ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel looked forward to following in Michael Schumacher's Formula One footsteps after Ferrari confirmed on Thursday that the four times world champion would replace Fernando Alonso next season on a three-year deal.
The long-awaited news, an open secret since the German announced in October that he was leaving Red Bull, formally ended a five-year love affair with double world champion Alonso that frustrated both sides.
Vettel will partner Finland's 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who has a year remaining on his contract.
"The next stage of my Formula One career will be spent with Scuderia Ferrari and for me that means the dream of a lifetime has come true," said Vettel.
"When I was a kid, Michael Schumacher in the red car was my greatest idol and now it’s an incredible honour to finally get the chance to drive a Ferrari," added the 27-year-old, who took his first Formula One win in a Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso at Monza in 2008.
Compatriot Schumacher won five of his seven titles with Ferrari.
"The Scuderia has a great tradition in this sport and I am extremely motivated to help the team get back to the top. I will put my heart and soul into making it happen," said Vettel.
Alonso is expected to return to McLaren, the team he spent a torrid season with in 2007 before falling out with current overall head Ron Dennis.
Ferrari announced the news in two separate statements, the first declaring their relationship with Alonso to be over and the second welcoming the sport's youngest multiple champion.
Alonso, who won his titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006, had his hopes of taking a third championship with Ferrari repeatedly thwarted by Vettel and his own team's lack of performance.
The Spaniard leaves after a partnership that brought him 11 wins and 44 podiums.
He came closest to the title in 2010, when he went into the final race as favourite only for a team strategy error to gift the title to Vettel. The German then began a run of four championships in a row.
Alonso was runner-up in 2012 and 2013 but Ferrari have not won a race since the Spaniard was triumphant in Barcelona in May last year and are staring at their first season without a victory since 1993.
"Today is not an easy one for me, because even if I always look to the future with great enthusiasm and determination, at the end of this season my journey as a Ferrari driver will come to an end," he said.
"It was a difficult decision to take, but a carefully considered one and from start to finish, my love for Ferrari was a prime consideration.
"I have always been lucky enough to make my own decisions about my future and I have that possibility now too," added the 33-year-old.
Alonso, who said he was proud of his achievements with Ferrari, is one of very few drivers to choose to leave Formula One's most glamorous team. The Spaniard had signed a contract to the end of 2016 and had talked of extending that.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Peter Rutherford and Justin Palmer