Sebastian Vettel has rubbished rumours he was set to retire after last weekend’s 2019 season finale in Abu Dhabi.
The four-time world champion wobbled to fifth in the drivers’ standings, 24 points down on first-year teammate Charles Leclerc. Vettel took his only win in Singapore alongside eight additional podiums, and took pole in Canada and Japan.
Vettel has a contract with Ferrari through to the end of 2020, but speculation over the German’s future has been rife for the balance of 2019.
The rumours were compounded by glaring errors by Vettel, including a costly spin at Monza – a day where Leclerc took all the tifosi plaudits by racing to a remarkable victory.
Vettel joked that he would “holiday” from 2021, telling reporters in Abu Dhabi he didn’t know where the rumours began.
“I think I was already doing holiday next year … I heard before that I’m stopping,” the 32-year-old said.
“I don’t know who was the one, but seems they know more than me. Since I guess you journalists are always right, it will hit me probably in the next weeks.”
Fifth in the standings marked Vettel’s worst season finish since he joined Ferrari.
Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton also falls out of contract next season, and was immediately linked to a Ferrari move – a move Leclerc entertained. Reports also suggested Hamilton had met with Ferrari’s chairman John Elkann across the weekend.
Vettel said his Ferrari future is “all part of the negotiations for next year, before any other negotiations” but continued to play the funny card when he referred to Hamilton owning Ferrari road cars.
“I think he’s already a Ferrari driver,” Vettel joked.
“No? So no change. I think he’s a good customer. He owns more than one.”
Former Formula One CEO Bernie Eccleston has doubled down on ugly and unpopular comments from earlier this week where he said, “In lots of cases, black people are more racist than what white people are”.
The comments drew widespread condemnation from the F1 world, with the organisation and six-time champion Lewis Hamilton taking aim at the comments.
The F1 were quick to hit back at Ecclestone’s comments, calling for unity to “tackle racism and inequality,” and that the organisation “completely disagree” with the comments.
Speaking with CNN Sport, the 89-year-old Ecclestone said he hadn’t noticed it over the years, and was “surprised” to hear Lewis Hamilton had been affected by racism in the sport.
“I’m surprised that it concerns him,” Ecclestone said.
“I’m really unhappy if he took it seriously. I never thought he did. I didn’t think it affected him.”
Hamilton has been outspoken during the Black Lives Matter protests, and has been photographed protesting in Hyde Park.
After Ecclestone’s comments came to light, Hamilton hit back in his Instagram Stories, saying the comments made him understand why racism hasn’t been addressed during his career.
Hamilton has been targeted at F1 tracks in the past with the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix seeing fans in blackface taunt the young star over his rivalry with Fernando Alonso.
“So sad and disappointing to read these comments,” Hamilton wrote.
“Bernie is out of the sport and a different generations, but this is exactly what is wrong – ignorant and uneducated comments which show us how far we as a society need to go before real equality can happen.
“It makes complete sense to me now that nothing was said or done to make our sport more diverse or to address the racial abuse I received throughout my career.
“If someone who has run the sport for decades has such a lack of understanding of the deep rooted issues we as black people deal with every day, how can we expect all the people who work under him to understand. It starts at the top.
“Now the time has come for change. I will not stop pushing to create an inclusive future for our sport with equal opportunity for all, to create a world that provides equal opportunity for minorities. I will continue to use my voice to represent those that don‘t have one, and to speak for those who are under-represented to provide an opportunity to have a chance in our sport.”
But Ecclestrone has doubled down in a new interview with the Mail on Sunday, insisting he’s not a racist and labelling protests as being “suddenly fashionable to talk about diversity”.
“I am not anti black people. Quite the opposite. I have always been very much in favour,” Ecclestrone said.
“In fact, Lewis’s dad wanted to go into business with me. He made some nice rowing machines. I would never even have considered it if I had been anti-black. If the project had been right, I would have done it.
“Over the years, I have met a lot of white people I didn’t like, but never a black person I didn’t like.
“I’ve been mugged a couple of times, once by three black guys. I ended up in hospital, but even after that I was never against anyone who was black.
“I don’t think of Lewis as black or anything else. He’s just Lewis to me.
“If a black person or a white person gets turned down for a job you have to ask why. Was it because of their skin colour, or was it because they weren’t up to the job? That is what I was saying.
“And then people go on these marches, organised by quasi-Marxists who want to bring down the police, which would be a disaster for the country.
“If you asked most of them what exactly they were protesting about they probably wouldn’t know.”
Ecclestone then also compared skin colour to height, arguing, “It’s not my fault I am white, or that I am a little shorter than the next man.”
He also defended his record, having given Willy T. Ribbs a test drive in January 1986 when he owned Brabham-BMW, while adding he had employed other black people in the past.
“When I lost my driving licence, I had a black driver, not because he was black, but because I didn’t care whether he was black or white,” Ecclestone said.
“Now it’s suddenly fashionable to talk about diversity.”
Seven-times series champion Whincup wasn’t far away from a duo of poles and will start race two from second.
“To get P1 in the last is good,” McLaughlin said.
“Solid, consistent qualifying results is what we’re after and I’ve certainly been able to do that this weekend.
“I’m quietly confident we’ve gone the right way with the race set-up.”
McLaughlin came third in Sunday’s first race, which Nick Percat won ahead of Jamie Whincup.
On Saturday, McLaughlin claimed the first Supercars race since February by holding off van Gisbergen in a thrilling climax.
Starting from pole, McLaughlin never relinquished his lead but van Gisbergen challenged late to almost pinch a sensational victory during the final few laps. McLaughlin (two) and Whincup have won the season’s only three completes races, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the championship into hiatus since March’s abandoned round in Melbourne.
Whincup secured his second podium of the Supercars’ first round since February but was left disappointed not to claim the chequered flag in his milestone race. Percat said the race was one he would never forget.
“It’s amazing and I can’t thank Brad (Jones) and the whole team enough; obviously he can’t be here but thanks for having the faith in me,” Percat said.
“It’s taken a few more years than I would’ve wanted but as soon as we’re in a good position we throw everything at it.”
Two-time defending champion Scott McLaughlin was sluggish early, dropping back to sixth but used his smarts to cross the line in third after an epic three-way battle with Cameron Waters (sixth) and Chaz Mostert (fourth) stole the show.
“It was wild … it was crazy there for a bit. A lot of panel rubbing, it was awesome,” McLaughlin said on Fox Sports after.