The list of drivers and engineers who have coveted a career at Maranello could fill many pages. The list of those who have emerged having made a notable difference is very much shorter.
It hasn’t come as a surprise that Sebastian Vettel has announced the end to his Red Bull career. Time off the podium has allowed him to look closely into the heart of Formula One and his role in its history. It’s not that he was relegated to a less competitive car this year, he, more than many, knew that he had furthest to fall when the grid of 2014 formed.
Rather, I think he understands that even if Dietrich Mateschitz’s premier squad return to delivering cars capable of championship winning form, a fifth, or even sixth world title will make little difference to the status already afforded by the four he holds.
Debates on the merits of the options before him are, like his lucrative collaboration with Infiniti, now just echoes of the past. A deal, it appears, has very firmly been struck that will see the German partner another former champion, Kimi Räikkönen, at Ferrari (for 2015 at least). So the big question surely has to be ‘is this the right move, at the right time?’ Vettel clearly thinks it is, and I happen to agree with him.
It was whilst talking to John Surtees, one of our greatest ever champions, that I was reminded that timing is everything in Formula One, especially where Ferrari are concerned.
“The best time to join an Italian team is not when they’re winning, but when they’re down” Surtees told me, “but they need to understand that they’re down and they need to understand that you’re there to lead and deliver change.”
‘Change’ is, of course, already well underway at Maranello. New Ferrari Team Principal, Marco Mattiacci, has not been afraid to take difficult decisions, even if outwardly, allowing Fernando Alonso to walk away appears to make little sense (other than to allow Vettel in).
Key to progress has been his promotion of Mattia Binotto to head-up the Power Unit department. It’s here, more than anywhere, that Ferrari has struggled against Mercedes, whilst in James Allison, he can count on clear technical direction that should allow the promise of the F14T’s chassis to be developed. The task of Allison’s team is immense and their days and nights will be long, so for Mattiacci, the drive, the experience and the motivation that Vettel will bring cannot be understated.
But if this has been the year of Mercedes, possibly the biggest challenge facing teams in 2015 will be the evermore fierce competition resulting from the narrowing of the gap at the front end of the grid. Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren (with Honda) all have much to prove (having endured and learned from the trials of this new era). This is where Vettel is going to have to make the difference, and this is why he’s made the change.
There are some who point to his four championships and say that it was all down to Newey’s cars; if he can help shape Ferrari back into world beaters, then the boos of the Tifosi (from 2013) will be drowned forever and the man who is already one of the few will have proved that he earned his wings.