Vettel deserved disqualification in Baku

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert

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    Sebastian Vettel was lucky to escape with a 10-second penalty in Azerbaijan. (Photo: GEPA pictures/ Daniel Goetzhaber)

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    Few expected the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix to provide such an exciting race after last year’s soporific event, but even fewer would have thought Formula One would emerge from the grand prix with such an ethical dilemma concerning one of its biggest stars.

    Daniel Ricciardo’s superb recovery drive to victory from 17th early in the race proved a sideshow to the events that enabled him to seize the lead. Namely the now nuclear spat between title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

    Tensions were already high in Baku, where an action-packed and debris-strewn start had twice triggered intervention by the safety car.

    Pirelli’s medium-soft-supersoft tyre selection, brought to Baku in an abundance of caution, had made life difficult for the drivers on a circuit already offering limited grip. And the opening-phase carnage worked only to heighten the situation with each passing lap.

    It was in this context that Vettel and Hamilton changed the complexion of their hitherto jocular and respectful championship fight.

    Having complained over team radio that he couldn’t keep his tyres warm while travelling at the safety car-mandated pace, Hamilton nonetheless slowed to compress the field in anticipation of the afternoon’s second of three safety car restarts.

    Vettel was caught unaware, and though he hit the brakes, he couldn’t prevent his Ferrari from nudging the back of the Mercedes. Both cars suffered minor damage.

    The German was incensed, and with the red mist descended he drove up alongside Hamilton to gesticulate wildly – and then steered into the side of him.

    It was shocking to watch, and the stewards thought likewise, handing Vettel a 10-second stop-go penalty – equivalent to around 30 seconds of race time and the second most severe penalty available to the stewards – for his indiscretion.

    The ironic twist was that Hamilton was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop to replace an improperly fitted headrest, a fix that took so long Vettel was able to emerge from his penalty ahead of the Briton for the first time that afternoon.

    Hamilton was understandably livid.

    “Driving alongside and deliberately driving into another driver and getting away pretty much scot-free, as he still came fourth – I think that’s a disgrace,” he fumed. “I think he disgraced himself today.”

    Lewis Hamilton may be prone to single-mindedness when it comes to his right of way on the racetrack, but this weekend he was on the money. The only correct penalty was disqualification.

    However, it was not with a view of giving Hamilton back the on-track advantage that warrants disqualification – indeed the immediate effect on the race or the championship should not enter into the decision-making process here.

    Rather it is because Vettel’s action was dramatically unbecoming not only of a Formula One racing driver – supposedly the best drivers in the world – but also of a four-time world champion and ambassador for the sport.

    This standard, or lack thereof, of driving should be deemed nothing but unacceptable, and it should serve as a pertinent moment of reflection for motorsport at a time the FIA is working hard to better align the junior categories with Formula One to benefit junior drivers.

    The European motorsport family in particular should consider the significance of Vettel’s action given stuck fast in recent memory is 2015’s shambolic Italian Formula Three round, in which two races were abandoned due to appalling driving standards.

    Worse still was that Vettel, adamant that Hamilton had wronged him first – though the stewards also considered whether the Briton had brake-tested the Ferrari, finding nothing in the data to suggest as much – not only refused to accept blame for his actions but painfully and awkwardly refused to acknowledge the event had even occurred.

    “It sets a precedent within Formula One, and I think it also does for all the young kids that are watching us Formula One drivers drive and conduct ourselves,” Hamilton noted. “They’ve seen today how a four-time world champion behaves. Hopefully that doesn’t ripple into the younger categories.”

    Sebastian Vettel is clever enough, and surely upon reflection he will acknowledge, if he hasn’t already done so, that he was in the wrong. With the opportunity for disqualification now passed, only a fulsome and contrite apology on Vettel’s part, with which the FIA can make an example of his behaviour, will do for Formula One.

    Anything less would only sully further both Vettel’s reputation as a leader of the racing community and the reputation of Formula One’s driving standards.

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart ? but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (28)

    • Roar Guru

      June 27th 2017 @ 8:39am
      Connor Bennett said | June 27th 2017 @ 8:39am | ! Report

      That was easily the most reckless thing I’ve ever seen in Formula 1, just insane!!

      He could have caused so much damage from a bump like that, an uncontested bump. Both drivers could have come away with punctured tyres, Vettel could have lost the right half of the front wing if not all of it, or Hamilton could have lost his steering column.

      It’s crazy that he would volunatarily pull up beside someone and ram them, if not for the sake of his own car, imagine how expensive damages would cost his team if he really messed it up.

      I’ve been very polarised by Hamilton over the last few years, but I agree with him completely that Vettel disgraced himself.

      On a side note… Yay Ricciardo!! The shoey lives on. Impressed with Stroll as well despite a shaky beginning to his career but I thought he got through the carnage well.

      • June 27th 2017 @ 2:28pm
        Brad said | June 27th 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

        With no damage to either car I think that a ban would be to rough. At the end of the day im sure Seb knew if he hit him square on lightly it would not damage anything its only when a front wing ends up on a wheel it does damage. I can not think of the last time a car had a DNF due to a square on knock to the wheel

        • Columnist

          June 28th 2017 @ 5:21pm
          Michael Lamonato said | June 28th 2017 @ 5:21pm | ! Report

          All it would’ve taken was for Hamilton to speed up slow down slightly at the moment Vettel decided to hit him and this accident would’ve been much more serious. It wasn’t exactly a light hit, either — Vettel’s front-right clearly comes off the ground in the impact.

          Certainly I take your point in the case of an incidental square knock, but a deliberate shove in this case is very different.

      • June 27th 2017 @ 5:28pm
        Scuba said | June 27th 2017 @ 5:28pm | ! Report

        Connor, I suggest you go and watch Romain Grosjean’s first lap shenanigans when he started (to name a very recent example) if driving into someone at that pace was the most reckless thing you’ve ever seen in F1 – 2012 at Spa should do. Or go back and watch Schumacher turning into people at full speed rather than at a very slow pace behind the safety car.

      • Columnist

        June 28th 2017 @ 5:19pm
        Michael Lamonato said | June 28th 2017 @ 5:19pm | ! Report

        Very mature drive by Stroll on a day just about everyone else lost their cool in one way or another. If he can stay this calm (not to mention qualify this well) every weekend, then he could come good very quickly. Thanks for the comment!

    • June 27th 2017 @ 9:00am
      KenW said | June 27th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      Agree completely. Not a fan of Hamilton, and I can easily believe he did brake test Vettel on purpose, but Vettel’s response was just unbelievably reckless and it’s nonsensical that he wasn’t disqualified.

    • Roar Guru

      June 27th 2017 @ 9:24am
      Wayne said | June 27th 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      Is it only an issue because Vettel finished in front of Lewis?

      Same driver that last year “served” a 55 grid penalty.

      The stewards made there decision, and added points to Vettel’s license. Looking at the footage, yes it should be of been a black flag, for being an idiot. But it wasn’t, and he got a 10 second stop-go penalty.

      • Roar Guru

        June 27th 2017 @ 10:32am
        Connor Bennett said | June 27th 2017 @ 10:32am | ! Report

        I don’t think it’s only a matter because he finished in front, although that does seem a little unfair, but as BrainsTrust says, Hamilton was doing himself no favours in his pace out of the corner.

        I think both drivers should have been acting differently on the track at that point in time, but Vettel was so far out of line that you have to take the side of Hamilton.

    • June 27th 2017 @ 9:39am
      BrainsTrust said | June 27th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

      Its obvious from looking at the footage that Hamilton didn;t use the brakes, he was going very slow and then took the foot totally off the accelarator to go even slower while the saftey car was streaking away.. There is an expectation you don;t go that slow even with a safety car, this isn;t one of those tactical bike races, and to lay off where he did on the exit of a corner when everyone is expecting acceleration to keep tires warm almost backed everyone into themselves.. What happens if someone decides to go super slow and let everyones tires go cold out of spite, while it doesn’t make sense to do such a thing there seems to be nothing stopping them from doing it.
      Vettel then completely loses it , maybe Vettel should have been disqualified, but he got a penalty at least.

    • Roar Pro

      June 27th 2017 @ 10:12am
      anon said | June 27th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      I think some of you need to calm down. He rubbed tyres at a pedestrian speed.

      Hamilton needs to at least be given a formal warning for driving erratically and too slow behind a safety car.

      Vettel was at a distance you’d expect him to be behind Hamilton given that Hamilton had just slowed to go thriugh the corner. I don’t think you can blame Vettel for rear ending Hamilton.

      • June 27th 2017 @ 1:56pm
        woodart said | June 27th 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        yes, rubbing, is ,as they say, racing. a little good ,old fashioned wheel banging. try watching some oval track indy car racing.

        • Columnist

          June 28th 2017 @ 5:22pm
          Michael Lamonato said | June 28th 2017 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

          This isn’t IndyCar, and this wasn’t racing. No-one’s talking down aggressive overtaking — even the FIA is encouraging drivers to race hard — but this was behind a safety car and had nothing to do with racing.

      • June 28th 2017 @ 2:54am
        Dexter The Hamster said | June 28th 2017 @ 2:54am | ! Report

        Serious? The data shows Hamilton did nothing wrong, yet you support Vettel’s action in “rubbing tyres”. Seemed like the act of a petulant child to me.

        I have no great love for Lewis, but seems pretty clear he is in the right and Seb is in the wrong on this one. If only Seb admitted he made a mistake, maybe we could all move on. But the fact he says he is in the right (as always……) makes It very hard for us all to side with him.

        • Columnist

          June 28th 2017 @ 5:25pm
          Michael Lamonato said | June 28th 2017 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

          Yeah, the awkwardness with which he’s been pretending nothing happened has been painful. It reeks of him knowing his guilty but being unable to admit it.

      • Columnist

        June 28th 2017 @ 5:24pm
        Michael Lamonato said | June 28th 2017 @ 5:24pm | ! Report

        I agree that Hamilton was being a bit cheeky, especially considering he knew how cold everyone’s tyres were, but in the end he has the right to dictate the pace. The manoeuvre in question didn’t even involve braking, which is why he’s escaped without punishment.

    • Roar Pro

      June 27th 2017 @ 11:13am
      anon said | June 27th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

      The stewards ruled Hamilton “drove unnecessarily slowly and erratically in the pit entry, reducing his speed to 57kph before increasing to 75kph as he entered the pit lane, holding up car three.”

      That’s what happened in Bahrain.

      Hamilton was driving slower than that behind the safety car in Baku, despite the safety car being well ahead in the distance, despite it being a part of the track (coming out of a corner) where there’s no need to slow down to 40 km/h.

      Hamilton approached the corner at 90 km/h. He all of a sudden felt braking/lifting off and doing 40 km/h was necessary.

      • June 28th 2017 @ 10:59am
        Bob said | June 28th 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

        Bahrain??? That’s like saying your mum got 3 points for speeding ie. IRRELEVANT!
        The FIA investigated Hamilton’s telemetry and found nothing untoward.
        This was 100% Vettel’s fault and the sanction was a cop out. He committed two offences, the first accelerating into Hamilton then swerving into him. The first offence warranted a drive theough but the second should’ve been a disqualification at least and possibly a race ban.
        One thing’s for sure, until he’s properly sanctioned, Vettel will continue to act like a petulant child.
        It not a fan of either Hamilton or Vettel.

        • Roar Pro

          June 28th 2017 @ 1:37pm
          anon said | June 28th 2017 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

          Vettel didn’t accelerate into him.

          If that’s the case, then the rest of the field decided to accelerate at the same time because they are all bunched up behind Hamilton.

        • Columnist

          June 28th 2017 @ 5:30pm
          Michael Lamonato said | June 28th 2017 @ 5:30pm | ! Report

          I think Vettel nudging Hamilton at first was clumsy and probably didn’t warrant a penalty. It wasn’t deliberate, unlike the swipe.

      • Columnist

        June 28th 2017 @ 5:28pm
        Michael Lamonato said | June 28th 2017 @ 5:28pm | ! Report

        These are completely different situations. Hamilton was dictating the pace, as per regulations, behind the safety car. The letter of the law is explicitly on his side in this case. In the pit lane under racing conditions in Bahrain he was driving erratically for no (regulatory) reason.

        • Roar Pro

          June 28th 2017 @ 8:49pm
          anon said | June 28th 2017 @ 8:49pm | ! Report

          Hamilton was dictating the pace, as per regulations, behind the safety car.

          No he wasn’t. He drove in a manner that caused a driver behind him to run into him. He was driving erratically. There’s no reason to be braking to 40 km/h under a safety car. That’s slower than what they travel through the Lowe’s hairpin.

          • Columnist

            June 29th 2017 @ 1:05am
            Michael Lamonato said | June 29th 2017 @ 1:05am | ! Report

            He didn’t hit the brakes. The FIA data shows this — indeed the data shows Hamilton drove in exactly the same way at the same corner at the previous safety car restart. What was different during the second restart was how closely Vettel was following Hamilton given he wanted to avoid him getting another clean getaway.

            As I said, the regulations allow Hamilton slow down as much as he likes providing it doesn’t constitute erratic driving, which it clearly wasn’t.

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