Sebastian Vettel’s reputation has been tarnished after he deliberately swerved into Lewis Hamilton during Sunday’s incident-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Mercedes chief Niki Lauda has claimed.
Four-time champion Vettel was punished by the stewards for his moment of madness during a chaotic race here in Baku.
Daniel Ricciardo claimed both his, and Red Bull’s, first victory of the new season, but the spotlight was firmly on Vettel last night after he banged wheels with his title rival.
Vettel adjudged Hamilton to have brake-tested him during the second of three Safety Car periods in a frenetic race on the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital city.
After he rammed Hamilton from behind at Turn 16, the German then pulled alongside his British foe before gesticulating with both hands and slamming into Hamilton’s car.
Vettel, who finished fourth and extended his lead over Hamilton in the championship race after the latter was forced into an unscheduled pit stop following a problem with his headrest, protested his innocence.
But the stewards took Hamilton’s side, hitting Vettel with a stop-and-go penalty and latterly three points on his licence.
Three-time world champion Lauda, the non-executive chairman at Mercedes, was asked whether Vettel’s reputation had been tainted following the dramatic incident on lap 19.
“Sure,” a definitive Lauda replied. “He freaked out in himself. “When you hit somebody up the a*** it is your fault. No question. But then to drive next to him and hit him on purpose, I have never seen anything like this.
“To do that I don’t understand. Vettel is a decent guy normally. This I don’t understand. He is crazy. Lewis will hit him one day. Not with the car but with his fist.”
Indeed Hamilton, now 14 points adrift of his championship rival after he crossed the line only fifth, was furious with Vettel’s actions branding the German a “disgrace”, while also suggesting he take on his rival “out of the car, face-to-face”.
“For him to pretty much get away with driving into another driver is a disgrace,” Hamilton, 32, said. “I think he disgraced himself today.
“If he wants to prove that he is a man we should do it out of the car, face-to-face. It is a misjudgement from him and some people don’t like to own up to their own mistakes.
“The stewards looked at my data and the reason I didn’t get a penalty is because I clearly did not brake test him. It could not be clearer. It is as clear as blue skies.
“Ultimately what happened was disrespectful. There are kids watching us on TV. You think a multi-time world champion would behave better than that. I really hope that kids don’t see that and think that is the right way. That is not how you drive.”
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