Fear and loathing in Azerbaijan

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

By , Bayden Westerweller is a Roar Guru

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    Lewis Hamilton. (Photo: GEPA pictures/Daniel Goetzhaber)

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    Sebastian Vettel crossed the line on Sunday at Azerbaijan, though Lewis Hamilton cannot be relieved from his accountability in the episode which has instantly evoked comparison to controversies of bygone eras.

    A rush of blood, a descending of red mist, consumed Vettel on lap 20 of the chaotic event as the field lay behind the safety car, and the involvement of the title protagonists in the incident injected an inevitable hero versus villain narrative despite the circumstances leading to the outcome.

    The German, who had been caught napping by race leader Hamilton following the initial of the Mercedes AMG’s multiple appearances to clear debris from the circuit, fell victim to the Briton’s questionable braking tactics, running into the rear of the W08 as the third restart approached.

    Despite the 29-year-old’s protests that “he brake tested me. What the f*^k is going on?” this was lost to the four-time champion’s physical reaction, as he drew alongside Hamilton to gesticulate angrily and proceeded to turn into the leader, albeit inflicting no visible damage, as the racing resumed from the following corner.

    It wouldn’t take long for the recriminations to commence as friendly fire between the Force Indias into turn one on the restart caused the red flag to be deployed, sending all cars into pitlane, and allowing drivers, personnel and fans to draw their collective breath on what had just transpired.

    Outside the cockpit, Hamilton closely scrutinised the rear of his car, proceeding to the concerned sidepod and tyres as he attempted to emphasise his ordeal, while a sanguine Vettel kept his counsel, acknowledging only the events leading to the decisive blow as the restart approached.

    The postscript to the affair, with Hamilton required to stop from the lead on lap 31 so his conspicuously unfastened headrest could be replaced – borne independently from his collision with Vettel, coupled with the German’s punishment – a ten-second stop go penalty, effectively being neutralised, further canvassed the notion of the Briton as wronged and Vettel the wicked.

    Fourth for Vettel and fifth to Hamilton being the end game similarly incensed those believing the latter received a raw deal. Not least the man himself, when the reality was that his plight bore no consequence from the hit, rather a manifestation of disbelief that the German exited the weekend having extended his points lead, when a routine victory to the Briton and fifth to the penalised Vettel would have been labelled just.

    Vettel was undoubtedly wrong to use his vehicle as a weapon, though it must be viewed as the objective incident it was. Once Hamilton’s history behind the safety car is taken into account – similar tactics were employed at Fuji in 2007, resulting in the infamous collision between Vettel and future teammate Mark Webber, and corroborated with his antics on Sunday, it becomes apparent that it was a heat of the moment reaction rather than a charge of premeditated assault which Senna and Schumacher answered to yesteryear.

    Sebastian Vettel Red Bull

    (Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool)

    Notwithstanding the field running at greatly reduced speed, this wasn’t Suzuka 1990, Adelaide 1994 or Jerez 1997, which were moments comprised a solitary methodical act. If anything, the German’s actions were outright clumsy and the intellectual in him would have realised this immediately.

    Which is why Vettel’s stubborn refusal to address the deed in question is the most damning indictment, which in the context of the championship – short of rendering his actions understandable – speaks to the primal desperation when the ultimate prize is up for grabs and logic eludes the erstwhile rational.

    Hamilton must be aware that Vettel, who also received three penalty points on his superlicence, now lies only three adrift of a one-race suspension should he fall foul of the stewards at Austria, and may look to exploit this by placing the German in a vulnerable position if circumstances permit.

    His sentiment, “if I had any ill intent… brake testing, whatever it may be, I still think it’s not deserving of that kind of reaction” can be facetiously interpreted as a goad to ‘baiting’ employed by the Briton, which Vettel must contemplate if he is to avoid the tacit manipulation effected on the weekend.

    Lewis Hamilton press conference

    (Photo: GEPA pictures/Daniel Goetzhaber)

    Two can play when it boils down to one dream, some are better at playing the game than others, and had Hamilton prevailed at Baku, it would have been a perfectly executed set piece on his title rival. Vettel fell for the bluff and in this instance played the fool, though there’s an extremely fine line at the top and while he’ll be chastened, he’ll also be wiser for the experience.

    As all iconic rivalries and title showdowns elicit, the ‘antagonist’ has been sourced and defined with many strokes, and any subsequent events will henceforth be portrayed as part of the hero’s quest to overcome the villain and restore order, despite the reality that there are two sides to every story.