Vettel an ‘amazing’ Mercedes option – but what’s really going on?

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Sebastian Vettel has teased the prospect of a Formula 1 comeback as a replacement for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, a move heartily endorsed by Hamilton himself – but one that seems desperately unlikely to happen.

Four-time world champion Vettel retired at the end of 2022 when he was 35, younger than his Aston Martin successor Fernando Alonso (who was 41 at the time) and Hamilton (who was 37). Both Alonso and Hamilton are still racing in F1 now.

Vettel never outlined a post-F1 racing plan but is now dabbling with a possible move into sportscar racing, having recently tested Porsche’s Le Mans Hypercar, and has seemingly opened the door to a potential F1 comeback.

Hamilton’s shock switch to Ferrari in 2025 has created a vacancy at Mercedes, which is run by Toto Wolff, whom Vettel has a very good relationship with. There are also other possibilities for Vettel such as the works Audi F1 programme that will join the grid in 2026, taking over the Sauber team.

“From an age point I feel bloody young,” Vettel told Radio X as part of a UK media tour this week promoting the Perple energy drink he has invested in.

“With all the guys that I raced with still hanging around and signing big contracts, staying around for longer, it looks like I could have another 10 years in the sport!”

On the prospect of joining Mercedes, Vettel said: “For sure it’s one of the best seats on the grid.

“Performance-wise Mercedes has a great track record, struggling a little bit in the last years – but then ‘struggling’ you’re still second or third in the constructors’, it’s not like you’re racing in no man’s land.”

The decision to retire ended a low-key final chapter of Vettel’s illustrious F1 career, which had already started to decline at Ferrari as he was displaced as team leader by Charles Leclerc then ousted at the end of 2020.

Vettel also admitted to having a conflict between his F1 career and a growing interest in sustainability initiatives, as well as a desire to spend more time with his family, who Vettel said would need to be part of the discussion about potentially returning.

Asked by Sky F1 if he was a player in the wide open driver market for 2025, Vettel replied: “Potentially I am, because I haven’t got a drive. The question is, am I looking for one?

“I think it depends on the package. I retired from F1 not to come back, but also did say that you never know.

“It still stands. Obviously there’s things that I miss, which is mostly the competition, and things that I don’t miss. That hasn’t changed.”

HAMILTON: VETTEL ‘AMAZING’ MERCEDES OPTION

Mercedes does have its long-term protege George Russell under contract and is waiting to see who to pair him with.

Wolff has made many comments about being interested in world champion Max Verstappen should he become disillusioned with his current team Red Bull.

Red Bull has dominated F1 in this ruleset since 2022 but is subject to varying degrees of in-fighting that has led to speculation Verstappen could leave well before his contract is due to end in 2028.

Beyond Verstappen, the leading contender is Mercedes’ 17-year-old prodigy Andrea Kimi Antonelli and established F1 drivers like Alonso, Hamilton’s Ferrari predecessor Carlos Sainz, and outside candidates such as Mercedes-managed Esteban Ocon and Williams driver Alex Albon.

Vettel, who has had discussions with F1 figures about off-track initiatives he is working on, said he has kept in regular contact with Wolff but “not really about the seat” that Hamilton is vacating at the end of the year.

Hamilton, though, feels Vettel would be a fantastic option for Mercedes and tick a lot of boxes.

“I would love for Seb to come back,” said Hamilton.

“And I think he would be an amazing option for the team.

“You have a multi world championship winning driver and someone who’s got amazing values and would continue to take this team forwards.

“I would love it if he came back.”

Asked who he would like to see Mercedes sign, for example a rookie or someone with experience, Hamilton said: “The only thing I really care about is that the team takes on someone with integrity and values that are aligned with the team and where the team is going.

“Someone with compassion that’s able to work with all these great people and continue to lift them up.

“There’s so many great people in this team and as drivers there are some that are more selfish than others, there are some that are good drivers but perhaps not the best within team environments.

“I don’t know because I’ve not been with all of them.”

The “not the best within team environments” remark was widely interpreted as a reference to Alonso – even though he was not mentioned by name – given his reputation for sometimes being a difficult team-mate.

Alonso also famously had a huge fallout with Hamilton at McLaren during Hamilton’s rookie season in 2007, leading to the Spygate scandal being revealed.

“I hope they find someone great,” Hamilton said.

“They’ve already got George and I hope they find a good match to go alongside him.

“I’m sure they’ve got so many options.”

WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN

While Vettel has an emphatic vote of confidence from Hamilton, a Mercedes move doesn’t seem likely – not least because the stories have been sparked by the media round that Vettel did specifically to promote his energy drink.

It is understood that Vettel is not in serious contention at Mercedes – which does want to pay him the respect he’s due as a four-time world champion and someone with a very good relationship with Hamilton and Wolff.

But other drivers are clearly ahead of him in the pecking order, meaning something would have to change significantly in the market for Vettel to suddenly emerge as a legitimate candidate.

His form in the final three years of his career was unspectacular, albeit impacted by Aston Martin being much less impressive than what Alonso benefitted from in 2023.

And were he to return in 2025 it would be at the age of 37 after two full seasons on the sidelines and no full-time racing programme in the interim.

Given Mercedes’ desire to get Antonelli into its F1 team at the earliest opportunity, Vettel would also have to join on a short-term deal.

Making Vettel a stop-gap were Antonelli not considered to be ready for a Mercedes drive next year could make sense as most returning drivers only come back for a short final addendum to their career.

But this would also reduce the time available for Vettel to get up to speed and achieve any success with Mercedes, which would probably not be worth Mercedes’ time – given it could just be spent building up Antonelli or plugging in a ready-to-go active driver – or Vettel’s time given his aversion to the commitment required of a full F1 schedule.

Mercedes will always speak very highly of Vettel when he is in any conversation, including one about a seat. We heard it before in 2020 when Wolff was very respectful of Vettel when he was axed by Ferrari.

But he was not seriously in the conversation then and is unlikely to be now. An F1 return of any kind, let alone with Mercedes, looks like a long shot at best.

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