Formula One: Sebastian Vettel to leave Ferrari at the end of year, team confirm

Vettel told reporters last month that he could have a new deal done before the start of a season delayed by the pandemic. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel will leave Ferrari at the end of the season, the Italian team confirmed on Tuesday (May 12).

"This is a decision taken jointly by ourselves and Sebastian, one which both parties feel is for the best," team principal Mattia Binotto said in a statement. "It was not an easy decision to reach, given Sebastian's worth as a driver and as a person."

German media had reported late on Monday that contract talks between both sides had broken down. Germany's best-selling tabloid Bild and Auto Motor und Sport both reported that the 32-year-old, who will be out of contract at the end of 2020, had rejected the terms offered by Ferrari, the sport's oldest and most glamorous team, in a new deal.

Where he will go now, and indeed whether he will remain in a sport whose delayed season has yet to start due to the Covid-19 pandemic, are the big questions.

"The team and I have realised that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of this season," Vettel said. "Financial matters have played no part in this joint decision. That's not the way I think when it comes to making certain choices and it never will be.

"What's been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life."

Vettel said he would now take time "to reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future".

Italy's Gazetta dello Sport newspaper recently reported that Vettel had been offered a one-year extension with a salary reduction.

The German joined Ferrari in 2015 after winning all his world titles with Red Bull and dreaming of emulating his boyhood hero Michael Schumacher, who took five of his seven titles with the Maranello-based team.

The father of three told reporters last month that he could have a new deal done before the start of a season delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ferrari have said the German was their first choice to partner Charles Leclerc but reports in Italy said they wanted an answer by the end of April to ensure potential replacements were still available.

Binotto said there was no one reason that led to the split "apart from the common and amicable belief that the time had come to go our separate ways in order to reach our respective objectives".

Leclerc, who won two races last year and is only 22, has a contract until 2024 and is seen as Ferrari's future and likely first champion since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

The Monegasque outperformed Vettel in his first season at Ferrari last year, finishing ahead of the German overall and taking more points, poles, podiums and wins.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo, at Renault, and McLaren's Spaniard Carlos Sainz have both been mentioned in media reports as leading candidates to take one of the most coveted seats on the grid.

Both are also out of contract at the end of 2020.

Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has also been linked to Ferrari but has repeatedly indicated he intends to stay with Mercedes.

Formula One has deferred till 2022 a major technical rule change planned for 2021, meaning teams will use the same cars next year as this.

Ferrari appeared to be behind Mercedes on pace in pre-season testing but have not been able to run their car in race conditions due to the March 15 Australian opener being cancelled.

The sport hopes to get going behind closed doors in Austria in July.

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