Sebastian Vettel has played down claims he could partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next year following world champion Nico Rosberg’s shock move to retire from the sport.
Rosberg’s decision to walk away from motor racing, just five days after sealing his maiden title, leaves Mercedes, Formula One’s all-conquering team who have won 51 of the last 59 races, with a vacant seat next season.
Vettel, the four-time world champion, who has just finished a disappointing campaign with Ferrari where he failed to record a single victory, has been mooted as a mouth-watering candidate to replace his compatriot Rosberg at the German manufacturer.
But the 29-year-old still has one year to run on his Ferrari contract, and Vettel rebuffed suggestions he could team up with Hamilton in 2017.
Asked at the Ferrari Finals in Daytona whether he had been in touch with Mercedes, Vettel replied: “I think it is not a big secret. Kimi (Raikkonen) and myself both have a contract (at Ferrari) for next year so it should be clear.
“A lot of things are happening but for us it is rather quiet which is a good sign. We are focusing on our job that we have which is a lot of work for next year.
“There are a lot of changes to the car so a lot of effort is going in, and there could be a surprise, but we will have to wait and see.
“When the rules change things can move around. Hopefully it moves us up, and makes us stronger, but it is impossible now to have any expectations.”
Vettel won four consecutive titles with Red Bull between 2010 and 2013 before joining Ferrari. But despite winning three times in his opening campaign, he was warned by team boss Maurizio Arrivabene earlier this year that he would have to earn his next deal with the Italian team.
Reflecting on Rosberg’s retirement, Vettel added: “It is his decision and we should respect that.
“It is a very brave one because it is much easier to carry on, but if he feels it is time to stop, it is time to stop. You only have one life so you might as well spend it the way you want.
“Everybody is free to do what he or she wants. I was 23 when I won my first title so I had a different mindset which was that I wanted to go out and do it again. Looking back I can say I did. I love racing and I want to continue.”
Earlier on toady Niki Lauda, chairman of Mercedes, said he expected the team to have a replacement for Rosberg before the end of the year.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has also been rumoured but like Vettel is under contract for next year – while Pascal Wehrlein, Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon would offer potential for the future and are easier to secure.
“We certainly need a driver for the first test of the new car in February,” Lauda told BBC 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme.
“But I can assure you it will happen earlier because whoever it is we have to train them on the simulator, train him into the team.
“I think we should have a decision before the end of the year. We’ll give an unexpected Christmas present to one of the drivers.”