He finished second to the Briton in 2017 and 2018 before ending fifth in 2019 and then a career-worst 13th last year, picking up just 33 points and only one podium.
In all of his previous seasons with Ferrari he had managed to finish in the top three at least seven times in a season and Vettel is honest with himself that he was well below par in 2020.
Vettel is hoping for a fresh start at Aston Martin, who unveiled their challenger this year the AMR21 on Wednesday, the team rebranded from Racing Point.
And having penned a multi-year contract, the 33-year-old is hoping that he can get back to the front of the Formula One grid with the Silverstone-based outfit.
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As Racing Point last year, the team finished fourth in the Constructors’ Championship after losing third place to McLaren at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
But 53-time Grands Prix winner Vettel is keen to bridge the gap to pace-setters Hamilton and Verstappen in the coming years.
Vettel admitted of his toils with Ferrari: “It is not a secret that last year I wasn’t at my happiest. I know it wasn’t to my standards, that I was below myself, but I am very much at peace with it.
“I am not happy with last year in terms of performance – partly my performance – but I accepted it. I am looking forward to this year.
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“Since then, I don’t see why it is not there anymore. I am not too old and I still have a long time in me. Things are different here than Ferrari because the team is growing.
“It is the first time for the last few years that they are getting the oxygen to breathe [thanks to the team’s increased budget].”
Verstappen is tied down with Red Bull until 2023 and the 23-year-old, a winner of 10 races, is widely billed as a future world champion.
Hamilton meanwhile entered 2021 with Verstappen and team-mate Valtteri Bottas his biggest rivals to what would be an eighth crown, which would see him surpass Michael Schumacher for the most of all time having matched the German last year.
But the 36-year-old, who is out of contract with Mercedes at the end of this season, insists an eighth title would not automatically mean he decides to retire from the sport.
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“Then I can see how the year goes and where we are at mid-year, or towards the end of the year. Who knows if we will still be in a pandemic.
“But it doesn’t mean I’m not committed. I’m still very, very committed to the sport. I have made a real important decision in my mind that I don’t want that [the title record] to be the deciding factor.
“I got into racing because I loved racing. That has got to be at the core of what I do.
“If I don’t love racing, if all you’re going for is accolades, all you’re going for is titles I feel like I could potentially lose my way. Of course it’s the ultimate dream but I don’t think it’s going to be the deciding factor as to whether I stay or keep going.
“It’s more whether when I put the helmet on, I still have the smile when I leave the garage. Last year was a really tough year for everyone, including me. There were still some really impactful moments.
“Will it be the case this year? We’ll see. Will I enjoy it as much? I’m excited now, so I’m sure I will.”
Verstappen has been tipped to replace Hamilton at the Silver Arrows in the future but Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says their priority will be to sit down with the Brit and with Bottas before deciding their 2022 line-up.
“The sheer fact that we have had so much success together in the past and the relationship that we have, the trustful relationship, will mean that any conversation that we have on 2022 and the future will first be with him,” he said.
“The relation, the symbiosis we have, is always that we have mutual understanding of what we want to do in the future, and that will be also the case in the discussions with Lewis going forward.
“Max is certainly an outstanding young driver that will be on everybody’s radar in the future, but as I said before we are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding of with our two drivers.”