Sebastian Vettel has said an F1 comeback was “never an option” when Lance Stroll was a doubt ahead of the season opener in Bahrain.
Vettel retired from Formula 1 at the conclusion of the 2022 season, after spending two years with the Aston Martin team.
Citing a desire to spend more time at home with his young family after a hectic life of travel and commitments as a four-time World Champion, Vettel made it clear his intention for 2023 is to do as little as possible and see what opportunities he’d like to pursue in the future.
But a tranquil start to retirement could have been interrupted very early on, as Vettel’s 2021 and ’22 teammate Lance Stroll injured himself in a cycling accident just before pre-season testing began in Bahrain.
With Vettel having only just left the team and still as race-sharp as anyone, if perhaps a little less physically fit overall after a winter without F1-specific training, the possibility appeared realistic that Aston Martin could make a play for Vettel as a stand-in for Stroll if the Canadian driver wasn’t ready to race.
The team had reserve driver Felipe Drugovich on hand for testing, but team boss Mike Krack mysteriously refused to rule Vettel out of contention fully for a possible stand-in when asked by reporters, including PlanetF1.com, during the test.
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It all came to naught in the end, with Stroll managing to recover in time to resume his cockpit for the season-opener, and Vettel has since revealed that he was never going to make a comeback under such circumstances.
“Actually I wasn’t at home at the time,” Vettel told Sky Germany, revealing he had been travelling across Europe with his family in a camper van at the time.
“I didn’t even realise what was happening at first. And when I heard what happened, I texted Lance and wished him a quick recovery.
“I never really thought what it could mean. I had a message from Mike on my phone. And we talked a little bit. But a comeback was never an option.”
In a separate interview with Germany’s Bild, Vettel elaborated: “I had no idea how good or bad Lance was doing. I wrote to him and wished him well. But for me, it was clear that he would take part in the first race.”
Sebastian Vettel has ‘no regrets’ despite Aston Martin form
With Aston Martin making a huge leap forward in performance this year, it’s Vettel’s replacement Fernando Alonso who has reaped the rewards by claiming two consecutive podiums as the Spaniard goes on the hunt for his elusive 33rd Grand Prix victory.
Despite having walked away from Aston Martin after two average years, only to see the improvement happen without him being able to benefit, Vettel made it clear he has no regrets about the timing of his career decision.
“It is always difficult to predict what will happen next year,” he told Bild at a BioBienenApfel event in Vienna.
“Therefore, of course, the joy for the team outweighs – I’m glad it’s going so well. It was clear that it would be better than last year because last year was pretty bad. But, no matter what scenario is taking place now, I made my decision regardless of how things might have gone this year.”
Vettel said he is still following F1 avidly despite wanting to take a step back from his duties within the sport, and said he isn’t experiencing any ‘withdrawal symptoms’ given it’s his first time being a spectator of the sport since 2006.
“I’m currently following as a spectator – with a lot of insider knowledge over the last few years,” he said.
“Right now, I’m doing well in my new situation and I’m looking forward to pursuing things that interest me and delving into different topics. I enjoy the time at home with the kids and family. I collect a lot of ideas and let myself drift before something more concrete comes out of it.”
But could Vettel end up chasing an F1 comeback in the future? He isn’t ruling out the possibility…
“Everything is possible at the moment,” he told RTL.
“It can go in all different possible directions. It’s also possible that in six months I’ll go crazy, can’t stand it on the couch any longer, and want to drive again. But it can also be that my passion turns in a completely different direction and my ambition can bundle all my experiences into another project.”