In this social media age, a controversy gains momentum quickly. The first spark in this season’s title tussle came in the form of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s Baku bust-up and is one such controversy that has sent the internet into meltdown.
Yesterday evening, following a meeting between the FIA and Vettel in Paris, the sport’s governing body decided to refrain from issuing further sporting punishment to the German, opening a can of worms and a frenzy of activity from keyboard warriors and armchair pundits.
Many including Hamilton, have seemingly been outraged by the verdict. In reality, however, the FIA has indeed made the right call.
As is the ingredient that spawns a controversy, people have taken sides on the subject and have staunchly defended their viewpoints thus far. As a result, some arguments posed have featured a serving of editorial bias.
Take one tweet from yesterday evening, for instance;
It is clear to see the side of the fence that Phil Duncan has decided to occupy. What his tweet – and many others for that matter – fail to highlight is that Vettel has already been punished for “deliberately crashing into his title rival.”
During the race, the stewards handed Vettel a 10-second stop-go penalty for what they deemed to be dangerous driving and there are very few people who could argue against that particular decision.
Some have suggested that this in-race penalty was too lenient, but it is the harshest punishment at the stewards’ disposal sort of a black flag. As I noted in my initial reaction to the incident last week, the stewards had no precedent upon which to issue disqualification.
Vettel swallowed a penalty mid-race that essentially cost him victory in Azerbaijan. His recovery to fourth place was a product of some excellent late race pace, coupled with the circuit layout lending itself to overtaking.
Had Hamilton’s headrest not made a bid for freedom which essentially demoted the Brit behind Vettel despite the German’s penalty, we would be talking about a 12 point championship swing in Hamilton’s favour and a costly moment of madness from Vettel.
Just because circumstances dictated that Vettel finished ahead of Hamilton is not justification for further retribution, as the latter seemed to indicate post-race in Azerbaijan.
One of the most tenuous parallels to be drawn on the Twitterverse has seen some fans suggesting that Vettel’s barge is comparable to Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve’s clash at Jerez in the 1997 championship decider.
In answer to the question, they are totally different incidents. Schumacher was deemed to have deliberately attempted to end Villeneuve’s race, which would have been the only way the German in his ailing Ferrari could have seized the title. Suitably, the FIA took a strong stance against Schumacher, stripping him of his 78 points amassed over the course of the season, thus relinquishing his runner-up spot in the championship table.
Few could justifiably argue that Vettel attempted to take Hamilton out of the race in Azerbaijan. He was hugely frustrated at what he believed to be a brake-check from Hamilton and suitably lashed out.
If he had an aim, it was simply to express his dissatisfaction at Hamilton’s ‘actions’ and nothing beyond that. Far from what the governing body suggested that Schumacher had intended in his incident.
What leaves me most puzzled by the reaction of those who have slammed the FIA’s supposedly lenient verdict, is the fact that a harsh verdict would almost certainly have championship implications.
Let’s suppose that Vettel was disqualified from the Azerbaijan results, losing the 12 points he salvaged. If the championship fight was decided in Hamilton’s favour, by a margin of less than a dozen points, the title battle has been decided in a Paris boardroom.
Hardly a fitting headline upon which to evaluate a 2017 season come November, in which drivers have been advertised as heroes and gladiators in the toughest machinery ever raced.
In no way is this an article justifying Vettel’s actions in Baku. For the record, Hamilton did not brake-check Vettel, nor was the following skirmish Hamilton’s fault. Vettel lost control at a critical moment with echoes of the surprisingly rookie temperament we witnessed in Mexico last season. His reaction immediately after the race was similarly unbecoming of a four-time world champion hoping to make it five.
However, his 10-second stop-go penalty was punishment enough. Those who argue that Vettel’s actions will have tainted junior categories and inspired road rage among those hoping to emulate his success are wide of the mark. The reaction to the incident is proof enough to anyone that was in doubt that driving into a rival is not acceptable.
The stewards made the right call on the day and the FIA have issued the correct verdict in Paris. F1 fans now have a title-fight with added niggle.
Everyone should, at least, be a winner. Well, unless your called Hamilton…