Vettel close to retiring from F1 before Racing Point move

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Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany steers his car during the Formula One Grand Prix at the Monza racetrack in Monza, Italy, Sunday, Sept.6 , 2020. (Jennifer Lorenzini, Pool via AP)

LONDON – Four-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel was close to retiring from the sport before deciding to race for Racing Point next season.

The team, which will be renamed Aston Martin, announced Thursday that Vettel will be replacing Sergio Perez, who had said a day earlier that he was leaving. The team said Vettel has signed for the 2021 season “and beyond” but did not reveal the length of the contract.

For Vettel, it ends months of speculation about his future after Ferrari made it clear it would renew his contract. The German said thoughts of retirement had crept in before Racing Point made its offer.

“It was close in terms of having a lot of thoughts and deciding,” Vettel said Thursday at the Tuscan Grand Prix when asked how close he came to retiring. “It wasn’t an easy call. The last weeks and months have been quite intense for me, a different and new situation to be in.”

Vettel's form has dipped considerably since he last launched a credible title challenge in 2017 and 2018, losing both times to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton. Vettel won only one race last year when he was outperformed by his junior teammate Charles Leclerc, who was in his first season with Ferrari.

This year it's been even worse for Vettel, who has not even finished in the top five in eight races so far as Ferrari continues to struggle for speed and is dogged by reliability issues. Last week his race at the Italian Grand Prix lasted only a few laps before he had to retire in Monza.

But Racing Point is hoping the German's experience will help it take a step forward.

“The signing of Sebastian is a clear statement of the team’s ambition to establish itself as one of the most competitive names in the sport," the team said in a statement. “As a four-time world champion, Sebastian brings a fresh mindset to the team."