you still spread the same disinformation?

    1. You need not discredit 3 years of articles for one mistake. Are you so perfect?

    2. (Vettel) collided with Raikkonen and Max Verstappen on approach to turn one, eliminating all three.

      Seems like a fair and open description of what happened and in line with the stewards decision (no driver was ‘predominantly to blame’).
      But of course that does not necessarily gel with the pride of some fans.

    3. Jose Lopes da Silva
      12th May 2020, 11:25

      After 30 years, people are still debating the 1st Suzuka Senna-Prost incident. This is the way the sport works.

      For example, in my view, Verstappen did not hit anyone in that incident.

      1. proud_asturian
        12th May 2020, 15:07

        Well, in the objective truth, you are wrong. Or near sighted.

    4. It was Vettel cutting over the track towards Verstappen that ultimately triggered the accident. Verstappen had no where to go, trapped between the fast out the blocks Kimi and the stubborn Vettel, who was doing what he always does when he’s on pole. Vettel just didn’t account for two things, Verstappen being less willing to just yield and Kimi being where a driver normally isn’t expected to be.

      By the time Verstappen realised what was happening his wheeels were already interlocked with Kimi’s and things went from there.

      He couldn’t move left nor right.
      Braking would have been inviting a car in the rear, or at the least triggering an accident anyway as everyone tried to avoid him.

      Though, even now some people seem to think he should have simply gone intangible so as not to cause the accident that he had no control over.

      Ultimately, no one drivers fault

      1. @nikkit – I totally agree no one was at fault, but if there is one thing that triggered the accident IMO was this:

        Verstappen being less willing to just yield

        Max is the only one that could do something about it, but as you rightly put, it happened so fast that when he realised it was too late.

        However, what I find unbearable is how people treat Vettel’s start as if it was something clumsy or reckless when it couldn’t be more far from the truth: every polesitter usually does that and it generally ends up just fine.

        Actually, the most proeminent victory of the so cultuated Alonso came by an identical move towards Vettel. The difference is there was no Raikkonen at Alonso’s blind spot. Now imagine how differently everybody treat both cases.

        Vettel is an underappreciated champion. That’s disgraceful.

    5. 100% Vettel’s fault

    6. That’s one of the most amazing cases of create-your-own-reality I’ve ever seen. Congratulations.

      1. proud_asturian
        12th May 2020, 15:05

        It’s the truth. Or are you blind as well as deluded?

        1. “It’s the truth. Or are you blind as well as deluded?”

          Have you noticed you’re the only one here who thinks that way? Check yourself. Watch the accident again.

          Vettel squeezed Verstappen into Raikkonen who was then turned into Vettel.

          I know that’s what happened because I SAW it.

  3. He is one of many in long line(although he was delivered machinery) to be burned by toxic enviornment of this “Team”.

    1. Stop talking BS.
      The so called “toxic” environment was good enough for Ferrari to become the most successful team in history.
      Pay respect.

      1. Over a period of 69 years and with the whole sport rigged for them to win and they still arent the most dominating team ever.

        1. Your school was rigged too,if you got your grades.

      2. @liko41 Ferrari’s environment has changed several times over the decades, although certain themes do predominate. Also, it is possible for a team to be highly successful and still be toxic, especially given that different people have different needs from their team (and those needs, themselves, can change over the years).

        1. @alianora-la-canta
          So? I was arguing a stup1d argument.

          1. @liko41 So, toxicity is a little more complicated than the argument suggested. This appeared to be relevant. I did not realise you were arguing sarcastically.

          2. @alianora-la-canta
            I was responding superficilly, as the first comment was massively superficial.
            Defining Ferrari’s environment “toxic”, even questioning the adequacy of the word “team” is utterly ridiculous. You may say it has sometimes been iper-poltical, controversial, difficult to cope with.
            But that’s what happens when you stay around for 70 years, you don’t always look your best.
            If they retired in 2005, nobody would dare to say something like that.

  4. Piotr (@piotrzukowski)
    12th May 2020, 10:06

    On a personal note. I usually attend one race per year.
    In 2017, i was on the turn 1 Grandstand in Singapore, in 2018 in Hockenheim. I think I don’t bring much luck to Vettel.
    In 2019 I decided not to attend any race, to give him a chance, but it seems it didn’t help…

  5. Marchionne’s management style will not have helped, running around like a bull in a china shop, putting every employee on edge.

  6. Rosberg to Ferrari, you’ve heard it here first

    1. and the only place we’ll here it

    2. @paeschli – That’d be nice! But I don’t think he’d fair well. Too much time abroad, cars way different from his day…

  7. I don’t get the point of blaming the “Ferrari culture”. Culture is not a static thing that just exists as long as an organization is active. It is an evolving element of an organization, actively moulded by the existing employees, with higher direction been exerted by the well-paid and leadership-level employees. All employees look to create a structure / culture which brings out the best in them and their team. Alonso and Vettel surely tried to do that as well.

    If after a prolonged time period, (5 years for Alonso and 6 years for Vettel), both drivers are unable to win the title (due to incompetent machinery for Alonso or due to driver mistakes for Vettel); then the said employees also have to take responsibility of the failure. After all, they are part of the team that created the ‘team culture’; which then produced the incompetent cars / driver mistakes.

    Formula 1 is first and foremost, a team sport, where you win together and lose together. Trying to pin the blame of the failure on the team and acquitting the driver of all blame is IMO, not a correct course of action (especially, in the case of a prolonged failure like Vettel & Alonso’s 5+ years spells at Ferrari).

    1. The larger failure is that Ferrari have not been capable of producing a title winning car for a long time. Between the Red Bull era and the Mercedes era they’ve never produced the best car. Don’t get me wrong, more often than not they’ve been very close, but never quite the best.

      Guys like Alonso and Vettel have had to fight competitors in a car that was slightly inferior. Granted, Vettel has had his fair share of incidents in the last 2 years, and isnt quite as quick as he once was.. but he’s still one of the best on the grid. I hope he lands with a team where he can still show off his talents, like Kimi has.

  8. History won’t be kind to Vettel over his stint at Ferrari and will definitely gloss over the many other factors that impacted his time there.

    How many times did the team conspire to snatch a loss from the jaws of victory due to extremely poor pit wall decision making. Likewise just plain errors.

    Yes I agree that many of Vettel’s races were strewn with driver errors as well but frankly I find it hard to believe that a top driver suddenly forgets how to drive. I’ve always held the opinion that Ferrari never quite managed to nail down the aero on their cars, particularly the back end given the number of times he lost the rear. I just don’t think the car was ever up to the job and more often that not he had to drive it a couple of percent above 100 just to stay competitive with the Mercedes.

    I’d love to see him stay on the grid in a competitive car and finish a couple more seasons with his head held high.

    1. +1

      The only time they had a solid machinery in the last 11 seasons was 2018, and they messed it up by the aero update they brought to Singapore. The spirit of Enzo Ferrari is still strong with the team.

      1. +1 I also find it difficult to believe a Race Winner in a Toro Rosso, 4 x WDC in a RB, and 14 times Winner in a Ferrari loses his natural talent for driving, like so many like to claim. If you win an F1 race in the rain in a TR in a straight fight, you’ve got something special. I agree that when you are in a Mercedes-dominated era and passionately race to win, and the machinery you have at your disposal is consistently just missing a little bit of performance, you either opt to overdrive, assuming the risks that goes with it and leading to more occasional errors, or consistently bring it home settling for 3rd. Vettel got his kicks from winning in midfield machinery as a 21-year old. Finishing 3rd in a Ferrari is a waste of time.

    2. Vettel was lacking one key ingredient to help him win consistently at Ferrari…Newey. Newey could design a car that played to Vettel’s strengths far, far better than Ferrari ever could. The Scuderia’s cars have been inconsistent now for over a decade and the strategy calls have been the same. Couple these two things, and Vettel overdrives the car and rookie mistakes ensue; pressure builds on pressure and the team never gels.
      Leclerc did not come into the team as a 4 time WDC with all the eyes of the world’s press waiting to see if we had another Schumacher and he did not come from a smooth, championship winning team. There was no pressure on him as he played #2 to Vettel. He didn’t have to beat Mercedes, he didn’t even have to beat Vettel, he just had to do at least as well as Vettel. Leclerc is basically Vettel when Vettel got to Red Bull.
      Seb’s best bet now is McLaren and it is just too weird as Vettel follows Alonso chasing championships. Unlike Alonso, McLaren’s star seems to be on the rise and the switch back to Mercedes power bodes well. Zak Brown seems to be building a good team and I think it might be a good fit for Seb.

    3. How many times did the team conspire to snatch a loss from the jaws of victory due to extremely poor pit wall decision making. Likewise just plain errors.

      @dbradock – They were various thoughout their stint together, but one that I keep remembering is Australia-2016. They really made an effort to give his win to Rosberg. Ultimately his winless season was Ferrari’s fault. No one will ever mention it in the future. Same goes for the nuances of 2017-2018.

    4. I think Vettel is a very good driver and his results make a good case for him. However, I think he has less ability to drive a car that doesn’t suit him than some of the other greats. At RBR with massive rear downforce, he was a beast. But give him a car with different characteristics, and … How many times did Leclerc or Raikonnen spin, untouched, over the past 5 seasons? I’m not going to go back and count but I’m going to guess that it was a lot less than Vettel.

      While the Ferraris of the past half-decade haven’t all been stellar, clearly they haven’t been rubbish either. But Vettel’s errors were too self-imposed and too frequent to overlook, imo. Perhaps Vettel would have performed better with more rear downforce, but you’ve got to perform with what you have while the team develops the car. And Vettel didn’t do that.

      @dbradock

  9. Hockenheim 2018. Such a small mistake, such a big consequence.

    1. I would argue that it wasn’t such a career breaker as everyone sees it. It gave a clear advantage to Hamilton, but Vettel was still up to his game, winning at Spa and seeming to be capable of trailing Hamilton. Questionable Ferrari strategy in Monza qualifying and the subsequent aerodynamic update in Singapore are, at least in my opinion, more substantial to Vettel’s overall belief in the team and his psyche.

  10. It’s just so simple: never emulate, be the real deal.

    One can easily find an excuse for vettel making the mistake, there’s no excuse for Ferrari however.

  11. Ferrari is the pit where dreams go to die. See Alonso.

  12. Keith, you posted a few years ago an article that read: “Vettel or Alonso, who will have the last laugh?” After Vettel’s switch to Ferrari… I would like to have a read at it again after this….

  13. Vettel 2020 F1 Champion

  14. Frankly, it was over for Vettel the moment Leclerc stood atop the Monza podium.

  15. A much-needed win came Vettel’s way in Singapore at Leclerc’s expense, aided by a questionable strategy call by the team.

    Err, no? Their Singapore strategy was the only chance to convert a 1-3 into a 1-2. On that day, the Ferrari pit wall made all the right choices for once. Can’t believe this is made an argument to say Vettel didn’t deserve to win this race.

  16. Georgian Visan
    12th May 2020, 17:51

    Ferrari is Ferrari’s worst enemy, unfortunately.

  17. I can only fell sorry for the guy, as his dream turned into a bitter reality. Never believed he’d win multiple championships at Maranello, but a at least one could never be ruled out entirely. Well, he had his chance but his oponents were just too strong. He even matched Hamilton’s level for a time, but Ferrari could never match Mercedes apart from the engine. The car, the staff? Not even close. The package from Brackley was always better.

    His likely retirement will be a great loss for the sport as Rosberg’s was.

    Also, the strongest driver pairing since 2016 is gonna be dismantled, which is another shame. I expected so much from their rivalry after 2019 and it may end up without a further race because of the pandemic.

    C’est la vie.

  18. Ferrari should have gotten rid of vettek years ago. Anyone with common sense could see Vettel made too much mistakes and wasn’t extracting 100% out of the car. Vettel should have been replaced with Alonso, ferrari would have had a much better chance at winning a title

  19. Jhett rouse
    13th May 2020, 0:12

    Ferrari dont need just a fast driver. The scuderia is desperate for a true leader/driver.
    Michael was totally committed and took control of the team. Fernando and Vettel are both very quick and very accomplished however neither seemed to be able or willing to carry the team on their shoulders and take control. Ferrari need someone who has the self belief and experience that they are the best. Schumi had such a high level of self belief and commitment that the team was willing to do anything for him.
    Most drivers nowadays hardly spend any time at Maranello. Most drivers in f1 today just want to train with their physio all day, maybe chat with an engineer a bit and then want to jump into a perfect car. Most dont want to be at the factory all the time and even more so all the way in italy….
    Need a driver who is more than just a hot shoe.

  20. Thank you very much Sebastian Vettel for your time at Ferrari.
    You will remain in history as a great champion for your excellent qualities on and off the track.
    It is true that the championship was missing but everything possible was done and that is ultimately what counts.
    At this moment the envious and the mediocre are talking stupid things as they have always done regarding your performance at Ferrari but the true fans of Formula 1 and Ferrari fans know that your time at the team will always be remembered with admiration and respect.

  21. How?
    1- Schumachers’s car from 2000 to 2004 was the class of the field. Vettel’s 2018 and 2019 probably were. Other Ferraris were not close.
    2- Schumacher handled the pressure much better than Vettel. Vettel’s temperament and childish shouting were always felt. In addition, VET was on top of his game only in 15 and 17 and half way through 18. In 16 and 19 he was flat out poor.
    3- Turbo era needs other skills for a driver and Vettel had to adjust, but Schumacher had to always deal with naturally aspirated engine: V10 or V8
    4- It is probably Vettel’s naivety that he thought going to Ferrari guarantees WCs. He never knew from the past: Prost, Mansell and others. All he knows from the history is some meaningless stats. And Ferrari was obviously and objectively in decline from 2014.
    5- Schumacher could intimidated everyone and Vettel was always a boy.
    Of course, I benefit from the hindsight in my analysis.

  22. I’m going to to just throw this out there and please take it with a pinch of salt. I’m basically expressing a random thought that came to mind.

    I once read a Tom Rubython article on Schumacher’s retirement and it got my inner “tin-foil” hat mind thinking. Based on the recent reshuffle at Ferrari, I feel like Vettel wasn’t given much of a choice in his sudden departure. I seriously doubt a driver of Seb’s caliber (despite being beaten comprehensively by his teammate) would accept the offer put on the table by Ferrari. It paints the picture that Ferrari wanted him out and used this so called “offer” do achieve that. Seb has always reiterated that he wants to stay with the team and win a title. He even said it in his recent online Q&A interview that he’s not done with them. All of a sudden he’s singing a completely different tune about leaving the team. This, to me, probably means that Leclerc and his manager have some serious powers that Seb may not have within the team. Understandably so because Leclerc is a pure Ferrari product.

    Again, this is just a random thought that came to mind and I could’ve missed the plot entirely.

  23. Beep beep, what the beep are we doing here.

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