While Lewis Hamilton kept his Formula One world championship hopes alive with an untroubled win from the front at the Mexican Grand Prix, the furore surrounding Sebastian Vettel’s behaviour behind him in the race has lasted long past the chequered flag.
The Ferrari driver found himself at odds with Red Bull, the race director, Charlie Whiting, and, ultimately, the stewards. His fraught radio messages full of expletives are being interpreted as frustration with the poor performance of his team this season. Vettel has been increasingly vocal over the team radio with a growing lack of tolerance for a variety of situations as the season has gone on.
A weekend in which he was promoted to, and then demoted from, the podium will not have done anything for his equilibrium and the four-times world champion may face further sanction.
Vettel had attempted to pass Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at turn one but the Dutch driver held the position by cutting the corner. He did not give the place back and Vettel, believing Whiting had not instructed Verstappen to do so, said: “You know what – here is a message for Charlie: ‘Fuck off. Honestly. Fuck off.’”
By this point Verstappen had also attracted the ire of Mercedes’ Niki Lauda, after hitting Nico Rosberg. “His talent is unbelievable but then he smashes it all with these stupid actions,” said Lauda. “I don’t know where this arrogance comes from. The fury of the other drivers just gets bigger and bigger.”
Verstappen had, in fact, been told to cede the place by his team but then to hold while they queried the decision. However, after the finish he was given a penalty demoting him to fifth and Vettel was promoted to third. The German held this position long enough to attend the podium ceremony before he in turn took a penalty for changing direction under braking in front of the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo; Ricciardo moved up to third and Vettel down to fifth. Verstappen moved up to fourth.
Losing the podium to the Australian will not have gone down well. When the pair made contact as Ricciardo attempted to pass Vettel the latter had exclaimed: “Honestly I’m going to hit someone.”
The Ferrari team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, was unimpressed with the penalty. “We deserved 100% the podium,” he said. “The drivers did a great job. Unfortunately the result has been taken away by bureaucracy and by a decision which I consider excessive and unfair in some ways.” However, the rules on moving under braking were clarified explicitly before the last race and Vettel was one of the drivers who had pushed for it.
But further punishment may be imposed on Vettel. Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, believes the FIA may take action over his outburst “In the heat of the moment there is always going to be emotion from the driver,” he said. “I am sure if football players had microphones on, then the language would be an awful lot bluer than what is going on out on the track. In any sport what you cannot do is give abuse to the referee essentially. So I would be surprised if that went unreprimanded.” The FIA could impose a fine or even a race ban at Brazil.
Horner, who was close to Vettel during the years he won four titles with Red Bull, believed the outbursts were evidence of his exasperation that in his second year at Ferrari they are further than ever from challenging Mercedes, and third to Red Bull. “It is not an attribute that he had when he drove for us,” he said.“Obviously his frustration is vocalising, and everyone can hear that.” Ricciardo, who drove alongside Vettel in 2014 at Red Bull, concurred. “I definitely sense he is being a bit more frustrated. He has shown in the past that he can be emotional but this year it seems a little more,’ he said. “He is obviously frustrated with how the season has gone.”
Hamilton’s win means he now trails Rosberg by 19 points – enough for the German to take the title with a victory at the next round in Brazil, or should Hamilton win in São Paulo and the final round at Abu Dhabi, with second- and third-place finishes. The British driver acknowledged the odds were stacked against him but said he was experienced enough to deal with relinquishing the title to his team-mate, Nico Rosberg.
“I have experienced losing [the title] before. I lost in 2007 and I know it won’t be as painful as then,” Hamilton said. “I am in a scenario now where there is more of a chance I will lose it than win it. It is hard to swallow but it is what it is. Life will move on. I will move on. I still have three titles.”
He has been critical of the mechanical problems he has suffered this year but remained confident for the final races of the season. “I’ve had 30 wins with this team, it shows it is the best team. Week in and week out they continue to prove it was the right decision coming here and the best decision of my life and career,” the 31-year-old said. “I am focused on trying to win these races and performing at my best. That is what I have got to do. I have never won in Brazil, so I go in with the same mentality as I had this weekend.”
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