Vettel got off lightly in Baku
Eight races. Well, it took longer than expected. The back-slapping bonhomie of that post-race press conference at the Spanish GP in May now seems a very long time ago. In the wake of Baku, the Lewis Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel duel has ratcheted up a notch or three, with 12 of the season’s 20 races still to run. Juicy.
In this space a couple of months ago, I suggested the pair were hardly “F1’s Federer and Nadal” and even admitted we hoped for “a bit of niggle” in a two-hander that promises to be one for the ages. And lo, they deliver. And then some.
But before we go any further, some perspective. It’s not as if Vettel speared into Hamilton at 150mph at Turn 1 in front of a full pack at speed, as an act of pre-meditated sabotage. For now, and hopefully forever, the sainted Ayrton Senna is unchallenged as the perpetrator of the most diabolical professional foul in F1 history. Had someone been hurt (or worse) at Suzuka 1990, the post-Imola 1994 deification of Senna would have sat even more uncomfortably than it already does.
Admittedly, Hamilton is no saint. But data proved conclusively that here, he did nothing wrong.
In contrast, what Vettel did in Baku, at low speed behind a Safety Car, put no one at risk. But still, he drove into another car on purpose, so it is a big deal. This was a fit of red-mist petulance that is sadly a recognisable Vettel characteristic, and it’s unbecoming of a four-time world champion.
Admittedly, Hamilton is no saint. But data proved conclusively that here, he did nothing wrong. He chose not to floor it out of the slow Turn 15 when Vettel might have expected him to, but that was his prerogative. Afterwards, Lewis was certainly at full-throttle when he spoke about it.
“I think he disgraced himself today,” said the Mercedes driver. “It definitely sets a precedent within F1 and it also does for all the young kids that are watching us drive and conduct ourselves.”
Vettel remained defiant in the aftermath – again a characteristic we’ve seen before in high-stress moments. He was adamant that if punishment was meted out to one, it should also have been thumped on the other. “It’s just one action today that was wrong and I think if I got penalised then he should get penalised,” said Seb. “We’re all grown-ups, we’re men. Emotions are running high in the car.”
And with that was the admission he’d lost control of his temper – if not his Ferrari. Much ado about nothing? Not really. Vettel was bang to rights on the most serious contravention of racing driver honour. A ten-second stop-go was the correct penalty by regulation, but disqualification or a future race ban would have befitted the crime.