Vettel: Intention was always to stay with Ferrari despite Mercedes rumors

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Sebastian Vettel says he always intended to stay with Ferrari for the 2018 Formula 1 season despite being linked with a move to Mercedes, calling his signing of a new contract “a no brainer”.

Ferrari put an end to speculation that Vettel could leave at the end of the season by announcing a new three-year contract on Saturday, taking the German to the end of the 2020 season.

Speaking in Saturday’s press conference following qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, Vettel professed his love for racing for Ferrari, with the people involved being a key factor in his decision to stay.

“I love this team. I love the people that are working for this brand,” Vettel said. “I believe Ferrari has something unique, something I think other teams don’t have. If you talk and people talk about a legend, to me, it appears that this legend is still alive because the people that work for it day in, day out.

“If you walk down the streets in Maranello, the presence of Ferrari is huge, but if you see the people working at Ferrari, meet them, then it’s even bigger what they carry inside them, the passion for the brand.

“I think and I am convinced allowing every single one to go an extra step compared to other people, other teams, that’s my conviction and it’s extremely great to be part of that family.

“In a way it was a no-brainer to continue. We haven’t yet achieved what we wanted to achieve but things are looking pretty good. Obviously we have a long road ahead of us.”

Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda told British TV on Saturday that Vettel had “talked briefly” with the team about a move, but discussions never became serious or centered on a contract.

“I have been around in the paddock so I know people so it’s natural that you talk, but a bit more than chatting. Mostly about other stuff to be honest,” Vettel said.

“I’ve been talking for a while with Ferrari, as I said my intention was to stay. We haven’t succeeded so the mission is still going.

“I want to win in red. I talked about my inspiration early for Michael [Schumacher], he was mostly dressed in red, he won most of his races in red and his championships.

“I don’t want to step in his footsteps. I think the whole generation of the Ferrari team today wants to leave their own footsteps but certainly there’s a huge inspirations. Something that for me is now the biggest challenge, the biggest dream that I have and what I want to achieve.”

Vettel also confirmed that he signed the contract agreement within the 48 hours prior to the deal being announced, having said on Thursday that news on his future was unlikely for another two weeks.

“I didn’t think that it was probably the right time. I didn’t rush or push, but things were coming along together fairly quickly in the end,” Vettel said.

“We decided to go for it and make the call. I know it wasn’t the best in terms of one day and then the other, but that’s how it was.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.