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Sebastian Vettel

Is Vettel to Mercedes nothing more than a rose-tinted dream?

Sebastian Vettel has been linked to an F1 return with Mercedes of late, but is he the ideal driver for a team seeking a return to winning ways?

Vettel Suzuka
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

Sebastian Vettel to Mercedes? It would be a dream return to Formula 1 for the four-time champion who has spent the past few days engaging in a media whirlwind that has thrust his storied name into the maelstrom that is the driver merry-go-round ahead of next season.

Should it come to fruition, there would be shades of Michael Schumacher's comeback to F1 which saw the seven-time champion join forces with the renowned manufacturer from his homeland of Germany after a three-year absence.

Vettel is currently in the second year of his enforced exile, one he opted to take for the sake of his family at the end of 2022, feeling the demands of the sport had exacted a toll he was no longer willing to pay, certainly not at the expense of those closest to him.

But like many drivers before him, it would appear the racing bug is starting to gnaw away at Vettel following a period on the sidelines, and understandably so as he will arguably feel he left F1 too soon, at the age of 35, and certainly with the kind of record over his final three seasons that did him a disservice given his run of success at Red Bull a decade earlier.

Vettel will no doubt have watched on with a tinge of envy since he stepped away at how Fernando Alonso is performing in his early 40s, a landmark age Lewis Hamilton will hit next year ahead of his remarkable switch to Ferrari.

That move means there is a coveted vacancy at Mercedes, one Vettel has been linked with over these past few days, although he has so stated that despite discussions with good friend Toto Wolff, they have "not specifically" been about the fact he could take the seat.

Those first comments were after Vettel recently tested a Porsche 963 Hypercar ahead of a possible outing in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Whilst such a one-off drive would undoubtedly get the juices flowing again, he recognises committing to F1 is another story, even though he is 'flirting' with the idea.

F1 return 'appealing'

But then Vettel is heading into heart versus head territory. "Sometimes it’s the case that [one of my children] says, 'Dad, don’t do that, then you’ll be gone so much," remarked Vettel. "I really enjoyed the last year-and-a-half and also really enjoyed the time with the children. Hopefully, the children did, too.

"Maybe the mood will change again, but things are still going very well at the moment. There are also 24 races and beyond that I know from my time how I would like to structure my job if I decided to do it.

"I don't think it's objectionable that there are other interests in my life. Not just people and relationships, but also other things that interest and motivate me."

Those comments to RTL have since been succeeded by a glut of additional comments as Vettel has engaged in several interviews designed at promoting the sports and energy drinks brand, Perple, in which he has invested.

Speaking in an interview with Radio X, Vettel added: “The better the car, the better the team, the more exciting it is in terms of having the prospect of being successful.

“I'm following the sport, I see what's going on. And it [a return] might be appealing and interesting, but it really depends on the full package because it is a big commitment as well, with all the other stuff going on outside the driving activity.

“To seriously consider, it would very much depend on the package. From an age point of view, I feel bloody young with all the guys that are still hanging around and signing big contracts, being around for longer - it looks like I could have another 10 years in the sport! So I'm definitely ahead of them in terms of keeping fit.”

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Vettel an 'amazing option'

Vettel has one ally in his corner in old adversary Lewis Hamilton, someone who, as time wore on, became a friend. The seven-time champion has stated he "would love for Seb to come back”, believing "he would be an amazing option for the team".

He added: “A German driver, a multi-world championship-winning driver. Someone who has got amazing values and can continue to take this team forward, I would love it if he came back.”

What then followed from Hamilton was remarkably telling, almost outlining a job advert, if you will, aside from whoever replaces him being naturally talented behind the wheel.

The likes of Alonso and Carlos Sainz have also been linked, and perhaps with the two Spaniards in mind, Hamilton remarked: “I think the only thing I would care about is that the team takes on someone with integrity and is aligned with the team and where the team is going.

“Someone with compassion that’s able to work with really great people and continue to lift them up. There are so many great people in this team. As drivers, there are some who are more selfish than others, there are some who are good drivers but perhaps not the best in a team environment.

“They’ve already got George [Russell], he’s perfect for the team. Finding a good match beside him, they’ve got so many options.”

			© Mercedes-Benz Group AG
	© Mercedes-Benz Group AG

Time for Mercedes to invest in youth

Vettel certainly ticks all the boxes with regard to the above from Hamilton but is he a truly viable candidate? Yes, he has bags of experience, and he is a proven winner. Four titles and 53 grand prix victories say it all.

But after what would be two years away, and with the need, as he has mentioned, to manage his schedule given his vast array of outside interests, and with his family continuing to tug at his heartstrings, to embark on a 24-grand prix, six-sprint F1 calendar, may be asking too much of him. The continuing expansion of F1 was something he was averse to before his retirement.

And why would Mercedes opt for Vettel when it possesses in Andrea Kimi Antonelli, a driver on the fast track to F1?

Next season is a hiatus year for the sport, sandwiched between effectively the end of one era and the start of another in 2026 when new power unit regulations come into force.

The 2025 campaign represents an ideal opportunity for Mercedes to blood Antonelli, to get him up to speed in F1 machinery for a full season before the German giant embarks on its full-throated bid to rekindle its eight-year dominance from when the current 1.6-litre turbo-hybrid systems were introduced in 2014.

A Vettel comeback with Mercedes is rose-tinted, fuelled by the recent round of 'Perple' interviews, but for long-term viability, it is time for the team to invest in youth in Antonelli and build an era around the talented 17-year-old Italian, rather than offer Vettel a final hurrah.

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