Just like at an FIA GT World Championship qualifying race at Silverstone in 2011, Sebastian Vettel showed why hot-headedness, a racing car and hand gestures are not common or advised behaviour in top-level motorsport.
In the Silverstone situation, an angry Stefan Mücke (Young Driver Aston Martin) – recovering after a clash with JRM Nissan’s Richard Westbrook – drew alongside Westbrook on the Hangar Straight and was giving it all with his hands, when he lost control and smashed into the side of Westbrook.
Mücke was lucky. He was kicked out of the event and was reported to the DMSB (German motorsport governing body) for a possible ban on his licence; however this was not followed through. It was incident that captured eyeballs in the world of motorsport, but given GT racing’s small audience, it barely stretched beyond the specialised motor racing press.
But it was not a deliberate action, unlike Dan Ticktum’s ramming Ricky Collard at an MSA Formula round at Silverstone in 2015 or Pastor Maldonado’s swipe at Lewis Hamilton at Spa-Francorchamps some year’s earlier. This was more an act of utter stupidity by a very good and accomplished driver who should have known better and while it did not kill Mücke’s career, it certainly damaged his reputation in the eyes of many in the sport. Westbrook, for his part, emerged from his car, wagged his forefinger at Mücke and returned to the paddock…
Vettel’s action against then race-leader Hamilton during lap 19 of yesterday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix seemed to fall under a similar umbrella. Feeling aggrieved by Hamilton’s actions behind the safety car, Vettel decision to draw up alongside Hamilton and gesticulate with the Briton, resulting in a loss of control and a clash with the Mercedes was a stupid, misguided, indefensible, moronic, arse-about-ways error.
What Hamilton may or may not have done to provoke Vettel is completely irrelevant – Vettel’s act was inexcusable and comes at a time when he once again let his emotions get the better of his extraordinary talent and ability.
That the Ferrari man got away with just a ten-second stop/go penalty also reflected poorly upon the stewarding of this meeting – a penalty awarded for “dangerous driving”, yet the penalty itself was so soft as to be a cushion on a brick chair. There are protocols available that allow for drivers to receive a black and white flag and even a black flag if necessary and Vettel’s conduct fell in the latter category.
It seems inexplicable that Vettel was not excluded from the event and placed under referral, but that would potentially have harmed the championship show and we cannot allow that to happen, can we?
The incident and the resultant penalty blurred the line between acceptable behaviour and dangerous driving and in this, Vettel has been very fortunate.