Sebastian Vettel could have been a McLaren-Mercedes driver in 2008 when negotiations took place between the two parties, but an agreement did not materialise according to the man charged with trying to do so.
At the time, Norbert Haug ran Mercedes motor sport and wore a big wig in the Formula 1 paddock while the German company was powering McLaren – the best cars at the time.
Vettel was Toro Rosso’s promising youngster who was making waves after BMW-Sauber inexplicably released him to Red Bull in 2007, when he had finished eighth in the US Grand Prix on his debut at 19 years and 53 days. He was the youngest ever to do so in the sport’s history.
It was a deal from a race in which he had replaced the injured Robert Kubica. Many took note and Red Bull came knocking; four races later, Vettel was at Toro Rosso and Scott Speed out. But before that happened, Vettel’s performance also piqued Haug’s interest.
“I negotiated with Sebastian when he was at Toro Rosso,” he revealed in an interview with F1-Insider, recalling how he had tried to lure Vettel to McLaren-Mercedes, before choosing Heikki Kovalainen to be Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate in 2008.
Haug continued: “Who knows how the history of Formula One would have developed if we had reached an agreement at the time. But at the top, everyone negotiates with everyone at some point and those who don’t admit it keep it to themselves. But it’s always true. ”
While Hamilton won in 2008 afterwards, he had to watch Seb rewrite the history books before going to four F1 world championships in as many years with Red Bull.
A decade later, the Vettel-Ferrari divorce that takes place live every Grand Prix weekend makes watching it painful, as do Seb’s antics in the heat of the action. Ask the question: what’s wrong?
Haug ventured: “Anyone who is angry will say: everything. But of course that is not true at all. Just as Mercedes managed to create the ideal conditions for Lewis Hamilton’s victories and world titles, Ferrari failed to do the same for Sebastian Vettel.
“The last time Ferrari won the title – the oldest among us remember it – was in 2007. And if we hadn’t been stupid enough at the time not to oppose Lewis Hamilton in time for the Chinese Grand Prix, he certainly wouldn’t have landed in the gravel pit at the entrance to the pits and would have had the only missing point at the end of the world title.
“Before 2007 there were five Michael Schumacher Ferrari titles in a row from 2000 to 2004, and before that for 21 years – since 1979 and Jody Scheckter – nothing.
“It is not presumptuous to say that Ferrari outside the Schumacher era and after the Niki Lauda era in the 1970s didn’t break much. I love and appreciate Ferrari, but no amount of love and appreciation can destroy the facts.
The reality is that today at the age of 33, Vettel is unmotivated after his nasty dismissal from Maranello, although a deal with Aston Martin is allegedly pending, there is a persistent suggestion that he will take a sabbatical in 2021.
But, whatever happens, between the following Belgian Grand Prix weekend and his departure at the end of the season, Haug’s advice is: “Sebastian must absolutely show that he has his fast and talented team-mate Charles Leclerc under control or he is at least his equal.
“Those who are regularly left behind by their team-mates are the second choice in Formula One, which is by no means my opinion, but the law of the industry,” explained Haug, who was Mercedes’ motorsport boss for 20 years.