It’s taken eight races but I imagine that’s the end of the ‘Yours in Sport’ good mate relationship between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. With these two being the championship contenders, almost from the first race, it was just as obvious that the fight would develop an edge at some point. But no one expected it to erupt as it did on Sunday.
Dealing with a safety car restart while leading is a precise art at which drivers don’t get much practice. Particularly at Baku which, last year, ran without intervention. They made up for it on Sunday. Big time.
Hamilton discovered the restart problems unique to Baku when he accelerated hard on the main straight and suddenly realised he was in danger of overtaking the safety car before they reached the so-called Safety Car Line, which designates the start of the actual racing. Arrive there too slowly and the quick-thinking guy behind could slingshot ahead into the braking area for the first corner.
Determined not to get caught (and risk a penalty) at the second restart while trying to wrong foot Vettel by using a different tactic, Hamilton was more careful as he went through Turn 15 – as it was his right to do as the race leader who sets the pace. Vettel, meanwhile, was determined not to get left behind and have the following car all over him – as Perez had been at the first restart.
Perhaps anticipating Lewis was about to leg it, Sebastian accelerated – into the back of the Mercedes. The reason he subsequently wasn’t happy could be for two reasons: he thought Hamilton had backed off deliberately. Or, he was annoyed with himself for having made the misjudgement.
It was probably a mix of the two. The on-board from Vettel’s car is misleading since it appears to show Hamilton’s car slowing when, in fact, Vettel is accelerating.
Mistakes happen. But there was no excuse for allowing emotion to overrule common sense as Vettel drew alongside and used his Ferrari to whack the Mercedes. It has to be assumed that the race stewards saw footage showing Vettel using his right hand to flick the car to the right (rather than the Ferrari wandering right while he gesticulated with his left hand) in order to warrant the 10-second stop-go penalty that ultimately cost Vettel the race and an extra 13 championship points over Hamilton.
The addition of three penalty points on Vettel’s superlicence has the effect of putting him in dangerous territory. Another three points at the next race in Austria would mean automatic exclusion from the British GP. You can imagine the scenario during combat in Austria when rivals show Vettel a wheel, almost daring him to do something risky.
All of which sums up disappointment that Vettel should do something so stupid in Azerbaijan after such stunningly committed overtaking moves in Montreal and an excellent season thus far. It’s easy to understand his irritation that Mercedes should suddenly find performance during the Baku weekend and deny Ferrari an opportunity they thought possible after dominating at Monaco.
That said, Vettel and Ferrari had pace in the race (and with a ‘tired’ engine). All he had to do was keep cool. Which is exactly what Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas did under circumstances far more frustrating.
The Honey Badger tweeted later in the evening: ‘Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit that was a race’. Brilliant. But I doubt neither Vettel nor Hamilton will see the funny side of that classic Ricciardo humour.