Racing Point’s wicket Vettel problem

Sebastian Vettel must feel particularly aggrieved with the way 2020 is panning out.

The four-time world champion expected two things from this Formula One season: a car to contend with Mercedes for the title and an extension to his expiring contract.

Little did he know, as 2019 turned into this wretched 2020, neither was ever going to happen.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

Ferrari’s latest machine was destined to be a dog. Hamstrung by rules clarifications late last season that effectively outlawed its once all-powerful engine, the SF1000 will be challenged to finish on the podium this year, never mind chase victory.

But though the team will soon be forced to write off its car as a failure, before it had even turned a wheel it had already written off Sebastian Vettel after an out-of-form 2019.

Ferrari announced team and driver would part ways on 12 May, but the Italian team had decided as early as December it would replace Vettel, with the incoming Carlos Sainz admitting negotiations began during the off-season.

The German’s axing has left him with precious few alternatives to continue in Formula One with a competitive outlook.

Mercedes will recommit to reigning champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas, while Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner has categorically rejected the prospect of a reunion with the winner of his team’s four titles.

Brief talks were held with Renault until the French team settled on bringing Fernando Alonso out of retirement instead, and none of the other teams with unsigned seats can promise a competitive car in the medium term.

Until Racing Point stepped forward.

The pink team has rocketed up the order this year with a car that is an admitted copy of last year’s all-conquering Mercedes, so much so that it’s proved comfortably faster than Ferrari and at times second only to Mercedes.

The team is on an upwards trajectory off the track too. From next year it will tie up with Aston Martin and from 2022 move into expanded facilities in time to capitalise on the new regulations and spending cap that will level the playing field.

It’s the sort of project Vettel would relish as a final chapter of his decorated career.

The only problem is both seats are already occupied.

One is held by Sergio Perez, seven-year stalwart of the team and among the quickest and most consistent of the midfield drivers. What’s more, the Mexican’s astute legal action in 2018 helped the team stave off closure by forcing its sale, rescuing hundreds of jobs in the process.

The man who led the buying consortium has his son, Lance Stroll, in the other seat. Though impressive in the junior categories, the 21-year-old Canadian has been unable to consistently reproduce that pace during his three years in the sport.

“I think [the choice] is obvious if someone has to go,” Perez told Spanish TV. “I’m a dad, I wouldn’t kick my son out.”

But the rank and file of the team is loyal to the popular Perez, who has a long record of extracting the maximum from the car. And though owner Lawrence Stroll became involved in F1 to promote his son’s career, as custodian of the entire operation as well as the Aston Martin road car company, the greater good might yet contend with his genealogical allegiances.

What’s clear is that talks are ongoing despite the teams unconvincing denials — after all, the signing of a four-time world champion with a point to prove would be a huge vote of confidence in the project and blockbuster stuff ahead of the Aston Martin relaunch.

It’s only a matter of who will make way to solve Racing Point’s wicked problem.