EARLIER DAYS: Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, Sebastian Vettel and car designer extraordinaire Adrian Newey at the 2013 Indian F1 GP. Image: AFP
LONDON, England - Sebastian Vettel entered Formula 1 with the nickname 'Baby Schumi'. Now comparisons with Michael Schumacher will be stronger than ever with his decision to quit Red Bull for Ferrari.
The Italians have yet to confirm that the 27-year-old German will join them in 2014; on Saturday (Oct 4) they resolutely ignored the speculation in a post-qualifying media release ahead of the 2014 Japanese F1 GP.
Red Bull was happy to steal their thunder.
Bulls’ team principal Christian Horner said after dropping the “he’s going” bombshell: "If it's his desire to be somewhere else, then it's not right for us to stand in his path. As of January 1 he'll be a competitor.
“He'll be a Ferrari driver."
The lure of Ferrari, F1’s most glamorous and historically most successful team, has always been almost irresistible for any driver - even if the Scuderia has so far in 2014 been far from the force that dominated with Schumacher in the early years of the century.
Ferrari is facing its first winless season since 1993 and is going through major changes. Chairman Luca di Montezemolo will leave later in October 2014 and double F1 champion Fernando Alonso has seemed to be increasingly restless as the team was reshaped by principal Marco Mattiacci.
SIGNS OF SIMILAR REVOLUTION
Just as then-principal Jean Todt assembled a winning team around a 27-year-old Schumacher (he moved there from then-champion team Benetton at the start of 1996) so Ferrari can be expected to try the same with Vettel.
There are signs that a similar revolution is under way at Maranello, even if there can be no guarantee of success. Former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, now with Williams, told Sky TV at Suzuka when asked about the news: "It's a big change for Ferrari, it's a big change for Red Bull. At Ferrari changes are definitely coming.
“Ferrari needs to find organisation, the right direction."
Just as Montezemolo's announced departure was seen as the end of an era for Ferrari, so Vettel's departure - along with the gradual exit of star designer Adrian Newey - is something of the same for Red Bull, whatever its fortunes.
Vettel, like Schumacher at Benetton, was the team's first champion, its first race winner, earned the team's first pole position and made history with four championships in a row.
JODY SCHECKTER REMEMBERED
Schumacher had achieved less when he arrived at Ferrari in 1996 as a double F1 champion. Not until 2000 did he add his third title but the two share the same reputation for determination and attention to detail.
The older German, now undergoing treatment at home in the hope of his recovering from severe head injuries sustained in a skiing fall in 2013, then won five championships in succession and ended his career with 91 race wins - the sport's so far most successful driver.
His 2000 Driver's title was Ferrari's first since South African Jody Scheckter’s in 1979 and Maranello cannot afford another such long wait; 2007 winner Kimi Raikkonen is its most recent champion.
Vettel knows there will always be those, particularly after his struggles this season, who will want to see him win with more than one team before recognising him as one of the all-time greats.
But it’s something he wants to do anyway.
'VOICE KEPT GROWING'
Like Alonso at Renault and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, Vettel has also felt the itch to move on - to leave a comfortable “home” - after a long period with a team that nurtured him from an early age. He said on Saturday:
"At some point in your life you feel you want to do something new. That voice kept growing and led me to decide to leave Red Bull and start a new chapter.
"It has nothing to do with the results we’ve had in 2014. It's more the fact that I felt ready and I thought the time was right."
Moving to Ferrari may be a gamble but no more so than staying at Red Bull or moving to McLaren. There is no certainty that any of those three will be in a position to win the title in 2015, with Mercedes dominant in 2014 and Honda returning in 2015 with McLaren in what is likely to be a big-budget push for honours.
PLENTY WORK TO DO
Red Bull is entering a post-Newey era; that British boffin will stand back once the 2015 car has been signed off and the team’s fortunes will still be tied to those of power-unit supplier Renault.
Ferrari, which is putting much of its design faith in former Lotus technical head James Allison, recently parted company with its engine supremo Luca Marmorini and has plenty of work to do.
Vettel's arrival will, at least, move that up a gear.