Red alert: will Ricciardo replace Vettel at Ferrari?
WITH Sebastian Vettel set to leave Ferrari at the end of the season, the German's departure leaves the F1 giants on the lookout for a new driver, and Australia's Renault star Daniel Ricciardo is among those in the frame.
Vettel's former Red Bull partner could well be the man to take his seat at Ferrari.
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The Australian made the switch to Renault ahead of the 2019 season, a campaign that proved frustrating for the 30-year-old as he racked up just 54 points in finishing ninth in the drivers' standings.
Ricciardo has a dazzling quality which could appeal to Ferrari's adoring tifosi and he would surely jump at the chance to step into a car that can contend for race wins again, but whether the Australian - who had a fierce battle with former Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen - would accept playing second fiddle to Leclerc is another matter.
The man himself would obviously jump at the chance if offered. Asked about the possibility of replacing Vettel in February, the Italian-speaking, Perth-born Ricciardo said: "To be honest, I'm obviously answering all calls."
CARLOS SAINZ JR
The 25-year-old replaced compatriot Fernando Alonso in a struggling McLaren ahead of the 2019 campaign. Sainz was particularly impressive, finishing in sixth as best of the rest after the two Mercedes and Ferrari drivers and Max Verstappen.
He is believed to be out of contract at McLaren at the end of the season and a switch to Ferrari could be too tempting to turn down.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen, a teammates of Sainz and Ricciardo at Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) and Red Bull respectively, reckons Sainz is the man Ferrari will ultimately go for.
Asked during an Instagram Q&A with former racer David Coulthard whether he thought Vettel's replacement would be the Italian or Spanish-sounding name, Verstappen replied: "I think it's not going to be the Italian-sounding name … it's just a guess, we'll have to wait and see.
"I guess very soon we'll find out who the replacement is going to be. It's definitely not me, I can tell you."
The Italian, a former reserve driver for Ferrari who currently drives for the affiliated Alfa Romeo Ferrari team, ticks a lot of boxes.
The 26-year-old scored 14 points for Alfa Romeo last season and his appointment would be a leap of faith from the bosses at Maranello, given he has just one full season under his belt in Formula One.
The six-time world champion has his sights set on matching Michael Schumacher's tally of seven world titles.
What better place to achieve that than with the prancing horse?
Hamilton is out of contract at Mercedes, where he has won five championships, after this season. Ferrari admitted last year that talks over signing Hamilton had taken place, although he would challenge the team dynamic with Leclerc.
Last month, however, Hamilton told his Instagram followers: "There is no dream of another team. I am with my dream team.
"There's not a thing in my way, as I'm not trying to move. I'm with the people who have cared from day one."
The Spaniard, even at 38, always figures in conversations when a team has a vacancy.
The two-time world champion, widely regarded as among the best F1 drivers of all time, left the sport after the 2018 season after years of disappointing results in underperforming cars. With the Monaco Grand Prix under his belt, Alonso has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans races for the last two years.
Drove for Ferrari between 2010 and 2014, just missing out on the title in his debut season. Could he still be part of the conversation?
WHAT NEXT FOR VETTEL?
Vettel set his sights on chasing down compatriot Schumacher's haul and joined Ferrari in 2015 as part of that mission. Despite a promising start, the last two seasons have been punctuated by a string of errors.
If he stays in F1, a potential move for Sainz to Ferrari could open a door at McLaren.
Vettel said his shock exit from one of the dream drives on the grid was a "joint decision".
"My relationship with Scuderia Ferrari will finish at the end of 2020," the 32-year-old said in a statement from the team.
"In order to get the best possible results in this sport, it's vital for all parties to work in perfect harmony.
"The team and I have realised that there is no longer a common desire to stay together beyond the end of this season." Vettel, who has won 14 races with Ferrari and 53 overall in his career, insisted financial considerations played no role in his decision.
Yet it has been widely reported that after being outpaced by 22-year-old teammate Leclerc in 2019, Ferrari had offered Vettel only a one-year contract extension at a significantly reduced salary.
He said he would "reflect on what really matters when it comes to my future".
Leclerc, who in December extended his contract until 2024, told Vettel: "It's been a huge honour for me to be your teammate. We've had some tense moments on tracks.
"Some very good ones and some others that didn't end as we both wanted, but there was always respect, even though it wasn't perceived this way from the outside.
"I've never learnt so much as I did with you as my team-mate. Thank you for everything Seb."