Sebastian Vettel appears to be on the cusp of joining Racing Point after it was announced that Sergio Perez would leave the team at the end of the current Formula One season. Reports had indicated Vettel was delaying a final decision over his next destination with Lewis Hamilton yet to officially sign a new contract with Mercedes.
Four-time world champion Vettel will end a five-year association with Ferrari at the end of the season having struggled to find his peak performance in recent times.
The 33-year-old finished fifth last season after ending up in second in 2017 and 2018, both times well behind rival Hamilton, who now boasts six titles.
This year, Vettel has picked up just 16 points from eight races with his best outing coming at the Hungarian Grand Prix, crossing the finishing line in sixth, though Ferrari’s 2020 car is well below the standards expected of the Scuderia.
But Vettel has been tipped to move to Racing Point, who have held what the German described as “loose talks” with him in July and are believed to have more recently offered him a contract ahead of their Aston Martin rebrand in 2021.
The Lawrence Stroll-backed outfit have excelled this year but will part ways with Mexican racer Perez, allowing Vettel to come in as his replacement alongside Lance Stroll as they look to go from competing in the midfield to battling with the top teams.
Perez had only signed a three-year contract extension in August of last year, though he could now move on to either Alfa Romeo or Haas.
“Everything in life always has a beginning and an end, and after seven years together, my time with the team will come to an end after this season,” said Perez in a statement.
“It hurts a bit as I bet on the team during very rough times; we managed to overcome obstacles and I am very proud of saving the jobs of several of my team-mates.
“I’ll keep the memories of the great moments lived together, the friendships and the satisfaction of always giving my all.
“I will always be grateful for the opportunity given to me Vijay Mallya, who believed in me in 2014 and allowed me to continue my F1 career with Force India.
“To the current administration, led by Lawrence Stroll, I wish nothing but the best for the future, specially with the upcoming Aston Martin project.
“I don’t have a Plan B. My intention is to continue racing here, but that would depend on finding a project that motivates me to continue giving my 100 percent in each lap.”
Racing Point team boss Otmar Szafnauer said: “Checo has been part of the Silverstone family for seven years and in that time has become one of the most complete drivers on the grid.
“Blisteringly quick on Saturday and Sunday, he’s established his reputation as a tenacious racer and together we have enjoyed some fantastic moments.
“If there was ever a sniff of a podium, Checo was ready to pounce, and those five podiums represent some of the finest days in the history of this team.
“Outside of the car, Checo is a true character and a good friend, and it’s been a pleasure working with him for such a long time.
“Although we will say goodbye at the end of the year, there are still nine races to go and plenty of opportunities for Checo to make some more special memories with this team.”
But Perez’s exit means Vettel – despite his struggles in recent seasons with the Prancing Horse where he has been overtaken as the main driver by future title hopeful Charles Leclerc – is primed to take his seat for 2021.
He could be officially confirmed as Perez’s successor in the next few days ahead of this weekend’s Tuscan Grand Prix in Italy.
The move comes despite reports from Italy this week suggesting Vettel was delaying his decision because he wanted to see what happens with Hamilton and Mercedes.
The 35-year-old, who will turn 36 in January, is widely expected to put pen to paper on a new deal to stay with the leading Silver Arrows as he looks to not only match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles but surpass it.
But Motorsport.com claimed Vettel would relish the chance to link up with the Brackley-based team were Hamilton to shockingly decide to move on at the end of the year.
Yet with team principal Toto Wolff having committed to staying to Mercedes in 2021, Hamilton too should now extend his stay.
The Brit is currently comfortably atop the drivers’ standings having won five races so far to open up a 47-point lead on team-mate Bottas, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is 54 points adrift of the six-time champion.
Vettel sits way down in 13th, 18 points behind 11th-placed Perez and 41 behind future team-mate Stroll, who is fourth overall.
This weekend’s Tuscan GP at Mugello gets underway with Practice 1 (10am UK time) Friday. Qualifying will begin at 2pm on Saturday with the race starting at 2.10pm on Sunday.