The Montreal crowd’s cheers for an aggrieved Sebastian Vettel were laced with sympathy after he was stripped of a first Grand Prix win in 15 attempts despite a near-perfect drive.
And those soon morphed into raucous roars of approval at his theatrical gesture on the post-race grid.
A Formula One season starved of gripping narrative was injected with a heavy dose of drama when Vettel marched over to the No2 signboard and placed it in front of Lewis Hamilton‘s Mercedes before plonking the No1 board ahead of his empty space.
It was an incredible visual and greeted as if he were an inspirational rebel, fuelled by righteous indignation, fighting a losing yet glorious battle against an appalling injustice.
Of course, it could also be construed as petulant and thoroughly unprofessional. But that’s the unpopular opinion.
Vettel followed a stunning lap in qualifying to claim pole with a flawless start to the Canadian GP on Sunday, quickly pulling away from second-placed Hamilton early on. However, with little over 20 laps to go, the German’s lead was cut pretty fine as was the grass when he ran wide on Turn 3 before rejoining the track in Hamilton’s path who was forced to brake to avoid collision.
After much deliberation, the FIA stewards slapped a five-second penalty on Vettel with 13 laps to go and Hamilton hot on his heels. The Ferrari driver crossed the chequered flag first but only marginally so and was forced to settle for second place on the podium.
Mercedes have now won each of the seven races so far including six one-twos while Hamilton is already 62 points clear of Vettel in the drivers’ championship.
The penalty was indeed a harsh call but made to seem excessive owing to the fact that it cost Vettel his first race win since Belgium last year. A five-second penalty for a violation like that is technically the most lenient reprimand though.
Vettel would have you believe that he’s been denied victory through no fault of his own but that isn’t entirely accurate. While he certainly deserves a portion of sympathy, the bottom line is he made a mistake, a big one and just the latest in a long list of similar errors.
On Lap 48, both front-runners were struggling on the hard tyres. Hamilton noticeably locked up his front wheels on a few occasions but remarkably kept the pressure on Vettel, riding the corners hard and negating the Ferrari‘s superior straight-line speed.
With the Briton gaining on him, Vettel panicked. He braked late in Turn 3, didn’t have enough grip and found himself mowing the lawn. It was a basic mistake from the four-time world champion and the kind that he’s become familiar with in recent years.
He punched the throttle too early in Bahrain this year with Hamilton in pursuit and spun out, a repeat of his errors in Japan and the US last year. He braked late in slippery German conditions last season and crashed, handing his rival the title advantage in a season which also featured glaring errors in France and Germany.
As for this violation – one that Ferrari are challenging – there’s no denying that Vettel has a strong argument, one that highlights the myriad of things wrong with modern day F1 racing, but there’s a suspicion he’s more frustrated with himself for squandering a golden opportunity, or at least he should be.
With the pace Ferrari showed over practice and qualifying, Montreal should’ve made for a revival of this season’s competition. But when Vettel veered off track, he took any hope of Ferrari reeling Mercedes in with him.
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