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Is it time for Vettel's F1 journey to end after his nightmare return?

Sebastian Vettel's comeback from a two-race absence was dramatic from start to finish amid several accidents and incidents. RacingNews365.com's journalists debate whether his time in the sport should be coming to an end, or if there's still more for him to give.

With Aston Martin's 2022 car in the doldrums, Sebastian Vettel's move to the team in a bid to rekindle his F1 career appears to have flopped. Should the German be thinking about a sabbatical, or even retirement? Or can he still flourish if given a competitive car again? RacingNews365.com 's journalists weigh in on the debate...

Mike Seymour: New F1 fans are only seeing a fraction of the old Vettel

In stark contrast to his and Aston Martin's current struggles, Sebastian Vettel was once the truly dominant force in F1. However his career ends, I will remember him as the driver who - armed with a mighty Red Bull - crushed the opposition weekend in, weekend out. As such, what I find most sad about Vettel's career decline, and the situation he now finds himself in, is that the recent flood of new F1 fans - many of whom won't have looked back in the archives - are most likely to view him as an off-the-pace, crash-prone driver adding little to the on-track action. Indeed, in Australia, he made more of an impact on proceedings by riding a marshal's scooter back to the pits and picking up a fine for his efforts. It was, of course, an amusing moment, but it's also a somewhat depressing marker in the wider context of Vettel's time in the sport. Having caught the eye at BMW-Sauber, stunned at Toro Rosso and dominated at Red Bull, there was a period when Vettel's career trajectory was only going one way – up and up. Then, with a change of car/engine concept for 2014 and a new, hungry teammate in Daniel Ricciardo, the unbeatable image he had built up showed its first cracks. After years of it all coming so naturally, with race wins and titles flowing, he appears to have been chasing success since that point, and in cars that will never suit him like the blown diffuser designs did. While there were wins at Ferrari, the promise of a title never arrived and, since that day at Hockenheim in 2018, he has never looked the same. Having left Ferrari for a misfiring Aston Martin, race wins and titles seem further away than ever before. If these troubles go on for much longer, I wouldn't be surprised to see Vettel cut his losses and, at the very least, take a break from F1. That's if Aston Martin don't beat him to it.

Anna Francis: Vettel's role in F1 remains invaluable

In December, I realised that it had been 10 years since I'd stood on a very cold Midsummer Boulevard in Milton Keynes to watch Vettel and Mark Webber perform a buoyant demo run, in celebration of the back-to-back titles achieved by Red Bull and Vettel. Now, in light of Vettel's miserable weekend in Australia, that seems less like a decade ago and more like a lifetime. It feels as if many of us have been patiently waiting since then for things to come good again for Vettel on-track, and sadly it hasn't quite worked out. One thing that I think has changed for the better, though, is the general perception of the person Vettel is. In the Red Bull era, not everybody was a fan, probably thanks to incidents such as Multi-21. Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine him ever being disliked. His popularity as a character has soared, and that I believe is down to his off-track endeavours. Vettel has become a leading figure in the sport when it comes to speaking out on various social causes, which he does so with a genuine empathy. The importance of such a role cannot be underestimated, and I find it hard to imagine who could replace him in this respect. I still believe that he can be impressive on circuit given the right equipment, but whether he wants to stick around long enough for Aston Martin to provide that is another story. The idea of him leaving saddens me, yet I could understand if he chose to walk away, and for Aston, the likes of Nico Hulkenberg would be able to step into that seat. Maybe Vettel is replaceable in the car, but he is irreplaceable out of it.

Thomas Maher: Vettel's best days are clearly behind him

There's no doubt that Vettel's best days are behind him at this point, with his career trajectory never quite recovering from that traumatic day at Hockenheim four years ago. While Vettel has won races and put in some stonking drives since then, the unshakeable confidence that the once-dominant Seb had seemed to begin leaking out as he trudged away through the gravel and his 2018 title push started to fall apart. That was the moment Ferrari's confidence in him also appeared to begin to fade and the dominoes that have led to the sad sight of 2022-spec Vettel crashing his way through a weekend began to fall. Neither Aston Martin driver covered themselves in glory in Australia, and it's obvious that the AMR22 is a far cry from the type of machinery that someone like Vettel should expect. But, even if the car is a tractor, you'd expect someone of Vettel's calibre to put in performances that underline his status and pay cheque. I'm an unashamed Vettel fan, and it's saddening to see the new generation of F1 fans coming through for whom the German is something of a likeable joke. Once upon a time, he was one of the most vicious and relentless drivers on the grid. While that youthful single-mindedness and aggression has vanished, possibly as his family life flourished in his very private home environment, Aston Martin still deserve speed and competence. There are strong parallels between how Vettel's career is stuttering out, when compared to close friend Kimi Raikkonen's. But the Finn, until 2021 at least, never appeared as though he was merely phoning it in. Eye-catching drives, usually beating Antonio Giovinazzi, and a friendly working relationship with Alfa Romeo, meant he could drive until he finally got bored. There's none of that with Vettel. His relationship with Aston Martin appears uneasy, and Vettel is even struggling to put clear distance between himself and Lance Stroll – a driver a younger Vettel would have walked all over. In 1979, Niki Lauda drove back into the pits during practice for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix and retired (for the first time) on the spot, citing a boredom of "driving around in circles", as his other business interests took over. As sad as it would be to see, I wouldn't be surprised if Vettel simply walks away from the sport at some point during this year.

Tom Leach: Vettel no longer looks like a race winner

As undeniable as his powers once were, Vettel no longer looks like a driver capable of winning races, even in competitive machinery. The explosive start to his career has cemented his place as an all-time great. However, the years since have provided only doubt and little confirmation as to why. Some still point to his defeats against younger teammates (Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc) as potential reasons for his slide down the order, but the root cause of the problem seems to be a changing Formula 1 in which he is no longer king. Not since 2013 - the final season prior to the arrival of hybrid power and, not-so-coincidentally, Vettel's final title-winning campaign - has it felt as though the German driver has been armed with a car that truly suits his style. Throughout his Ferrari years, Vettel showed fight, but never did he seem so in tune with his machine that he could be branded unstoppable, as he so often was at Red Bull. One of his more memorable final acts at Ferrari came the race after his last win, when his SF90 ground to a halt in Sochi. "Bring back the f*****g V12s," he said. Vettel never drove with V12 engines, only his heroes did, but that was beside the point. Frustrated with the hybrid era, he wanted the sport to return to what he viewed as 'the good old days' of less complicated engineering and cars that more suited his style. Sadly for Vettel, those days are not coming and his new Aston Martin looks as difficult as any car he has piloted. The longer his struggles at Aston Martin continue, the more comparisons will be drawn to his 1990s hero, Nigel Mansell, and how the Briton walked away from the sport in 1995, unhappy with the performance of his McLaren. The vital role Vettel plays as an ambassador for the sport on sensitive issues remains crucial, but it is good racing that will keep him hungry enough to stay. The AMR22 is incapable of offering him that.

Michael Butterworth: Vettel's magic has faded

As he convalesced in Switzerland while Lance Stroll and Hulkenberg toiled in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, I wonder if Vettel thought he would rather be spending his days at home with his family than trundling around in the AMR22. It doesn't take an expert in body language to see that Vettel doesn't appear to be enjoying himself. The German looked disinterested and demotivated all weekend long in Australia and made two unforced errors that led to crashes. Although he publicly made the right noises after the race about searching for solutions and coming back stronger, you have to wonder whether he really believes that. It wasn't supposed to be like this. After being cast aside by Ferrari, joining Aston Martin for 2021 was seen as a chance for Vettel to fight at the front once again, and bring his championship-winning experience to bear at a team with deep pockets and ambitious ownership. And though there were flashes of the old magic, notably at Monaco, Baku and Budapest, much of his season was spent mired in the midfield, and there remained an inescapable sense that Vettel is not the driver he was during the halcyon days of the early 2010s, which now seem an awfully long time ago. Vettel's current malaise calls to mind Damon Hill's woes at Jordan in 1999. The Englishman later admitted that he would have walked away mid-season were it not for his contractual obligations, and I wonder if Vettel is having similar thoughts. Aston Martin already have a willing, able and competent replacement in Hulkenberg, and it would not be a surprise to see 27, rather than 5, on the front of an Aston Martin again before this season is out. In his role as F1 commentator in the 1980s, James Hunt once remarked that concentration is linked to motivation, and that if a driver can't motivate himself to perform at his best, he should retire. If Vettel is indeed unwilling or unable to perform as his experience and racing record suggests he should, perhaps it is for the best if he walked away.

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