Amid all the rumour and counter-rumour that surrounded the revelation that Sebastian Vettel had supposedly signed a pre-agreement with Ferrari for the 2014 season, it has emerged that the German would be a free agent at that point should Red Bull Racing fall away from its current front-running position.
While team boss Christian Horner and Vettel himself have denied any knowledge of a deal with the Scuderia, Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko has revealed the existence of a 'get-out' clause in the double world champion's contract that would free him up to move elsewhere for the 2014 campaign. His current deal is reckoned to be worth around $15m a year and runs through to the end of 2014.
With Vettel having previously admitted that he would like to drive for Ferrari before calling time on his F1 career, both the Independent on Sunday
and the Sunday Times
carried reports over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend suggesting that he had agreed an option with the Scuderia, provided that the Maranello concern can prove that it is competitive this season [see story here
The German, however, quickly dispelled any suggestion that he would be on the move for 2014, speculating that journalists had had too much time on their hands in the run-up to the Monaco race. RBR team boss Christian Horner has also played down the rumours as just that, but appears to have overlooked the clause that Marko says would allow Vettel to explore his options for 2014 should the Milton Keynes team fall behind its championship rivals.
"2013 is fixed for us but, for 2014, there is a performance-related clause in his contract - for him and for the team," Marko told Germany's Bild
, "It depends on the championship rankings in 2013 but, if Vettel and Red Bull slip in the drivers' or constructors' championship, he could go elsewhere."
With Felipe Massa again expected to be ousted from the second Ferrari seat at the end of the current season, it is hard to imagine any other driver eyeing the ride should Vettel already be in place to replace them. The likes of Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton and Vettel's RBR team-mate Mark Webber have all been linked to a move to Maranello for 2013, although only the Australian would appear to be a consideration for a one-year deal, having admitted that his career cannot go on much longer.
Observers of the situation, meanwhile, believe that it would dangerous for Vettel to move to Ferrari just now.
"It would be suicidal to go to Ferrari for as long as [Fernando] Alonso is there," driver-turned-analyst Christian Danner insisted, pointing out that the Spaniard was very much the team's focus and already has one acrimonious season with a comparable talent as team-mate behind him.