When the going gets tough, Ferrari get a German

Vettel Raikkonen

History is set to repeat itself as Ferrari prepare to hire a superstar German to revive their flagging fortunes.

Ferrari are in the doldrums. The team have not won a world title for several years and it's cost a number of high-profile management figures their jobs. They are in desperate need of rejuvenation - and they've hatched a scheme. The Scuderia plans to return to the top by hiring a ruthless and ultra-fast German who already has a few world titles under his belt, despite still being in his mid-20s.

But what year is this: 1995, or 2014?

There is no doubt that Sebastian Vettel has a great deal of respect for Michael Schumacher. Vettel once admitted that his boyhood heroes were "The three Michaels": Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, and Michael Schumacher. Fortunately, he elected to follow the career path of his fellow countryman.

There was a bond between the two when they raced in F1 together, with Schumacher clearly satisfied to watch his young friend take up the mantle of F1's unstoppable German. The pair have also won six successive Race Of Champions Nations' Cup titles together; it is a huge shame that they will be unable to defend their crown in Barbados later this year.

And now Seb appears to be following in Michael's footsteps once more. His move to Ferrari - unconfirmed but seemingly inevitable - bears many resemblance to his mentor's switch to Maranello almost 20 years ago. And, if Vettel can recreate Schumacher's success with the Scuderia, he stands to become the most successful F1 driver of all time.

A lengthy barren patch links the two Germans' Ferrari deals. When Schumacher signed to join the team for 1996, they had not won a drivers' title since 1979 and their last constructors' crown had been in 1983. Vettel has reportedly agreed to race for them in 2015, with their last drivers' championship having come in 2007 and their last constructors' in 2008. Schumacher arrived after a longer run without silverware, but anything over three seasons feels like a lifetime at Maranello.

And both already had/have enough success to last them a lifetime - though Seb is on top in this department. Michael had just won back-to-back world titles for Benetton in 1994/95, while Seb has four championships achieved between 2010 and '13. Michael had 19 race wins to his name compared with Vettel's 39, and was also a little younger: Schumacher was 26 years and three months old when he made his Ferrari debut, while Vettel will be 27 years and eight months when he makes his.

There are more similarities between the two, but let's turn to what makes Schumacher at Ferrari different from Vettel at Ferrari - and how this could affect Seb's chances of emulating Michael.

Though his ability behind the wheel was unquestionable, Schumacher also benefited from world-class additions to the technical staff at Ferrari. A year after his move he was joined by former Benetton men Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn, both brilliant minds who contributed significantly to the cause. Unless Vettel has the ultimate ace up his sleeve - namely a commitment from Adrian Newey to switch to the team in the near future - his task will be harder. Ferrari have good people on board today, but Schumacher had the very best.

There was a fourth vital cog in the old Ferrari superteam: Jean Todt. The diminutive Frenchman was the first non-Italian to run the Scuderia - and he did so with remarkable success. Todt was excellent at protecting the core group from the upper management, allowing Schumacher, Brawn and Byrne to do what they did best without outside interference. Todt was a racing man through and through who joined Ferrari after a glittering spell at the head of Peugeot Sport, which had seen the French marque claim top honours at Le Mans, the Paris-Dakar, and the World Rally Championship. He had no prior involvement with Ferrari.

Ferrari's current team boss, Marco Mattiacci, is a company man. He is an economics graduate with vast experience in road cars, having moved to the Scudeira after serving as CEO of Ferrari North America. They also have a new president, with Sergio Marchionne replacing the man who oversaw Schumacher's period of dominance, Luca di Montezemolo.

Clearly this is a very different dynamic to that which existed when Todt led the racing division. There is no clear separation between Mattiacci and Marchionne; what's more, it may be difficult for Mattiacci to protect the inner team in the way Todt did, as he lacks the motor racing CV that gave Todt such gravitas. How this could affect Vettel remains to be seen.

There is also a significant difference in the two Germans' respective team-mates. Upon joining Ferrari, Schumacher linked up with Eddie Irvine, who both knew and accepted that he was Ferrari's clear number two. Irvine was pragmatic about his place in the pecking order, acknowledging that Schumacher was the superior driver and always playing the support role without complaint.

Vettel has a rather different challenge. Kimi Raikkonen is a former world champion - a former Ferrari world champion, no less - and will not accept number two status at the team. It is not all bad news for Vettel, however. He and Raikkonen get on very well - if Kimi has a best friend among his fellow drivers it is probably Seb - and the Finn will not look to hinder his new team-mate's progress.

And let's face it, Kimi has failed to shine since returning to the Scuderia. Fernando Alonso has beaten him convincingly in both qualifying and particularly the races this term, leading some to write Raikkonen off as a spent force. Put politely, he has not been in sparkling form.

Then again, neither has Seb. Ferrari may not like hearing it, but their line-up for next season looks set to consist of two drivers who have been comprehensively out-performed by their respective team-mates in 2014. Meanwhile, Alonso is headed for the exit after yet again dominating his team-mate and putting in a string of excellent performances. So why the return to a young German in the cockpit?

Perhaps Ferrari's problem of late has been that they are too Latin: Alonso, Di Montezemolo, Stefano Domenicali - did they really expect such a combustible combination to work in this intensely political team? Vettel is a very different character, hard and driven but less emotionally charged, at least compared with Fernando. Combine him with the apolitical Raikkonen and perhaps you have a recipe for harmony in the ranks; Alonso clearly wasn't cultivating that any more.

But when one looks at the top of the team there is a lack of motor racing nous that would have Jean Todt tutting with Gallic incredulity. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is an ex-racer who had already worked in the sport with Williams; Red Bull's Christian Horner competed as high up the ladder as Formula 3000; and McLaren's top brass are all pitlane veterans, not least Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier. Ferrari are led by men who have achieved a great deal in the road car industry, but that does not guarantee success on the track.

What's more, Vettel joins during an engine freeze and with the Ferrari powerplant notably down on the Mercedes. How quick is this year's car, which has clearly been flattered by Alonso? Realistically, you could argue that it is the fifth fastest on the 2014 grid. Can Vettel do what Fernando has and consistently outperform poor machinery? Judging by his performances this term, there is not guarantee.

However, this is certainly not to write Vettel off. He is a four-time world champion and clearly one of the great talents of his generation. He has already achieved all he could have hoped for at Red Bull; now, having reached a crossroads, he has elected to follow the path of his mentor Michael Schumacher to Ferrari. Circumstances suggest that Seb will have an even more difficult job than Michael in turning the team around and taking them back to world title glory. If he can do so, it will undoubtedly be Vettel's greatest achievement in the sport - and could see him eclipse his boyhood hero.