Vettel cast as the villain with a more mature Hamilton delivering calm reply

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Say hello to the bad guy: Sebastian Vettel. Picture: Getty Images.

Much has been made about the rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel but seven races in – bar one passing manoeuvre in Barcelona – the wheel-to-wheel racing had not properly manifested itself.

In the build-up to yesterday, three-time grand prix winner Johnny Herbert had predicted that Azerbaijan would be the weekend where the season sparked into life between the two title protagonists.

And so it did in dramatic fashion. Where previously there had been at topsy-turvy championship, Hamilton shining one weekend, Vettel the next, finally the pair came head to head albeit in bizarre circumstances.

There can be no question that Vettel was entirely at fault for driving into the back of Hamilton with the safety car deployed on the track. And in a moment of petulance, he came alongside Hamilton and barged into him, gesticulating widely in the process.

In that solitary flash point, the script of the 2017 season was well and truly ripped up.

Where there had been a mutual respect and admiration between the two drivers at the preceding seven grands prix, it has evaporated in an instant.

For Vettel, it was not a move becoming of a four-time world champion, and such an expression of frustration perhaps highlights why the German is not more widely loved by the world’s wider Formula One audience.

And he was rightly punished but not enough, a decision by the race stewards to give him a 10-second drive-through penalty mocked by the fact that Vettel finished fourth in Baku to Hamilton’s fifth, both unfair and also not a reflection of how the weekend or the race itself had played out.

Social media was awash with different opinions, many suggesting Vettel deserved to be disqualified and, while that might have been Draconian, was it really so wide of the mark for such a dangerous move?

To Hamilton’s credit, he tried not to be drawn into the debate with the cameras rolling in front of him afterwards.

However, he momentarily let his guard down when he said, “It’s just not driver conduct. It’s dangerous driving and only get a 10-second penalty for that kind of thing? I don’t need to say anything else.”

In contrast, Vettel was down the team radio twice asking – despite knowing full well – what dangerous driving he had performed.

It was telling that Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene came over the airwaves to effectively tell his driver to shut up.

Even after it all, Vettel – for whom admitting a mistake has never been his strongest suit – was still mystified about all the fuss.

He shifted the blame to his title rival, claiming Hamilton had previous from a similar incident in China in the past.

Arrivabene and others will not be happy with Vettel’s petulance. As it turned out, it cost him the race, which may prove an even greater error as the season progresses.

So what does it mean for the world championship?

The gloves are off and Vettel’s statement means Hamilton will be fired up for the subsequent race and willing to get his elbows out to race dirty if needs be.

But psychologically it is also advantage Hamilton as it all played out. The Hamilton of old would have fired out an immediate outburst at his rival, instead he was measured and tight-lipped while Vettel seemed to be breathing fire out of his nose as he left the Baku paddock.

The point was made by former world champion Damon Hill that had Vettel done something similar on public roads, he would have been arrested.

Everyone knows that F1 is far from the real world but the point resonated, and Vettel will continue to get flak from now until the subsequent race and beyond.

In just a few seconds of behaviour becoming of a school playground, the championship has been delightfully flipped on its head, the lightning strike moment the 2017 season had been calling for.

For now, Vettel is the villain of the peace, Hamilton holier than thou but it is barely the first chapter. The Austrian Grand Prix in two weekends time cannot come soon enough.

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Azerbaijan Grand Prix round-up: Daniel Ricciardo wins as Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton clash during chaotic race

Sport360 staff 25/06/2017

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo claimed victory in an action-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix that saw title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel come together behind a safety car on Sunday.

The race was temporarily stopped after 22 laps because of debris littered across the Baku city circuit.

Valtteri Bottas snatched second place from Williams' Lance Stroll in the final straight, as Vettel finished fourth ahead of Hamilton to extend his championship lead to 14 points.

Ferrari star Vettel was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty for "dangerous driving" after he deliberately drove into Hamilton's Mercedes while both were following the safety car. Vettel claimed Hamilton had braked in front of him and he responded by driving into the back of his rival before then bumping the Briton from the side. "I think it's just not driver conduct. It's dangerous driving and to get a 10-second penalty for that... I don't need to say anything else," Hamilton told Sky Sports. Vettel pleaded innocent. "Nothing happened, did it? He brake checked me as well, so what do you expect?," the German told Sky. "I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose but for sure it was not the right move. If I'm struggling, people at the back struggling even more, so I don't think it was necessary. "I got damage, he risked damage. He's done something similar in China at the restart a couple of years ago so it's not the way to do it, I think. "I passed him because he pitted. After the incident, we were side by side, I raised my hand and told him, well I didn't say anything, but showed him that I wasn't happy with that." Esteban Ocon of Force India was sixth ahead of Kevin Magnussen of Haas, Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso, who also survived a first-lap collision, two-time champion Fernando Alonso, who scored McLaren's first points of the year in ninth, and Pascal Wehrlein of Sauber.

DRIVER OF THE DAY

Lance Stroll put in an inspiring performance to become the youngest podium sitter in a rookie F1 season. The 18-year-old also became the first Canadian to finish on the podium since Jacques Villeneuve at the German Grand Prix in 2001. Starting from P8, the Canadian profited from Sebastian Vettel’s 10-second stop-go penalty and Lewis Hamilton’s pitting to change a loose head rest to move into a podium position on lap 32. With second place looking certain, Valtteri Bottas overtook him five metres from the line to push him back into third place.

FASTEST LAP

Sebastian Vettel may have fallen short after being given a 10-second penalty for his collision with Lewis Hamilton, however his lap of of 1:43.441 on 47 proved to be the fastest of the day. Lewis Hamilton’s 1:43.469 on lap 46 was the second-fastest, with Valtteri Bottas’ 1:43.925 on 51 third fastest as he pushed for second place. Sebastian Vettel. Sebastian Vettel.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

After a positive start, Max Verstappen was forced to retire for a fourth time this season due to a mechanical issue. Starting from P5, it was disappointing to see the Red Bull driver withdraw on lap 12 and looking like he could potentially battle for a podium place.

ONE TO WATCH

Although he’ll be disappointed not to have finished in a better position, it was nonetheless another fantastic performance from Esteban Ocon as he claimed sixth place. It’s now the Force India driver’s seventh top 10-finish in eight races. The Frenchman was brilliant, overtaking the vastly experienced Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen early on to confirm his place in the points. Esteban Ocon. Esteban Ocon.

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Lewis Hamilton leaves Niki Lauda stunned after outstanding pole lap at Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes team boss Niki Lauda said he had never seen anything like it after watching Lewis Hamilton scorch to pole position in the final seconds of Saturday’s qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The three-time champion Austrian, who is Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, also praised the team for their work in turning around a car that had struggled on Friday, when Hamilton was 10th, into the fastest just 24 hours later.

“The team really did a fantastic job to set the car up in the right way and Lewis with his lap here — I have never seen anything like it,” said the 68-year-old Austrian.

“And it was not plain sailing at all, but I tell you, a lot of thinking, digging back to the factory, forward and whatsoever and, in the end, the improvements they did — the engineers — and all the mechanics did to the car today is outstanding.

“And then what Lewis did today! Nobody else, I think, can do that.”

Hamilton’s 66th pole position lifted the 32-year-old into outright second place in the record books behind only seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher, on 68.

“He’s fantastic,” said Lauda. “Especially I am now thinking about his lap time here. The difference he makes to everybody is only Lewis. So – fantastic.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas had been quickest in the final Q3 session until Hamilton’s late intervention.

“I think Lewis had a really good lap and I didn’t,” said Bottas.

“I wasn’t quite comfortable with the tyre temperatures. It was the first time we tried to go for a time in the first lap of the tyres and I couldn’t get them to work as well as Lewis.

“I didn’t have enough grip. The run before was good and, before the red flag, everything was going ok.

“In the end, I’m disappointed to lose the pole position, as that was definitively the target for me.”

“But I’m really proud,” added the 27-year-old Finnish driver. “We’ve made quite big changes through the practice sessions, we were quite lost, to be honest, in the beginning and we managed to turn it around.

“So for that I’m really, pleased. For tomorrow we, as a team, definitively have a great starting position and we’re going to have a good fight and try to get another one-two.”

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