Binotto: Pandemic led to change of stance on ‘first choice’ Vettel

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto says a series of exceptional circumstances – including the COVID-19 pandemic – led to the team changing its stance on Sebastian Vettel for 2021.

Vettel revealed on Thursday that the Scuderia’s unilateral decision to rule him out of the team’s plans for next year came as a total surprise to the four-time world champion.

Indeed, earlier this year, Binotto had repeatedly said that the German driver was the Italian outfit’s first choice for 2021.

However, that viewpoint changed when the global coronavirus pandemic set in, triggering a series of decisions and circumstances that sealed Vettel’s fate.

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“Certainly we have always said to him during the winter time privately and publicly that he would have been our first choice, which I confirm,” explained Binotto in Austria on Friday.

“It’s normal that during the winter time many drivers ask us if there are any opportunities to drive for Ferrari, so we have certainly been contacted.

“That didn’t change our position, so Seb was our first choice.

“What happened since then? I think the virus and pandemic situation, which changed the entire world, not only our motorsport, our F1.

“The budget cap has been changed by quite a lot, and is a lot more strict, the regulations have been postponed from ’21 to ’22, which somehow was something important for us.

“Cars which have been frozen, or almost frozen, for 2020 and ’21.

“So let’s say the entire situation has changed,” said the Scuderia chief who described the change of circumstances but failed to justify exactly why the specific set of circumstances suddenly made Vettel unsuitable for Ferrari.

“And on top of that the season has not started, so there has been no opportunity even for Seb to be back on track to prove how much he was really motivated to drive for Ferrari, which has been somehow unfortunate for him.

“So during the shutdown as Ferrari we had to eventually reconsider our position.

“We took a decision, so certainly that was our decision, that is our responsibility, and we communicated to him.

“I heard that he was surprised – I remember that he was surprised, yes certainly, I understand it, it’s pretty normal to be surprised.

“While he accepted our decision I would say even today he’s not fully happy with it, which again I would say is something which is normal and obvious.”

Vettel thus heads into a season with a team that will not include him in its future plans.

Despite the awkward situation, the German vowed to respect team orders in his final campaign with the red squad although he won’t make teammate Charles Leclerc’s life easy.

“I think this year is very difficult to answer, because we don’t know what type of season we will have ahead of us. We don’t know yet how competitive we will be,” Vettel said.

“But surely should the situation arise and make perfect sense, then I think you expect both drivers to help each other out.

“I don’t think that has anything to do with the fact my contract expires, and I’m going to leave the team.

“But as I said at the same time, you’re obviously racing for yourself. I’m not trying to make Charles’ life easy on-track in terms of waving him by.

“I think we have been fighting each other in the past, and we will continue to do so.”

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