Ferrari confirms two-time Formula One champion Alonso leaving team
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Sebastian Vettel will have a chance to emulate his childhood hero Michael Schumacher when he drives for Ferrari next season, leaving his predecessor Fernando Alonso's future away from the Italian team unclear.
In a widely expected shake-up, Ferrari announced Thursday that Alonso will be replaced by four-time champion Vettel on a three-year deal.
The 33-year-old Spanish driver had said earlier this season that his future lay elsewhere, reportedly at McLaren, which will not make any decision until next month.
"The dream of a lifetime has come true. When I was a kid, Michael Schumacher in the red car was my greatest idol and now it's an incredible honor to finally get the chance to drive a Ferrari," Vettel said. "I am extremely motivated to help the team get back to the top."
With Alonso beside him at a news conference on Thursday, Vettel could hardly contain his excitement.
"I think it will be a special journey, not even the first race but even winter testing. To step into the car, I think it will remain with you for the rest of your life," he said. "It felt like the right time. I've been with Red Bull for more or less all my life."
Alonso, who won the F1 title with Renault in 2005 and 2006, expressed his frustration with Ferarri last year after the Hungarian Grand Prix. That earned him a public rebuke from the team and fueled rumors that he was on his way out.
In five seasons with Ferrari, Alonso finished runner-up to Vettel three times, including in 2012 and 2013. He pushed Vettel two years ago -- finishing three points back -- but in last year's championship Vettel beat him by 155 points.
Even the prospect of a new deal until 2019 could not change Alonso's mind.
"I felt it was the time to find new projects and motivation. I was in talks even last year to be honest," he said. "This year I felt around summertime, September that it was time to move."
Alonso, who won 11 races for Ferrari and secured 44 podium places, thanked the team for not standing in his way.
"They could say `No' but this is a true sign of love and respect from this team," Alonso said. "From Monday (onward) I will be a true Ferrari supporter."
His final race will be on Sunday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He is fifth in the overall standings and has managed only two podium places this season. His last win was at the Spanish GP last May.
"We offer him our heartfelt thanks for what has been an extraordinary adventure with the Scuderia," Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci said.
Alonso entered the final race in Abu Dhabi four years ago with an eight-point lead. But Vettel won the first of his four straight titles with Red Bull that year.
Alonso drove alongside Brazilian driver Felipe Massa for four seasons, but they struggled to match Red Bull's speed. Things got worse this season -- both for Alonso alongside Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen and for Vettel alongside Australian Daniel Ricciardo -- with Mercedes winning 15 of 18 races so far and taking pole position in 17.
The 27-year-old Vettel's fall from the pinnacle of the sport was as spectacular as it was unexpected.
After winning 13 races last season -- including the last nine -- he has been upstaged by Ricciardo, who has won three races while Vettel has won none. Vettel has been on the podium only four times, and sits in fourth place overall, two points ahead of Alonso and 55 behind Ricciardo.
Vettel's arrival has an added advantage. He is good friends with the 35-year-old Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 champion with Ferrari.
"On a personal level (he's) very straightforward," Vettel said of his future teammate. "We have a great respect for each other."
McLaren's seats are currently taken by former champion Jenson Button and promising driver Kevin Magnussen of Denmark.