McLaren boss Zak Brown talks about Ricciardo signing, what’s next for Vettel

McLaren boss Zak Brown has told Sky Sports that Carlos Sainz’s move to Ferrari "didn’t come as a surprise" as discussions had started over the winter – while also revealing that Daniel Ricciardo, not Sebastian Vettel, was always the team’s number one contender to replace him.

McLaren have been at the forefront of a bumper week of transfers in F1, with news of Vettel's Ferrari exit swiftly followed by Sainz being confirmed as a Scuderia driver for 2021, with Ricciardo switching Renault for Woking.

"We went after Daniel a couple of years ago and narrowly missed out," Brawn said on Friday's Sky F1 Vodcast. "So we've been a fan of Daniel's for some time.

"Obviously he went to Renault [from Red Bull] and we brought in Carlos and Lando [Norris] who have done a fantastic job.

"But as things turned out we were out of contract with Carlos [for 2021] and he had some opportunities. We're going to miss Carlos, he's done a fantastic job but now we have a seven-time Grand Prix winner in the car and we couldn't be more excited."

Dan’s the Man, sorry Seb.Source:Getty Images

Brown admitted that McLaren had "stayed close to Daniel ever since he left Red Bull" and so had a "good sense" he would be ready to replace Sainz should the Spaniard leave.

Sainz, who will join Ferrari on a two-year contract as Vettel's replacement, was given permission to speak to the Scuderia during the off-season after a conversation with Brown, McLaren's CEO, and team principal Andreas Seidl – and "it was all very above board".

"I've come to learn in Formula 1 don't expect anything except for the unexpected," Brown explained. "We had a sense, we started talking to Carlos in the off-season about his future with us and whether he wanted to drive for McLaren or Ferrari.

"We've got a very strong, open relationship with Carlos, his management and his father. This didn't come as a surprise given how quickly we announced Daniel, and how quickly Carlos announced what he was doing. We were very joined up through this entire process."

Brown also added: "I think these movements would have probably happened with or without COVID because we started these conversations pre-COVID."

WHY NOT VETTEL AT MCLAREN?

Given how early the talks started between Sainz, as well as Ricciardo, Brown revealed that Vettel – Ferrari's departing four-time world champion – was never really a 2021 option for McLaren.

"Obviously Seb's an awesome driver and a four-time champion," he said. "But I think we were pretty far down the path in the off-season and knew we would either land with Daniel or Carlos.

"We never really entertained anyone beyond that, and especially with Seb's late breaking news – we were pretty far down the path at that point."

From Sainz to Ricciardo.Source:Getty Images

Vettel's options on the grid for next season appear limited – with Renault perhaps the leading contender – although Brown believes the German may well retire.

"Clearly it's not a nice environment inside the Ferrari garage at the moment with the drivers and management, it seems to not be a happy family at the moment," he stated. "Which I think is going to make for some pretty exciting racing in 2020 because I think we saw in Brazil the fireworks that were inevitable and building up … I'm anticipating more of that this year.

"It really depends, if Seb looks around, it doesn't look like there's a Mercedes or Red Bull opportunity for him, there's not a McLaren opportunity for him, clearly not at Ferrari, so the next best is Renault.

"And the next question is does Seb want to go with a team that is probably not going to win in 2021? It's a great team and they too should be moving up the grid but I think unless Seb wants to restart a journey with a team that's back on a journey – then I think he'll end up probably leaving the sport unfortunately."

This article originally appeared on Sky Sports and was reproduced with permission.

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