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Vettel to bolt team

AP

Four-time defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel will leave Red Bull at the end of the season and is expected to soon announce a deal with Ferrari.

Vettel told Red Bull chief Christian Horner on Friday night that he intended to leave, and the team made the formal announcement on Saturday ahead of qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix.

“After 15 very enjoyable and successful years with Red Bull, I have decided to leave Red Bull at the end of this year,” Vettel said on his personal website. “Of course it is a big step and hard to make such a decision.”

Red Bull immediately named a replacement, promoting Daniil Kvyat from its associated team Toro Rosso to join Daniel Ricciardo in a youthful 2015 lineup.

While Vettel said “about my future plans, there will be an announcement very soon,” Horner was in no doubt as to where the German driver was headed.

“As of January 1st he’ll be a competitor,” Horner said. “He’ll be a Ferrari driver.”

“Obviously Ferrari have made him a very attractive offer.

“The lure of Ferrari; a window has opened there with whatever is going on and he has decided the timing is right for him.”

Current Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are both under contract with the Italian team for next season, but Alonso has been in talks with the team about his future.

Asked on Friday whether he could be driving for either of the rival teams McLaren or Red Bull next year, Alonso said: “This is a very difficult question to answer. And I will repeat the answer, probably I will do the best for Ferrari.”

Vettel joined Red Bull from Toro Rosso in 2009 and won four-straight championships between 2010 and 2013. He has yet to win a race in 2014 when the Mercedes team has been dominant and he has been outperformed by young Australian teammate Ricciardo.

There had been speculation in recent weeks that Vettel and Alonso would swap teams for next season, but Horner said there was never any intention to poach the two-time world champion.