After an F1 Korean Grand Prix at Yeongam where his Pirelli front tires provided the only real excitement--would they hold or would they not? They held, after his technical crew repeatedly told him to slow down--Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull has replaced Fernando Alonso of Ferrari as leader in the race for the world championship. But media everywhere barely talked about Vettel's third straight victory and fourth of the season, the 25th of his career, which ties the German with Jim Clark and Niki Lauda ahead of Juan Manuel Fangio, or Vettel's quest for his third straight world title. The big news on Monday was a BBC report which, based on sources from Ferrari, claims that Vettel has an agreement to move to the Italian scuderia in 2014.
We are facing one of the most interesting ends of an F1 season, with the drivers' title far from being decided with four races to go, as Alonso is only 6 points behind Vettel, and all the talk is about 2014. This smells like a diversion to derail Vettel and Red Bull. Both have looked very dominant, truly untouchable, in the last three races, Singapore, Japan and Korea. On the other hand, where there's smoke, there's certainly a fire.
The two teams have denied the report, of course. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner guarantees "without a shadow of doubt" that Vettel will be with RBR team in 2014, although team adviser Dr. Helmut Mark acknowledges that Vettel's current contract, which expires after the 2014 season, allows him to leave early if certain performance clauses (of the car and team) are not met.
Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo said he doesn't want to have two roosters in the henhouse, reminding everyone that the model of success at Maranello had always been to have a strong No. 1 driver and a No. 2 who accepted the role of team player. On the other hand, on the team's website, the door is left open to any interpretation: "At Ferrari there will be room for anyone who demonstrates they have the talent to drive a scarlet car and to work in harmony both with and for the team."
We will certainly hear no comments from the drivers at least until the end of the season, and the final standings would probably dictate the tone. According to the BBC report Alonso--who's also seeking his third world title--as the leading driver has a say in who can be his teammate at Ferrari. He has approved, we're told, Vettel's arrival. Earlier in the season he had vetoed the signing of Lewis Hamilton, with whom he had had a difficult relationship at McLaren. But it is hard to embrace the idea that the Spaniard, a great competitor, is willing to accept to become Ferrari's second fiddle. What if Alonso wins this year's world title and repeats in 2013? It would be impossible then to ask him to defer to Vettel.
And if Vettel keeps winning with Red Bull, this season, and maybe next, why leave them? It's true that driving for Ferrari can by anyone's dream, but the belief here is that the German, who's probably already thinking five straight titles to tie countryman Michael Schumacher (2000-2004, all with Ferrari), will drive for the team that gives him the best car. For the past three years Red Bull has had the better car, but with the changes in chassis and engine regulations beginning with 2014 it is hard to predict which car will be better because it will be practically a new game. If Vettel stays, it's understandable; if he moves to Ferrari he only does it to be the top horse.