As questions continue to surround Sebastian Vettel’s future at Ferrari, we take a look at five potential candidates who could replace Vettel next season.
Vettel’s current contract is due to run out at the end of this season regardless of whether racing takes place or not, meaning that Ferrari are currently beginning to look elsewhere for a replacement driver to partner Charles Leclerc from 2021 onwards.
Various names from Lewis Hamilton to Daniel Ricciardo and even Mick Schumacher have been mooted as potential replacements, so join us as we take a look at five potential replacements for Vettel if he moves on at end of season.
Reigning champion, Lewis Hamilton is an obvious target given the success that he has enjoyed in the hybrid era, and his contract like Vettel is set to run out at end of season.
Hamilton however thrives on being the top driver within a team as seen at his time with McLaren then Mercedes, which would suit the old Ferrari system but Charles Leclerc has proven that he is destined to be their top driver within the next few seasons.
A Hamilton/Leclerc line-up therefore has the potential to be world-class but you have to wonder if Hamilton would suit Ferrari in terms of off track expectations, because most previous Ferrari drivers have been ultra professional on and off track.
Hamilton though likes his freedom off track which is quite contrasting with the slick professional world of Ferrari, although Leclerc and the younger generation are also like that so you could argue that Ferrari might need to move with the times and let their drivers be themselves more.
As much as I would like to see Hamilton go to Ferrari and break some of Michael Schumacher’s records, I don’t think that both parties would be a good fit overall unless Ferrari embraced Hamilton’s lifestyle and let him be his honest self.
Ferrari 2021 Potential: 3/5
Former Red Bull junior driver, Carlos Sainz has flourished since departing the Milton Keynes based team, making him a good long-term target if Ferrari are looking to build a stable team for the foreseeable future moving forward.
Sainz would also bring consistency because outside of the top teams , he was the most consistent driver last season with 13 top ten finishes which was enough to see him impressively finish sixth ahead of Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon who swapped seats mid-season.
It is also worth noting Sainz’s race starts from last season because he managed to challenge the frontrunners on various occasions, when he qualified well which would stand him in good stead if need to play the no.2 driver to help Leclerc out and vice versa.
Leclerc would in turn have a teammate who he can trust to help him out when necessary and get along with, without any of the silliness that he has had with Vettel on occasions when strategies have collided at a crossroads in terms of pace.
I therefore would be interested in seeing Sainz partnering Leclerc at Ferrari if the team are looking for a long-term stable partnership who can be trusted to deliver results, although Sainz has a lot going for him at McLaren currently with Mercedes power next season.
Sainz therefore probably is a decent candidate but he seems committed to McLaren at present, where he is delivering results and enjoys a solid camaraderie with Lando Norris, whereas he would have more pressure at Ferrari on and off track.
Ferrari 2021 Potential: 3/5
Hailing from Italian descent, Daniel Ricciardo would certainly fit the bill for Ferrari fans and is capable of challenging for the title if given a quality car to do so.
Ricciardo like Sainz would offer consistency but after his battles with Max Verstappen at Red Bull, I can’t see Ricciardo being willing to play second fiddle to another rising star in Leclerc.
Ferrari therefore might have a slight issue if Ricciardo wants top dog status as a Ferrari drive might be his best and last shot at a F1 title, plus the Aussie does evidently still have the pace after bettering Leclerc’s best pre-season time by 0.084s in a Renault.
Renault however is a long-term project for Ricciardo with the new rule changes due in 2022, which might tempt him to stay at Enstone if he truly believes that he can guide them back to the top of F1.
I however can’t see that happening as long as the top three teams stay on form, and would therefore predict Ricciardo as a strong candidate to replace Vettel who he trumped on arrival at Red Bull in 2014.
Ferrari 2021 Potential: 4/5
Given that Ferrari boasts a successful junior academy, they could look to within the team for Vettel’s potential replacement and Mick Schumacher is one name that stands out.
Schumacher has enjoyed a rapid rise up the motorsport ladder through a mixture of talent and the notion of being the son of seven-time F1 champion – Michael Schumacher.
Mick however seems more of a learner than an instant racing success because he needed two seasons in F3 Europe en route to 2018 title, of which seems to be the same in F2 because his debut season last year was hardly spectacular despite signs of promise.
I therefore feel that even if Schumacher wins the F2 title this season, he isn’t ready for a leap into Ferrari upon graduating into F1 with Alfa Romeo a better starting ground regardless of the history between his family name and Ferrari.
Either way, Schumacher is destined to eventually reach F1 but I think it will be more with a lower team for a season or two, before possibly making the step up to Ferrari within the next few years.
Ferrari 2021 Potential: 2/5
If Ferrari fancy a gamble within their junior academy then Callum Ilott surely deserves a shot at F1 because he has shown incredible progress and maturity throughout his time in junior categories.
What in particular impresses me about Ilott is that he has constantly demonstrated his raw speed in last two seasons across GP3 and F2, even though tyre management proved a challenge in latter category but he shown resilience to learn and improve from his mistakes.
That was particularly evident in that he managed points in eight of the last ten races, despite having to effectively step up like a team leader and deliver results for Charouz following Juan Manuel Correa’s enforced departure through injury after the tragic events of Belgium.
This season though sees Ilott move to Virtuosi to mount a stronger F2 title challenge, of which Ferrari surely should watch closely because he could well be worth consideration for Vettel’s seat if the German departs and they can’t lure other candidates from rival teams.
I therefore believe that Ilott could well be a solid fit for Ferrari if all other options fail because he will push Leclerc whilst also playing the no.2 role if necessary, and could be another top driver if given time and right support by Ferrari.
Ilott would also provide a nice pull for British fans because he would become the first Brit to drive in F1 for Ferrari since Eddie Irvine in 1999, plus the first Englishman since Nigel Mansell in 1990.
Ferrari 2021 Potential: 4/5
Tough Decisions await Ferrari
These five candidates all deserve to be considered for Vettel’s seat but tough decisions do await Ferrari, because they normally prefer an one-two driver system which Hamilton and Ricciardo wouldn’t probably want if they were to sign.
Sainz meanwhile would fit that system ideally given his talent and so would Schumacher plus Ilott, whilst there is Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi who was Ferrari’s reserve driver in 2017 and 18 respectively but hasn’t performed consistently well at Alfa.
Giuliano Alesi, Marcus Armstrong and Robert Shwartzman are also worthy candidates if they can deliver in F2 this season, although these three are potentially more long-term prospects for Scuderia rather than immediate.
Ferrari therefore are probably going to have to look at themselves and where they want to go in the coming years in terms of driver lineups, because there will probably need to be a blend of experience and youth if want to challenge for titles in the long-term.