Vet­tel close to re­tir­ing from F1 be­fore Rac­ing Point move

Malta Independent - - Sport -

Four-time For­mula One cham­pion Se­bas­tian Vet­tel was close to re­tir­ing from the sport be­fore de­cid­ing to race for Rac­ing Point next sea­son.

The team, which will be re­named As­ton Martin, an­nounced Thurs­day that Vet­tel will be re­plac­ing Ser­gio Perez, who had said a day ear­lier that he was leav­ing. The team said Vet­tel has signed for the 2021 sea­son "and be­yond" but did not re­veal the length of the con­tract.

For Vet­tel, it ends months of spec­u­la­tion about his fu­ture af­ter Fer­rari made it clear it would re­new his con­tract. The Ger­man said thoughts of re­tire­ment had crept in be­fore Rac­ing Point made its of­fer.

"It was close in terms of hav­ing a lot of thoughts and de­cid­ing," Vet­tel said Thurs­day at the Tus­can Grand Prix when asked how close he came to re­tir­ing. "It wasn't an easy call. The last weeks and months have been quite in­tense for me, a dif­fer­ent and new sit­u­a­tion to be in."

Vet­tel's form has dipped con­sid­er­ably since he last launched a cred­i­ble ti­tle chal­lenge in 2017 and 2018, los­ing both times to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamil­ton. Vet­tel won only one race last year when he was out­per­formed by his ju­nior team­mate Charles Le­clerc, who was in his first sea­son with Fer­rari.

This year it's been even worse for Vet­tel, who has not even fin­ished in the top five in eight races so far as Fer­rari con­tin­ues to strug­gle for speed and is dogged by re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues. Last week his race at the Ital­ian Grand Prix lasted only a few laps be­fore he had to re­tire in Monza.

But Rac­ing Point is hop­ing the Ger­man's ex­pe­ri­ence will help it take a step for­ward.

"The sign­ing of Se­bas­tian is a clear state­ment of the team's am­bi­tion to es­tab­lish it­self as one of the most com­pet­i­tive names in the sport," the team said in a state­ment. "As a four-time world cham­pion, Se­bas­tian brings a fresh mind­set to the team."

Vet­tel has won 53 grand prix races, a tally only sur­passed by Michael Schu­macher and Lewis Hamil­ton. He won four con­sec­u­tive ti­tles with Red Bull from 2010-13 and joined Fer­rari in 2015 with the aim to win another.

But he never had a car re­ally ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing Mercedes dur­ing his stint with the Scud­e­ria, where he lost his No. 1 sta­tus as Le­clerc came to promi­nence.

"It's a new ad­ven­ture for me with a truly leg­endary car com­pany," Vet­tel said. "I have been im­pressed with the re­sults the team has achieved this year and I be­lieve the fu­ture looks even brighter. I still have so much love for For­mula 1 and my only mo­ti­va­tion is to race at the front of the grid."

Perez only found out on Wed­nes­day that he was no longer wanted.

"No­body told me any­thing, but I al­ready knew and fig­ured out a couple of things. Fi­nal con­fir­ma­tion came yes­ter­day," he said. "It's fine. Seven years with the team, I know ev­ery­thing has a be­gin­ning and also an end. We still have nine races to make each other proud."

The 30-year-old Mex­i­can, who has eight ca­reer podi­ums, is in his prime and among the quick­est driv­ers on his day. He has been linked with a move to ei­ther Alfa Romeo — with 40-year-old Kimi Raikko­nen tipped to fi­nally re­tire next year — or Haas.

Both those cars run on the flag­ging Fer­rari en­gine, how­ever, and may not be com­pet­i­tive in 2021.

"I think ev­ery­thing is an op­tion right now. My main tar­get is to re­main in F1. I feel that I'm still very young and hun­gry, and want to carry on," Perez said. "But it has to be the right pack­age, a pack­age that re­ally gives me the max­i­mum mo­ti­va­tion to give my 100% ev­ery sin­gle lap."

Cur­rently fourth in the con­struc­tors' stand­ings, Rac­ing Point was handed a 400,000 euro ($470,000) fine and docked 15 points last month for copy­ing a Mercedes de­sign for its brake ducts. The team, how­ever, was al­lowed to con­tinue to use the of­fend­ing com­po­nents this sea­son.

Rac­ing Point's other driver is Lance Stroll, the son of co-owner Lawrence Stroll.

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