Sebastian Vettel will remain at the Ferrari Formula 1 for the next three years, having agreed a contract extention over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.
An announcement about Vettel’s new deal came on Saturday, with Ferrari eager to not let speculation about the future of its drivers act as a distraction to its efforts to win the world championship.
Vettel’s original contract with Ferrari ran out at the end of this season and, although there had been little doubt that the four-time F1 champion would remain for at least the short term, it did not stop speculation linking him with Mercedes in recent weeks.
Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda revealed on Saturday morning that discussions had taken place with Vettel, but they did not go very far.
“We discussed it briefly once with him, but the more competitive Ferrari goes the less the reason he would want to leave,” Lauda told Sky Sports F1. “So therefore we stopped right away a couple of months ago.
“I think every driver, if he’s clever, talks to more than one team. Then when you negotiate you’re in a better position. That’s what he did.”
The length of Vettel’s contract extension takes him out of the market for 2019, when a large amount of driver movement is expected.
The potential availability of Max Verstappen, if Red Bull does not move up the grid, has left teams such as Ferrari and Mercedes eager to keep their options open over the longer term.
But Ferrari would still have a seat available if Verstappen did come on the open market, having only committed to a single season for its new deal with Kimi Raikkonen.
With Vettel’s future now secure, it is expected that Mercedes will retain Valtteri Bottas at least for one more year.
At Red Bull, both Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are contracted for next season, while Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes deal does not expire until the end of 2018 either – meaning there will be no short-term change at F1’s top three teams.
The most intrigue surrounds the identity of Renault’s second driver alongside Nico Hulkenberg, with Robert Kubica, Esteban Ocon, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz Jr all linked with the seat.
Rumours of a shock Williams move for Fernando Alonso have also been swirling around the Belgian GP paddock.