Sebastian Vettel has not ruled out the possibility of returning to Red Bull when his current Aston Martin contract expires at the end of 2022.
The Silverstone side have endured a tough time of it in the early going of the 2022 season, and Vettel missed the opening two rounds after contracting COVID-19.
Stand-in Nico Hulkenberg out-qualified Lance Stroll, before out-racing him in Saudi Arabia, and he stated after the race in Jeddah that he is “keen, but not desperate” for more appearances in the underperforming car.
Readers can make of that what they will, but Vettel remarked after the woeful Australian Grand Prix weekend – during which he crashed twice – that there are “too many things” wrong with the car.
The 34-year-old scored his and the team’s first points of the season during the unpredictable Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but to what extent the changing conditions influenced the result will be seen as we head into the European season and teams start bringing more upgrades to the cars.
Red Bull brought some changes to their car in Imola, and they appeared to work to great effect as Max Verstappen led Sergio Perez home for the team’s first one-two since 2016, but the Mexican himself is out of contract at the conclusion of this year.
Vettel has already indicated that his future with Aston Martin is contingent on results, and he revealed that the door back to Red Bull – with whom he won four world titles – is still slightly ajar.
“I haven’t spoken with Christian (Horner) for a while, so I don’t know. I mean, time will tell,” he said.
However, the 53-time race winner maintained that his only ambition at present is to help develop the Aston Martin car to a position where they can compete for consistent points finishes and podiums.
“At the minute I think the focus is on the now and on a mountain ahead of us that we try to climb,” he added.
Compatriot and team principal Mike Krack acknowledges that the team need to do more to convince Vettel that he should stick around and play an instrumental role in Lawrence Stroll’s championship plan, and is adamant that he wants the 34-year-old to stay.
“I’m not going to speak about contracts here,” he said.
“But obviously if you have a driver like Sebastian Vettel that you can keep motivated by giving him the car that he deserves, I think you would be foolish not to try to retain him.
“I understand his comments 100 percent. He wants to see progress, he wants to see the car moving forward. He’s not a driver that wants to fight for P18 or P16 so I fully understand his comments.
“It’s up to us to deliver the tool that is needed for him to perform.”
Could Vettel really return to Red Bull?
Probably not. Sergio Perez’s two podiums this year have come amid a reliability failure in Bahrain and an ill-timed Safety Car in Saudi Arabia, both of which cost him podium appearances and perhaps even a win in Jeddah.
It is evident that the Mexican has made significant improvements after taking some time to learn “how to drive” a front-running car last year, and right now at least, he is going a long way towards convincing Dr Helmut Marko and Christian Horner that he merits another year.
Failing that, Pierre Gasly has made it clear that he wants to join Red Bull by 2024, and Dr Marko has previously affirmed that the team “don’t want” to lose the Frenchman, who looks set to walk away from AlphaTauri regardless of what happens with Red Bull at the end of next season.
By 2024, Vettel will be 36 years old, and it is difficult to see why and how Red Bull would take on a driver of that age when there is an abundance of young talent to choose from.
There is no denying Vettel’s previous accomplishments, and as a person as well as a racing driver, there is no one in the world of F1 that would not love to see the German win another world title, but it would appear, sadly, to appear little more than a fairy-tale.