It was hot in Baku over the weekend, humid too. The kind of place where even with a fresh breeze blowing in off the sea, it was difficult to keep your cool. Drivers struggled to keep their cars on the track, tempers flared over team radio and we had so much debris flying off the cars that the race had to be stopped to clear it all up.
It needed some restraint out there. But a while after Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez had rather lost it with Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon for the crashes that ruined their race, and shortly before Lewis Hamilton had the issues with his head restraint that cost him the win, Sebastian Vettel completely lost his head and provided us all with one of the biggest talking points in the sport for a long while.
To see a four-time world champion steer into another competitor or, if we’re being as generous as we possibly could be, not take any action to avoid steering into another competitor, was just wrong, whichever way you looked at it.
In the words of Hamilton, “Seb disgraced himself”. He’s right to say it – and, judging by the reaction I saw from the fans, plenty agreed. Although there were some that thought that Seb didn’t do anything wrong and that he’d actually been brake tested by the Mercedes driver in the first place.
So let’s put that one to bed straight away. “Lewis maintained a consistent speed and behaved in the same manner on the occasion that Sebastian drove into the back of him, as in all other restarts during the race.” Not my words, but those of the FIA to explain to the media the evidence the stewards took into consideration when they decided to find the Ferrari driver guilty of driving in a manner that could be deemed dangerous.
So Lewis didn’t brake test the Championship leader and didn’t do anything he hadn’t done twice before at the very same spot. Plain and simple: Sebastian drove into the back of him, I guess he was wary once again of Perez behind and wanted to stay as close to the race leader as possible to cut out the chance of him losing second place at the restart. Understandable, these things happen from time to time.
But it was what came next that really was completely unacceptable. You just can’t steer into another driver on the race track, even if you are going slowly behind the Safety Car. Pastor Maldonado did it, in Monaco and in Spa, and was rightly slammed for doing so. Not only is it disrespectful to your competitor, but it shows a shocking example to anyone watching as to what is or isn’t acceptable.
Every week the top 3 in qualifying stand for a picture in front of the FIA’s ‘Action For Road Safety’ backdrop. It’s a shame that Seb wasn’t in the top 3 in Baku this week, he might have heeded the message and saved himself a lot of bother.
Because what followed afterwards just compounded the issue for me. Seb knows that he steered into Lewis, he knew that the likelihood was that he would now get into trouble for it. And I can understand, to an extent, why he wouldn’t want to admit to the offence over the team radio and why he would want to protest his innocence, right up to the moment he was penalised by the stewards. After that, you’d expect a four-time world champion, and it’s not expecting much here, to hold his hands up and say, “I did wrong, sorry guys.” But what did we get? More of the same stubborn refusal that he was in any way to blame or did anything out of the ordinary. That, I’m afraid doesn’t sit well in my book, and I don’t think I’m alone.
Sadly, it’s the same reaction from the Ferrari team who chose to issue their usual heavily weighted press release and talk just to the Italian journalists, rather than hold an open forum. My colleague at Sky Italia informed me that Maurizio Arrivabene was firmly of the view that Seb had done nothing wrong and that the reaction was akin to that of the days of the Colosseum in Rome!
Whether it’s arrogance or the fact that when they made these statements they believed that Lewis had brake tested Sebastian, I just done know. But neither team, nor their driver have sought to explain or apologise for the retribution that Vettel carried out and that I find terribly sad.
Sebastian is 30 on July 3rd, this was the last race he ran in his 20’s, maybe that hot-headedness that we have witnessed on occasion in the past might slowly slip away when he gets to his 30’s. These incidents on track are totally out of keeping with the calm, quiet, polite man that goes about his business in the track, pretty much with a cheery smile on his face and who has never been anything other than an absolute pleasure to chat to on the rare occasions we get the chance.
He was given three penalty points on his Super Licence too, taking him up to 9 for the 12 month period. Three more and it’s a race ban. Personally, I don’t want to see him banned. I know a lot of people think that it would be an appropriate punishment, but it could have a major influence on the championship and I don’t really want to see that. But with 2 of those penalty points coming off his licence at Silverstone, wouldn’t it be an idea for the FIA to step in and request that they remain for another 6 months or so? It might help Seb in the long run.
In the meantime, spare a thought for Daniel Ricciardo, who would have loved to have spent the Sunday night celebrating his surprise win in Baku, but had to get on a plane and head back to Milton Keynes for a day in the simulator the next day.
And talking of planes, the aircraft bringing us all back from Baku has developed a problem with it’s brakes so it can’t take off. I spy Romain Grosjean’s race engineer sat across the aisle from me. He has the look of a man who’d like to go at least one day in his life without brake issues being the main topic of conversation! It seems that today is not that day.