Lewis Hamilton could not take Sebastian Vettel's Formula 1 retirement at the end of last season very seriously.
"Formula 1 has a way of sucking you back in, we've seen that with so many other drivers," said the record world champion from England at the Vettel Grand Prix final in Abu Dhabi in mid-November and said at the driver's press conference to his German Buddy directed: "It's your last race, but you'll come back."
Just three months later, there are these wild rumors about a lightning comeback of the four-time world champion. Will Vettel come back to replace injured Lance Stroll? Will he be back in an Aston Martin for the opening race in Bahrain next week? There's a lot of fodder for the fans' imaginations.
Vettel is a pensioner - actually
The initial situation is clear: Vettel is a Formula 1 pensioner. After 299 grand prix, 53 victories, four world championships and two disappointing final years with Aston Martin, he ended his career in motorsport's premier class at the age of 35.
"I have no idea how I'll be in a year or two. Physically, I'm doing a sport that you could still return to after a two-year break. However, I wish that I'd still be saying in two years' time: ' No thanks, I don't need racing anymore," Vettel said when he left.
He reflected a lot about himself and Formula 1, both have grown apart. The Heppenheimer wants to have more time for his family and his commitment to climate protection and sustainability. Vettel has never ruled out other PS projects, as his participation in the fun event "Race of Champions" in the Swedish snow recently showed.
"You mustn't forget: He planned his retirement very carefully, and you have to respect that," said Aston Martin's team boss Mike Krack on the sidelines of the test drives in Bahrain, adding: "Let's wait and see what happens."
How badly is Stroll injured?
The Luxembourger, a confidant of Vettel, suddenly has a driver vacancy. Stroll was injured in a bike accident during training, so the Canadian was unable to take part in the tests. Aston Martin spoke of a "minor accident", the second regular driver alongside Fernando Alonso also expects a "rapid recovery". Allegedly Stroll is said to be more seriously injured than assumed – this leads to speculation.
"Of course he's our plan A. We want Lance back in the car, but we'll have to wait and see what he says and what the doctors say about the right timing," explained Krack. "We have yet to decide on the plan B. We have some plan Bs, but we have to decide the plan B if the plan A isn't possible. That's very simple. Can he drive or can't he drive?"
Phone calls are enough for the rumor mill
The plan B for the tests in Bahrain was called Felipe Drugovich. The Formula 2 champion from Brazil is also the official reserve driver for Aston Martin and was allowed to spend two half days in the desert. The other reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, was in action at the Cape Town E-Prix in South Africa.
Krack acknowledged general discussions with Vettel, but did not go into details. Of course, that was enough to fuel speculation. "I've had a few phone calls with Sebastian, but that's been the case for the past year and will continue to be," he said. Did Vettel perhaps even declare his willingness to come back if Aston Martin needed a replacement for Stroll? "I can't tell you that," Krack said. "First of all, our plan is to have Lance in the car and then we'll see."
Vettel wants to break away from Formula 1
Would Vettel's lightning comeback be realistic at all? The father of three children made a conscious decision to change the pace. He should not have completed his training workload over the winter at Formula 1 level. Why as a Formula 1 dropout? A comeback without proper preparation in an all-new car like the AMR23 is a gamble Vettel doesn't need to take. And then also at the side of the difficult Alonso, who became the successor of the German.
"I secretly expect myself to be able to get by without Formula 1," Vettel said before the end of his impressive career. "But I'm aware that the second step into life after sport is much more difficult." So shortly after his Formula 1 farewell, it is not to be assumed that Vettel has already explored what the new life can hold in store for him in all its fullness.
"If you liked something, you can also be attached to it," said Vettel. "But I want to go the other way, detach myself and find out: there are enough other exciting things, I manage to open the next door and find my happiness there." That the door leads to Bahrain seems highly unlikely.