Shortly before Sebastian Vettel drove his 299th and final Formula 1 Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton joked that "he will be back."
That nearly came true at the start of the 2023 season after Lance Stroll broke his wrists in a cycling accident, and Aston Martin team boss Mike Krack not ruling out Vettel as a replacement driver alongside the man who had taken Vettel's seat, Fernando Alonso.
As it happened, Vettel was not needed as Stroll recovered in time to race in Bahrain, but the intrigue of 'Will Vettel come back?' continues on.
He got back behind the wheel of his title-winning RB7 from 2011 at the recent Red Bull event at the Nurburgring and while there, did not rule out the prospect of a comeback sometime in the future.
Say Vettel does opt for a Grand Prix return in 2025, he will be 37, turning 38 during the campaign. As both Hamilton and Alonso have shown in recent years, age is just a number if a driver is willing to carry on, with both of Vettel's greatest peers going, or are set to, go past their 40th birthdays.
The most likely project for Vettel is with Audi and Sauber, with the German marque set to take over the Hinwil operation in 2026, so a year of getting back up to speed and bedding in for '25 makes sense.
But for the very reasons Vettel retired in the first place, that does not make a whole lot of sense. Instead, a rumoured drive in the World Endurance Championship machinery is a far better fit.
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Vettel to WEC?
German magazine Auto Motor und Sport has reported that Vettel has been in discussions with customer Porsche team Jota for a seat behind the wheel of a 963 the team uses.
Long-time paddock veteran Michael Schmidt, with whom Vettel enjoys a good relationship asked the 53-time Grand Prix winner about his future during his appearance in Japan.
"Nothing has been signed or decided yet," Vettel is quoted as saying by Schmidt's Auto Motor und Sport.
"But I have the matter in the back of my mind. I still have time to decide.
"If at some point I come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work without racing, then I will drive again."
When RacingNews365 reached out to Vettel's camp for a response, it wasn't a flat denial or rubbishing of the report: "We will get back to you in case the project is interesting for Sebastian."
As they say, there is no smoke without fire, and so a potential drive for Vettel in WEC is a serious possibility, and for the family-driven, Le Mans-loving, history buff Vettel, it is a good chance for a comeback.
As his children continue to get older, does Vettel really want to commit to a long-term F1 project and globe-trot around the world 24 (and maybe even more times) a year?
The 2024 calendar has pre-season testing in the middle of February and then the finale in Abu Dhabi on 8th December. There are 291 days between the start of testing and Abu Dhabi.
By comparison, the eight-round WEC calendar is spaced out with a race a month between March and July (Le Mans is in June), before no races in August or October and a finale on November 2nd in Bahrain.
Should Vettel be able to agree terms on a deal to race in WEC, that is a far better prospect than returning to fight most likely in the midfield whilst Audi (if that's who he does sign for in F1) go through its teething troubles only to deliver the ground-work for someone else to reap the rewards.
Vettel's F1 career maybe over, but like most retired drivers, the art of driving is an itch he just can't seem to scratch.