One of the first pieces in the 2009 Formula One jigsaw fell into place yesterday with the announcement in Hockenheim that Sebastian Vettel will transfer from energy drink magnate Dietrich Mateschitz's Toro Rosso team to his senior Red Bull Racing outfit. The 21 year-old German will replace David Coulthard, who announced at Silverstone that he will retire at the end of this season.
Team principal Christian Horner said: "We are delighted that Sebastian will be joining us next year. With David announcing his retirement as a Formula One driver a fortnight ago at the British Grand Prix, after careful consideration, it seemed natural to announce his replacement here at Sebastian's home race in Hockenheim. As he was already part of the Red Bull family, choosing him as Mark Webber's team-mate was not a difficult decision. However,we have always stated that our aim is to have the strongest available driver line-up and Vettel's selection also matches these criteria.
“Having only turned 21 at the last race and with only 17 Grand Prix starts to his name, he is still on a learning curve, but it is clear that he has plenty of ability and speed. We are confident that Red Bull Racing will make the most of these attributes and believe that, in Mark and Sebastian, we have a very competitive driver line-up for 2009."
Vettel said: "It's always good to have an early decision on what you are doing next year. As a driver your target is always to be with the most competitive team possible and, over the past couple of years, Red Bull Racing has proved it has great potential, so this is a good move for me. I have been part of the Red Bull family for a long time and with its Junior Team since 2000. Throughout my career, they have offered me great support and now, to drive for their senior F1 team is a dream come true.”
Horner would not be drawn on the length of Vettel's contract, and the German is believed to have a longer-term agreement with BMW Sauber which could take precedence beyond 2009.
Horner also declined to comment on rumours that Vettel's place at Toro Rosso may be taken next year by Bruno Senna, the GP2 driver who is the nephew of the late Brazilian world champion Ayrton Senna.
The major moves in the driver market are not likely to happen before Monza in September, by which time Ferrari will expect their world champion Kimi Raikkonen to have made a decision whether to retire or continue for another season. If Raikkonen does call time, his place will be taken by Fernando Alonso, who is in any case believed to be a Ferrari driver from 2010 onwards come what may. If Raikkonen stays, Alonso could stay at Renault but is more likely to consider a one-year deal to partmer Robert Kubica at BMW Sauber. Meanwhile, rumour here links Nico Rosberg with a switch from Williams to McLaren alongside Lewis Hamilton, with the Englishman's current team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen, possibly returning to Renault.
Meanwhile, as Hockenheim find themselves in a similar situation to Silverstone in their ongoing financial struggle to host the race while sharing it on an alternating basis with the Nurburgring, the British circuit are preparing for the Silverstone Classic festival on July 25/26/27 which celebrates motorsport across the decades from the Twenties to the Nineties with cars ranging from sports racers to Formula One. The profitable event represents the sort of endeavour that could become more crucial to their future if the British GP really does go to Donington from 2010.