Tag: Hamilton

The Baku fallout

The Baku fallout

As I write this piece, the FIA have just announced that they are re-opening the investigation into the incident between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton that occurred at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. While Vettel may have received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty during the race, the FIA have decided to investigate the incident further to understand whether Vettel’s actions deserve further punishment. This is a strange move, not only because of the punishments they have already issued Vettel in the stop-and-go penalty as well as 3 penalty points, but because of the potential ramifications it could have on the Drivers and Constructors championships.

While a race ban may not be completely off the table, it would be a remarkable course of action to issue should the FIA choose to do so, at least that’s what I think anyway. A decision to ban Vettel from racing at a Grand Prix would give Lewis Hamilton a free shot at taking 25 points in the championship, essentially free points as Vettel can’t do any damage limitation should he win. Given the driver’s championships are more often than not, decided by the slimmest of points margins, especially when more than one team is involved as has been the case this season, any decision including a race ban could possibly dictate the direction of the championship. That’s a bad precedent that I’m sure the FIA do not want, and I’m sure Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes would not want either should they eventually win their respective championships.

I’ve seen some reactions on social media where many are comparing this decision to investigate further to Michael Schumacher’s disqualification from the 1997 World Championship, where he was found to deliberately crash into Jacques Villeneuve at the European Grand Prix in an attempt to determine the final championship standings in his favour. This incident and Vettel’s has stark comparisons, most notably Vettel’s collision with Hamilton had little bearing on the championship nor was it Vettel’s intention to do so. Moreover, Schumacher did not receive any form of penalty until he was summoned to the FIA meeting after the championship had been concluded, whereas Vettel did receive penalties both in the race and on his racing licence.

Thankfully, Formula One is not used to these situations because they do not happen very often, with the last race disqualification for racing behaviour being Takuma Sato at the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. However this incident was always going to trigger a seismic reaction given Vettel’s indifferent popularity among the British supporters, not to mention his championship rivalry with one of the sport’s all-time leading figures in Lewis Hamilton.

I’m struggling to see any justification for re-investigating the incident, let alone issuing Vettel with further punishment. Any further punishment will likely be met with an appeal from Vettel & Ferrari, if not to the FIA then to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. A very similar incident occurred in MotoGP not too long ago, where Valentino Rossi was issued 3 penalty points for deliberately causing a collision with Marc Marquez, forcing him to start from the back of the grid at the final race of the season. Although Rossi’s subsequent appeals proved to be unsuccessful, it set a precedent that many still believe is felt in MotoGP today. Marquez is still “unforgiven” for his part in the incident, with his popularity amongst some Rossi fans still non-existent today. This decision to penalise Rossi had a huge impact on the direction of the championship, regardless of whether the penalty was justified. It was a championship ultimately decided in the court room and not on the track, and you can’t help but think that it would be exactly the same if Vettel does receive further punishment. Let’s hope it does not come to this situation.

 

Vettel vs Hamilton: It’s on…unfortunately

Vettel vs Hamilton: It’s on…unfortunately

The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix turned into a sensational race whatever angle you look at it from. Daniel Ricciardo coming from an early pit-stop, near retirement due to brake issues and leaving him second last, to have a complete reversal of fortunes to win comfortably. Valtteri Bottas, like Ricciardo having to come from the back of the field after a Lap 1 collision with Kimi Raikkonen, stole 2nd place on the line from…Lance Stroll of all people, benefiting from the chaos to claim a simply incredible debut podium finish, becoming the youngest podium finisher in Formula One history at 18 years and 239 days old in the process. Lower down the field, the Force India pairing of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon once again having dramas between each other for the second race in succession, and a McLaren-Honda scored points. Huzzah! (#HondaOut)

But this race won’t be remembered for Ricciardo’s brilliant comeback. Nor will it be for Stroll’s moment to shine. It will be remembered for the incident between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, two perennial rivals that have seemingly finally been able to battle head-to-head despite them both being in their 11th full season in the sport. When Vettel collided with Hamilton as the safety car was coming back into the pits, there was a sense of provocation, a belief that mind-games were being played with a ‘brake-test’ from Hamilton’s part, and an incensed fury from Vettel’s part that resulted in him gesticulating beside Hamilton’s car before bumping wheels, inadvertently or not is up to personal opinion.

But this wasn’t the case at all. The FIA decided Vettel was entirely at fault for the collision, deeming it to be ‘dangerous driving’ and resulted in a 10-second Stop and Go penalty for the Ferrari driver, ending any chance of a crucial victory that would’ve bolstered his championship hopes. Not only that, but the FIA after the race released telemetry of Hamilton’s speed at the time of the incident, showing there was no reduction in speed, no ‘brake-test’, that Vettel was adamant about. A damning justification that left Vettel with what looked like the entire F1 community at odds with him.

But we’ve seen this before, also involving Hamilton. When Nico Rosberg made contact with Hamilton at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, not only did it end Hamilton’s race but it also made Rosberg a scapegoat. It made a friendly rivalry between team-mates turn into “war”, as if it became a no-holds barred street fight where it was every man for himself, or at least that’s what the British media made it out to be. Despite Rosberg being his normal charming self for the remainder of his career, there was always a small minority that branded him a cheat, still not forgiven for that moment despite it having zero bearing on the final championship standing.

You can’t help but get the same feeling from the Hamilton-Vettel collision that we just saw in Azerbaijan. Two seemingly friendly rivals turned into bitter enemies on the brink of breaking point despite it being nothing more than an error of judgement from Vettel. We’re also seeing the same characteristics from the British media, desperate to create a narrative from this moment and paint Vettel as the heel, and fuelled by Hamilton’s post-race comments where he claimed Vettel “disgraced himself”.

The reaction from fans has only reflected this portrayal. Many during the race were calling for a disqualification for his actions, although the reluctance by race stewards to issue drivers with the black flag (We haven’t seen one for dangerous driving since 2005) suggests this was more complicated than many people think, while many more were demanding Vettel receive a race ban for these actions. While the FIA have further issued Vettel with 3 penalty points, risking a ban from the British Grand Prix should he commit similar actions at the next Grand Prix in Austria, this still hasn’t been well-received by the die-hard Hamilton fans, perhaps reminiscing over the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg in the previous 3 years.

Vettel deserved his penalty at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as well as the 3 penalty points applied to his licence. It may have been an error of judgement, but it was a massive over-reaction to what he believed was a misdemeanor by Lewis Hamilton. But if you are still wishing for a friendly rivalry between the pair, like the one that Hamilton himself was hoping for earlier in the season, it’s fair to say that is very much gone away. Even if the two are together in a positive atmosphere, the media spin will always relate back to that moment in Azerbaijan, where the ‘boiling point’ was at its peak temperature and when it got ugly. We’ve got our narrative for the rest of the season, perhaps longer.