Despite being allowed to join Scuderia Toro Rosso late last season, Sebastian Vettel's future may still lie with BMW Sauber, according to the German's former mentor, Mario Theissen.
Vettel was in the enviable situation of being backed by both BMW and Red Bull as he broke into Formula One, making his debut with the former at Indianapolis in the wake of Robert Kubica's Canadian GP accident last season, before being allowed to join Toro Rosso for the final third of the year after Scott Speed parted company with the Faenza minnow. On Sunday, the 21-year old became the youngest winner in Formula One history, after claiming the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Already destined to remain part of the Red Bull stable in 2009, albeit moving to the drinks brand's 'senior' team at Milton Keynes, Vettel remains very much on the list of potential pilots at BMW Sauber - and probably a lot more teams after his successful Monza weekend.
"I would like to have every
winner in my car," team boss Theissen admitted to Reuters
, "A year ago, it wasn't possible to put him in our car, as he was very inexperienced and you cannot gamble, but it's been the perfect move for Sebastian to come here [to Toro Rosso] for a few years in order to develop without too much pressure."
Vettel had only 22 grands prix under his belt when he reached the top step in Italy and, although he is the first to acknowledge that the victory came in extraordinary circumstances, with the weather causing problems for the more fancied runners, the success underlined the widely-held belief that he will be the natural successor to Michael Schumacher that Germany has been looking for since the seven-time world champion came to the end of his career. So much so, indeed, that Schumacher's manager Willi Weber has expressed a strong interest in taking F1's newest race-winner under his wing.
"I think he will do very well in the future - he is so young, he can do a lot," Theissen confirmed, before adding that he would be keeping an eye on Vettel's progress alongside Mark Webber at RBR next season, "It was important to give him the chance to develop in a team like this, and he will do that for a few years. Then we will see."
"Red Bull invested in Sebastian and now they are reaping the benefit," agreed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug – who reportedly made overtures at the end of last season to poach Vettel away from the energy drinks-backed concern to replace Fernando Alonso at McLaren-Mercedes – in a interview with German broadcaster RTL
"What happens eventually, you cannot tell now. Anyway, we would never have talks like that through the media, but it is the case that the best drivers always end up with the best teams."
Doubt remains over the make-up of BMW Sauber's 2009 team, and things took another twist following Kimi Raikkonen's confirmation at Ferrari until 2010. That announcement effectively closed the door at Maranello on Fernando Alonso, who had been rumoured to be replacing the Finn at the end of next season, but opened others elsewhere, with various teams - BMW included - now spotting the opportunity to snap up the double world champion on at least a two-year basis.