After winning four consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013, Sebastian Vettel has fallen short on numerous occasions in seeking to add to his world champions tally. The German finished the 2019 campaign in the fifth spot in the driver’s standings, a substantial 173 points behind the title-winning Lewis Hamilton.
Because of this, we’re going to look at whether Ferrari’s German driver can get back to his best and compete once again over the next 22 races.
Promising Early Signs
For large parts of the 2019 Formula 1 calendar, Ferrari regularly struggled to consistently compete at the front of the pack with runaway title winner, Hamilton, and his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas. In particular, the four-time world champion, Vettel, had a troublesome campaign in which he secured his lowest points finish since 2016, when Nico Rosberg dramatically clinched the driver’s championship by five points.
While the Prancing Horse began to find some form towards the latter stages of the previous season, winning three of the last nine races, the pressure grew on the experienced German driver with questions emerging as to whether he could compete for the title again, especially at Ferrari after his younger teammate, Charles Leclerc, won two races more than the former Red Bull man.
Throughout the racing world, spectators have questioned whether the setup of the Ferrari has, in recent years, played to Vettel’s strengths, with his title-winning Red Bull cars often possessing stable levels of downforce. During the offseason, Mattia Binotto, the Italian team’s principal, declared that they were looking to go in a different direction with the SF1000 as they sought more downforce. Early signs in pre-season testing hint that this alteration has come to fruition, with Leclerc suggesting that there had been a change in approach to get the best from the new car. Crucially, if Ferrari have been able to maintain their blistering straight-line speed while adding more downforce to their car, then 2020 may see the resurgence of Vettel, who is currently priced at 7/1 with F1 betting to become the world champion as of February.
After a period of domination, Mercedes will be seeking to continue their title-winning ways in 2020, with Hamilton striving to match Michael Schumacher’s seven world championships in the upcoming campaign and Bottas aiming to win his maiden title. The reigning constructors’ champions signalled their intent on the first day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, by finishing the day as both the fastest and second-fastest cars.
However, in the eyes of Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, Red Bull and, in particular, Max Verstappen, are likely to be the biggest competitors to the Brackley-based team during the 2020 season and not Ferrari or Vettel. Moreover, the 22-year-old Dutchman has publicly stated that the RB16 car already feels both faster and more reliable than the previous RB15.
There can be no doubts that, if Vettel is to level Juan Manuel Fangio in winning five world titles, he will have to overcome some stiff competition, including from his own teammate. With the German’s contract up at the end of this campaign, Leclerc will be out to prove that, going forward, he should be the Prancing Horse’s long-term number one driver.
A Potentially Defining Season Awaits
With Red Bull strengthening their car and Mercedes looking quick in the early stages of pre-season testing, Ferrari will have their work cut out if they are to see one of their drivers lift the title come the end of the upcoming racing season. For Vettel, the next 22 races might be some of the biggest of his career, with the German out to prove the doubters wrong and get back to his title-winning best.