Azerbaijan GP Review By Bob Constanduros
So the love affair is over; that didn’t last long, but then those of us who have been around for a while would never have expected it to. In a high profile, high finance, high octane, high pressure sport such as Formula One, these things don’t last long. Someone, somewhere will say something, do something, be misquoted or whatever to end the harmony, and having built up the friendly rivalry that existed, the media will take great pleasure in knocking it down again.
There were several contentious issues regarding the Sebastian Vettel/Lewis Hamilton incident. The first was whether Lewis had brake-tested Sebastian and that was a fairly easy one to answer, even by those of us watching at home. There was one particular graphic which showed the speeds coming through and then out of the corner concerned. It was quite obvious from this graphic that Hamilton didn’t brake, but he simply didn’t accelerate. And that’s what caught Vettel napping. He ran into the back of Hamilton, just as Perez (I think) had to take avoiding action behind the Ferrari to avoid running into him.
Everyone expected Hamilton to accelerate out of the corner. He didn’t, but that’s his prerogative. He doesn’t have to do anything; being the first racing car on the road, he controls the pace of those behind. What he mustn’t do is accelerate and then brake; I was disappointed – but not surprised – that no one reminded us that that is exactly what Nobuhara Matsushita did last year in the GP2 race at Baku which subsequently earned him a one race ban.
What happened next, however, was much clearer to us, if not to Sebastian Vettel. The German Ferrari driver pulled alongside Hamilton and while gesturing to him, steered into him. Fortunately, there seemed to be little or no damage but the utterly incomprehensible point about this is that Vettel has absolutely no realisation that that is what he did.
We’re not interested in Hamilton apparently not accelerating and Vettel running into the back of him; if you were on a British road and you ran into the back of the car in front – even accidently – you would be guilty. If you then ran into the car deliberately, then that is another matter altogether and verges on road rage. Yet nowhere did Vettel acknowledge that part of the incident and nor did his team. Vettel was asked several times on camera about it, and just talked about running into the back of Hamilton. Was this selective memory? Didn’t he remember running into the side of the Mercedes? Was he just covering up is guilt? Probably.
After his Charlie Whiting rant last year, a small pattern is beginning to emerge: Sebastian, Mr Nice Guy normally, has a little anger management problem. Many of us do but we’re not international sportsmen enjoying high wages and high publicity and high visibility of our actions. Sometimes our anger is waged against something inanimate, and no one ever knows.
And with the adrenalin flowing, we’ve seen it happening with racing drivers before. Not only Michael Schumacher marching down the pit road at Spa to remonstrate with David Coulthard, but even Nelson Piquet attempting a rather girly kick at Eliseo Salazar at Hockenheim. I’m sure our Nige was involved in something similar. And there are plenty of instances of angry young men in lower formulae and particularly karting!
Something had to be done about Vettel, of course and sooner rather than later. ‘Causing an avoidable collision’ is something we see quite often in F2/GP2 and GP3, and sometimes in F1 but this didn’t come close to describing this incident. However, the stewards have a set of parameters and I’m told that the 10 second stop-and-go penalty – which would amount to 30+ seconds with the time taken in the pit lane – was the most that they could inflict on the driver. Subsequent penalty points on his licence certainly went somewhere toward the outright ban that some thought should have been inflicted.
Let me tell you that this incident isn’t going away in a hurry. Lewis, of course, has called it ‘disrespectful’, a term I’ve heard enough of having heard it at least three times during last weekend in various contexts. As I mentioned, the love affair is over, but as I also mentioned, the media will be stirring it up for days to come. Pundits will be trying to explain it – probably better than I – and no doubt the two drivers will come up at the press conference in Austria in ten days time to further fan the flames – or maybe kiss and make up!.
In the meantime, we had the Azeri Grand Prix which we had expected last year, an event full of excitement, incident and intrigue. We had wonderful comeback drives, great debut races, unexpected points and Fernando Alonso saying McLaren could have won! I love it. Even he was complaining that he didn’t have any power but if McLaren could have won, then so could everyone else – and quite a few did beat the McLaren.
I’m a little tired of hearing about Fernando Alonso and how great he would be if he wasn’t in a McLaren. Sure, we’ve seen that he can be a great driver in a competitive car and has that tiny bit more than most drivers which has marked him out as World Champion material again, but it’s being rammed down my throat and I’m getting fed up with it.
Come to that, I’m also fed up with Lewis Hamilton trying to run the sport and advising Charlie Whiting that he should be implementing virtual safety car zones rather than the safety car – although as the leader losing his lead he would say that, wouldn’t he? I won’t go on but there are quite a few other instances of him putting in his two penny’orth; almost as tedious as Romain Grosjean talking about brakes.
Maybe after two races out of the commentary box I need to be back in there again and find other things to talk about. After all, there was enough in Baku to keep anyone going for ages although it did get a bit settled for a while. Personally, I thought it a good move to suspend the race to tidy up the track – there were too many bits of car all over the track and even Valtteri Bottas mentioned that he was being hit by bits of flying carbon fibre – which could do a lot of damage and injury.
But that won’t be what the race is remembered for. It is the end of the friendly rivalry which we’ve enjoyed for… oooh, at least four or five races. So now the gloves are off. Here we go again and it all happens at the first of a doubleheader, the one just across the Italian border in Germany-speaking Austria and continues at Silverstone. What will the locals make of it all?
Incidentally, a final word: is Silverstone really set to be a four day meeting when all the F1 trucks but also F2, GP3 and Porsche trucks will have had to make the 1534kms/953 mile/15hr 30m trip across Europe, plus a Channel crossing and with the added expense of extra drivers? They will scarcely be set up by the Thursday; not sure that’s a wise move…