Sebastian Vettel is definitely sticking around for the 2022 season, but it feels like that could easily be his last on the grid.
Whispers of Aston Martin not wanting to keep him for next year were recently silenced with the announcement that the Britsh team are to retain their current lin-eup of the four-time World Champion and Lance Stroll.
It’s a very much deserved renewal for the German after a first half of the season in which he was arguably the stronger of the two drivers and showed that he can still drive.
The highlights of his time in green so far have of course been his two podiums – even if one was later taken away due to a disqualification – and the two excellent drives he delivered to secure them, with both performances rolling back the years.
What has been equally as positive is the fact that, while he hasn’t been always been at the high level he was at in Baku and Budapest, he hasn’t had weekends where he’s been way off the pace and making mistakes as he did in the latter days of his Ferrari spell.
While it’s been a decent year for him on an individual basis though, the same can’t be said for the team as a whole, with them going from often having the third-fastest car in 2020 to currently occupy P7 in the Constructors’ Championship.
If next season is a case of more of the same, it’s hard to see Vettel sticking around beyond it.
When it was announced that he’d be replaced by Carlos Sainz at Ferrari at the end of the 2020 campaign, many expected him to retire that winter.
Ultimately, he didn’t, and for one good reason – he still wanted to fight for wins.
“I still have so much love for Formula 1 and my only motivation is to race at the front of the grid. To do so with Aston Martin will be a huge privilege,” he said when his move to the British team was announced.
Given how strong they looked in 2020, he would’ve hoped he’d get the chance to consistently do so this season, but that hasn’t been the case, with chaos up ahead the only reason he’s been able to be near the front twice.
With new regulations coming into play next year, that’s not too big a concern, but if the situation remains the same in 2022, it will be.
Nailing the widespread changes being implemented is comfortably the biggest chance midfield teams have had to climb up the order for some time, and they won’t get a bigger one for a good while after that.
Bearing that in mind, if Aston Martin don’t get themselves to the front of the pack next season, they probably won’t have enough chance to do until Vettel is entering – if not already in – his 40s.
In such a scenario, you have to wonder why the German would opt to extend his stay in the sport beyond next December. He wouldn’t be able to fight at the front with the team he was with, and it seems unlikely that another, better one would offer him a seat given his age and cost.
So, his options would be continuing to languish in the midfield with the hope of an occasional podium, or calling it a day and doing whatever he wanted outside the sport, whether that be something to do with the environmental causes he is becoming more and more passionate about or simply spending more time with his family.
There’s also no guarantee that, if Aston Martin knew they wouldn’t be at the business end of the pack for a while longer, they’d want to keep him.
Lawrence Stroll has constantly spoken of his desire to one day make his team World Champions, and if fulfilling that goal became a longer-term project, having a younger driver who would commit to that would probably be more preferable to the team than someone in the twilight of their career.
The Canadian wouldn’t be short on options either, with the enormously impressive Pierre Gasly most likely available and keen along with a number of exciting talents from Formula 2.
In short, it feels likely that, if his team don’t give him a top car next season, Vettel will jump ship on the sport as a whole rather than remain in the midfield battle for years to come, and if not, he could well be pushed.
In 2022, Vettel will want to see more from Aston Martin and, if he does have the car to push closer to the front of the field, Aston Martin are going to want to see more from him before this partnership potentially continues into 2023.