Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso — four-time and two-time world champions respectively. At some point this season, both of these drivers will be at a crossroads where they have to decide whether they want to carry on in F1 or if they want to hang those gloves.
Vettel is 34 years old while Alonso is 40. Both drivers will go down as some of the greatest talents to grace the sport. Yet, Father Time does not wait for anyone, and sadly neither does the fortune of driving a front-running car. Both drivers are in a situation where the possibility of winning the title is feeble.
So, in this piece, we try to answer the question of who out of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel will be the first to retire from the sport.
What works for him?
It's no disrespect to the Spaniard to admit that there were doubters who felt that Fernando Alonso might not be able to perform at the elite level when he made his return last season. A podium in Qatar and multiple scintillating drives later, those doubters do not exist anymore.
Alonso is still an elite driver in the sport and his driving skills, irrespective of him being a 40-year-old now, have not diminished. Ultimately, if the Spaniard has to decide his future, then he will not be retiring because he can't perform at the top level because that's just not the case.
Alpine's bright prospects
With all the media hype about the new regulations, there is one thing that has been swept by the wayside: the improvement in performance shown by Alpine as compared to last season. Last season, the French team was the seventh fastest car on the grid. This time around, the team has taken giant strides of improvement.
The power unit is no longer a liability, nor is the chassis. It might not be a grid-beater right now, but it is surely one of the better ones in the midfield. Alpine scoring a podium this season won't be a surprise and that should be considered a step in the right direction for the team. More importantly, it gives Alonso confidence in the prospects of the team.
What works against him?
The question of age is always going to be there when you're a 40-year-old in a sport that has a champion aged just 24. That is the reality Alonso faces right now. While he might be performing at a very high level, age is certainly going to be a factor when it comes to any considerations about his future.
To add to this, there aren't many 40-year-olds winning championships in any competitive sport in the world. Even in F1, while there have been circumstances of a 40-year-old driver taking the title, it's an exception, not the norm. Somewhere down the line, age is going to become a factor for Alonso, and that could play a role in him staying for a few more years or calling it quits at the end of the season.
At Alpine, the biggest elephant in the room is the presence of the young sensation named Oscar Piastri. The young Australian driver has impressed everyone with a stellar junior career that saw him run through the junior categories and ultimately win the F2 championship last season.
Alpine have him as the reserve driver for this season but next season, they have to offer a talent like this a seat. There have been conversations from Alpine that they could loan Piastri to another team, giving rise to the question: which one? It's hard to see a seat opening up at any of the teams this season that could interest Piastri. Consequently, the threat of the Australian looms large on the drivers' line-up.
This is not a good sign for Alonso. His teammate Esteban Ocon signed a long-term deal last season, securing his seat with the team. That leaves Alpine with one seat and a choice between Alonso and Piastri.
Will Alpine go for a young charger that could lead the team in the future or an aging veteran that is still performing at a very high level? Guess we'll have to wait and see what Alpine is going to do.
What works for him
Similar to Alonso, it's fair to say that while Sebastian Vettel has inevitably lost a step in his driving, he is still a force to be reckoned with. The German driver visited the podium twice last season in an Aston Martin. While he did struggle a bit with consistency, it's not as if he's completely lost it and is of no use to the team.
Moreover, it must be made clear that Vettel has been part of F1 for more than a decade. He is a four-time world champion that has driven for the title-winning team of Red Bull and the title-contending team of Ferrari. He knows how to win and he knows how a championship-winning team conducts itself. On an F1 grid, Sebastian Vettel is still an asset.
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Primarily because Sebastian Vettel has been on the grid for far too long, fans tend to forget that he's not that old. The German is just 34 years old – 3 years younger than Lewis Hamilton, who is slated to continue at least until the end of next season.
Sebastian Vettel, if he feels like it, can continue driving in F1 for a healthy 2-3 years. At 34, he's still in his physical and mental prime and age should not be such a big point of discussion.
What works against him
Aston Martin's potential
Arguably the biggest concern for anyone looking to join Aston Martin with an eye on future success has to be the condition the team finds itself in right now. To be fair, ever since Lawrence Stroll took over the team, it has lost its DNA. The Silverstone-based squad was famous for being overachievers while using the limited budget they had to score the best possible result.
Right now, however, Aston Martin is at the bottom of the constructors' championship with no points to its name. It is not there due to a dearth of resources. It is there because it is underachieving with the resources at its disposal. The current trajectory the team is on, and the scathing remarks from former employee Otmar Szafnaeur about the way the team was run, do not project a picture of a team that is on the trajectory of growth. Will Sebastian Vettel want to be part of a team that is effectively a backmarker right now?
The answer is no, he surely won't!
Lack of opportunities on the grid
If we assume that Sebastian Vettel does not believe in the long-term success of the Aston Martin project, then what is the next course of action for the German? Where does he go then? Which team guarantees success for a 34-year-old four-time world champion? More importantly, which team would be willing to accommodate Vettel if he decides to move away from Aston Martin?
Can he go to Ferrari? The doors are closed at the Italian outfit. Can he go to Mercedes? They already have a solid pairing of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. What about Red Bull, his old home? The team just signed Max Verstappen until 2028 while for its second seat, it not only has Sergio Perez but a multitude of other drivers hungry to prove themselves.
On the F1 grid, if Aston Martin does not work out for Sebastian Vettel, there's no plausible opening where he can find himself fitting in. That's where the German might have to make a decision — whether he wants to continue racing in an uncompetitive piece of machinery after fighting at the front throughout his career, or call it a day.
We have now seen the situation both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are facing. On one side, you have a driver in Alonso, racing in his 40s at a very high level, in a surging midfield team, while facing external pressure from a young upcoming talent in Oscar Piastri.
On the other hand, you have Sebastian Vettel, a driver who has raced at the front all his career, but right now is part of a team that is effectively a backmarker. To make things worse, there is no plausible seat available at any other team on the grid for the German.
There is surely a probability of both drivers retiring at the end of the year. There is, however, also a probability of both drivers extending their contracts with Alpine and Aston Martin. If we have to predict which driver between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso is more likely to retire, then we will pick the driver that has raced at the front throughout his career and is now stuck with a backmarker team. We're predicting Sebastian Vettel to be the driver that is more likely to retire compared to Fernando Alonso.
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Poll : Who do you think will be the first to retire?