No time for morals and ethics in a championship race

Jawad Yaqub Roar Guru

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    Sebastian Vettel is in a close battle with Lewis Hamilton coming into the Italian GP (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

    There is no excusing Sebastian Vettel from his callous clash with Formula One title rival Lewis Hamilton at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which has the world of motorsport up in arms over the outcome.

    Having been punished only with a ten-second stop/go penalty and three penalty points on his Superlicence, in what was similar to an on-field punch in any code of footy – Vettel has been surmised as having returned to his petulant ways, which defined his career at Red Bull Racing.

    There’s no doubt that the four-time world champion will be seen as the antagonist in the race towards the 2017 title, though perception is fickle in Formula One and a shot at glory can easily turn good men cruel.

    While the data later released by the FIA stewards had cleared Hamilton of any ‘brake testing’, which is what Vettel had accused his rival of – there is the sense that the Briton has ascended to the psychological high-ground, despite trailing in the standings by 14-points.

    “If I had had any ill intent in terms of my driving towards him, brake testing whatever it may be, I still think it’s not deserving of that kind of reaction from someone…that person you do have respect for and always showed it on the track.”

    Though as angelic as Hamilton speaks, there is no escaping his own questionable actions, which are very rarely documented as widely as others are scrutinised.

    Casting back to the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2016, the 32-year old heinously sought to derail his then teammate and rival Nico Rosberg’s title hopes, by slowing the pack down and pushing the world champion into the oncoming storm.

    Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes celebrates at the 2016 Formula One Australian Grand Prix.

    (Image supplied by AMG Petronas Motorsport).

    Had that resulted in any incident, what would the consensus be regarding the triple world champion’s tactics?

    There was a late call on the team radio in the action-filled grand prix in Baku from Hamilton, instructing Mercedes AMG to have his teammate Valtteri Bottas ‘slow down’ and compress the gap between the Finn, Vettel who was fourth and the Briton in fifth behind.

    If that demand was not as ethically corrupt as Vettel’s Burnout 3: Takedown style slamming of Hamilton, then whatever actions will be?

    Bottas had recovered emphatically to the podium places, from being a lap down following his run in with compatriot Kimi Räikkönen at the start of the race. In the end, being the faster and well-placed Silver Arrow, the Finn snatched second place in a dash to the finish line, pipping rookie Lance Stroll.

    If the 27-year old was forced to compromise his own efforts in accordance with the demands of his teammate, that would have easily equalled a punch to the gut, however, there’d be no foreseeable backlash.

    Combining for a total of seven world championships since 2008, this is the first season that Hamilton and Vettel are pukka rivals for the title. As mature both drivers have believed to have become, since their early days of success, both seemingly will put aside rational thinking, to claim what is theirs.

    Hamilton, no doubt will feel cheated by 2016, having seemingly purged Rosberg from his memory banks – despite Rosberg providing an admirable challenge to the Briton in their three-year tenure.

    For Vettel, this is a matter of vindication. His move from the cushion of Red Bull in 2014, has taken its time to yield a championship contending challenger, though with the weight of Italian marque on his shoulders – the pressure is immense.

    Baku is perhaps the beginning of what could pan out to be intense psychological warfare between the two world champions.

    Well chronicled is the abrupt conclusion to the 1990 title race, where Ayrton Senna in pursuit of justice for the previous year, controversially eliminated his rival Alain Prost at the first corner of the Japanese Grand Prix, to claim his second crown.

    Will there be echoes of this ugly pastime, when the crux of the 2017 championship arrives in November?

    As much as a fair fight is desired to determine who is the overall victor, Formula One like any sport will have its share of desperados willing to risk anything to win – even if it means breaching moral and ethical boundaries.

    This time it was Vettel whom openly showed his colours, though fully expect Hamilton to reciprocate, as he is no different to his Ferrari driving counterpart.