While Ferrari’s pre-season testing programme may have left its true competitiveness shrouded in mystery, Sebastian Vettel sent out a clear message regarding his Formula 1 future.

As the Scuderia went about its relatively low-key winter test by focusing on establishing strong correlation between on-track performance and its simulator rather than worrying about topping the timesheets, arguably the biggest headline to emerge from the Ferrari camp was an update from Vettel.

Speaking during a press conference with Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto on the opening day of the second pre-season test at Barcelona, the German gave the clearest indication yet that he is committed to both F1 and Ferrari.

Vettel has batted away retirement suggestions during a difficult two-year period that has promised much but resulted in little success and large quantities of frustration for the four-time world champion.

Despite this, Vettel insists he is heading into the upcoming season - which marks the final year of his current Ferrari contract - as determined as ever to achieve what he has so far failed to in six years at Maranello in ending the Italian squad’s decade-long wait for silverware.

“I still love what I do, I love driving,” Vettel said. “I got really excited when I got in the car last week and very quickly got back into a rhythm and that feels great.

“The satisfaction you get from driving the car I would say feels the same. I’m here to win and in that regard we had some years that were good, better than others, but none of them had been to our liking at the very end.

“I joined Ferrari to win the championship, we haven’t done so far, it’s been a couple of years, but the hunger, will and determination is still there inside the team.”

Vettel has become the de-facto key player in the 2021 driver market, which has stagnated somewhat after much hype and expectation towards the back end of the 2019 campaign.

With Max Verstappen committing to a new long-term Red Bull deal, and Lewis Hamilton set to extend his successful partnership with Mercedes, Vettel finds himself as the man holding the key to any potential high-profile driver dominos.

Ferrari was actually the first team to set off the chain of events which has led to a stale driver market picture for the top teams in 2021 when it opted to hand Charles Leclerc a long-term deal until the end of 2024 over the winter as reward a stellar first season at the team.

Any hopes of an exciting raft of changes were effectively dispelled after suggestions of a sensational switch to Ferrari for Hamilton cooled following much speculation towards the end of last year.

Binotto dismissed the rumours at Ferrari’s pre-season launch before reiterating his stance that Vettel remains the team’s first choice for 2021 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

“I already mentioned that Seb is our first option,” Binotto explained. “I always mentioned it’s a great line-up, probably the best in F1, of which I am very happy and proud as Ferrari.

“We started the early discussion with Seb and we are very aware that the contract is extinguishing, but it will come very soon to close the discussion and see what is in the best interest in both of us.

“What’s more important is the project which we’re sharing, even our longer-term view. I’m sure very soon we’ll come to an agreement.”

Vettel’s future will largely be swayed on how the upcoming campaign goes. Another poor season might prompt Ferrari to look elsewhere, or should he struggle to handle the continued rise of his impressive younger teammate Leclerc, would he call it quits and walk away?

Vettel was coy on Leclerc’s contract extension and while he insisted he was “happy” for the Monegasque, he admitted Leclerc’s renewal could affect his own decision on what step he takes next.

Any scenario in which Vettel leaves Ferrari would likely pave the way for Daniel Ricciardo to emerge as the prime candidate for the seat, particularly if he grows frustrated should the Renault project fail to make the sort of progress as hoped this year ahead of the 2021 regulation overhaul.

Ferrari’s approach heading into the new season has been understated, with Binotto quick to downplay his side’s chances and holding the view that the Scuderia is currently lagging behind its rivals.

There have been mixed messages from the drivers relating to Ferrari’s latest SF1000 contender which the team hopes can finally end Mercedes’ run of dominance in the V6 hybrid era.

But is it all just the usual pre-season game of smoke and mirrors?

There are many unknowns on the eve of 2020 but for the time being, Vettel seems driven in his quest to return Ferrari to its past levels of glory.