Vettel was penalised with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty during a chaotic race at Baku City Circuit after he banged wheels with Hamilton. Vettel believed that the British driver had deliberately brake-tested him during one of three safety car periods. However, telemetry from Hamilton’s Mercedes proved that the 32-year-old Englishman had not been acting in an unusual manner prior to the collision.
Hamilton’s rivalry with Vettel this season had been noted for its cordiality, but that changed in an instant against the backdrop of Caspian Sea.
“Today was obviously a different Sebastian than we saw in those seven races, and I like to think that I remained respectful,” Hamilton said. “I will continue to do so and I want to do the talking on the track. I want to win this championship the right way.”
Hamilton, who fell further behind Vettel in the title race after his headset worked its way loose and forced him into an unscheduled pit stop, believes Vettel’s actions were that of a man under pressure.
Vettel now has nine points on his F1 licence and if he obtains three more in Austria a week on Sunday he will be hit with a one-race ban.
The 29-year-old German was warned about his future conduct by the FIA only last October after he told veteran race director Charlie Whiting to “fuck off” during a number of heated radio transmissions.
Asked if Vettel’s actions proved to Hamilton that his rival was showing signs of mental weakness, the Englishman replied: “That’s been kind of obvious for some time.
“You look at last year and some of the things he’s come and said on the radio. We know how he can be. We’ve put a lot of pressure on Ferrari. He’s under pressure and that’s not a bad thing. That shows that often pressure can get to even some of the best of us.”
Vettel, 14 points ahead of Hamilton in the title race, claimed he will seek out his rival to clear the air before the next round of the championship. But he was insistent that he had nothing to apologise for. “I’m willing to sort it out with him, but I don’t think there’s much to sort out,” Vettel, a 45-time race winner, said. “I’ll talk with him. Maybe I’m not clever enough but I’m not complicated.”
The FIA, motor sport’s governing body, is under pressure to sanction four-time champion Vettel. Liberty Media, Formula One’s new American owners, moved to distance themselves from the explosive incident, with a Formula One spokesperson saying: “The FIA is the regulatory body and their stewards have made their decision. It is not for Formula One to comment on this matter.”
Former world champion Jackie Stewart believes Hamilton must take some of the blame for an on-track bust-up.
“Vettel’s reputation is certainly tarnished,” Stewart said, “But at the same time what created the incident is what occurred when Lewis slowed down so quickly in a very unlikely place.”