Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto addressed Sebastian Vettel’s future at the launch of the Italians’ car for the 2020 F1 season.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto insists Sebastian Vettel is the No 1 candidate to race alongside Charles Leclerc in 2021, dampening fans hopes of seeing Lewis Hamilton make a blockbuster switch from Mercedes. Vettel is under pressure to perform this season having failed to add to his four World Drivers’ Championships while on the Prancing Horse’s books and he’s already been replaced by junior team-mate Leclerc as the Italians’ top driver.
Vettel’s contract expires at the end of the upcoming 2020 season and his arch-rival Hamilton has been tipped to take his seat next year.
Like Vettel, Hamilton is approaching the end of his current agreement and has previously made no secret of his admiration for Ferrari.
Ferrari chief executive Louis Camilleri revealed at Ferrari’s post-2019 season debrief that Hamilton is interested in joining them.
Despite informal talks being held with Hamilton, Binotto has opened the door for Vettel to sign a new contract and extend his stay with Ferrari into a seventh season next year.
Speaking on Tuesday at the launch of Ferrari’s new SF1000 car for the 2020 F1 season, Binotto said: “Seb is our first choice at the moment.
“Obviously it is something we are discussing with him and we will continue discussing, but he is certainly our first option, our preference.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is planning to sit down with six-time champion Hamilton in the coming days to discuss an extension to his £40m-a-year contract.
Binotto insists he is taking no notice of the F1 rumour mill, with keeping hold of former Red Bull driver Vettel his sole focus.
Asked if Hamilton would be a “fall-back option” in case Vettel leaves, Binotto said: “We are focused on our drivers – and we are considering Seb as our option at the moment.”
Ferrari are in the midst of a title-drought stretching back to 2008, when Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa’s efforts secured them the constructors’ gong.
Maranello personnel and the team’s global fan base haven’t had individual honours to cheer since Raikkonen got his hands on the World Drivers’ Championship title in 2007.
Vettel insists he can stop Hamilton going on to make history this year, though, with Michael Schumacher’s record seven F1 titles and 91 race wins firmly in the Brit’s sights.
“I feel young enough,” said the 32-year-old. “You spoke about Lewis, he’s even older. So that’s not a limitation. So yeah, happy to keep going.”
Vettel will be looking to lay down a marker for the year ahead when the season-opening Australian Grand Prix takes place in Melbourne next month.