Formula One commercial rights boss Bernie Ecclestone said yesterday he believed German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel rather than compatriot Michael Schumacher could be the next world champion.
Seven-time world champion Schumacher, who turns 41 on Sunday, stunned Formula One by coming out of retirement to sign a three-year, US$30 million deal with Mercedes, a decision expected to spark a surge of interest in the sport next year.
“I’m saying it well in advance, but for me, Sebastian Vettel will be the next world champion,” Ecclestone told the daily Bild yesterday.
Vettel, 22, finished second last season with four wins.
“Michael Schumacher will have many rivals such as [Lewis] Hamilton, [Fernando] Alonso and above all Vettel,” said Ecclestone, who admitted he was “very, very happy” with Schumacher’s return.
“Next season there will be four former world champions on the starting grid with Alonso, Hamilton, [Jenson] Button and Schumacher. I don’t remember the last time we had such a line-up,” he said.
“Of course Schumacher can claim an eighth world title, but five other drivers can target this title. In the end it will come to the one with the best car,” he said.