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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Vettel faces F1 scrutiny in Austria as he tries to move on from Baku

The Ferrari driver may have escaped further sanction after being penalised for dangerous driving during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but he still faces a difficult time ahead of the ninth round of the Formula One season on Sunday.

Sebastian Vettel will face the media for the first time since Azerbaijan on Thursday. David Davies / PA Wire
Sebastian Vettel will face the media for the first time since Azerbaijan on Thursday. David Davies / PA Wire

As the German driver, who raced for Ferrari, entered the press conference at the Spielberg track, he knew he was about to face a hard time about his conduct on the race track.

No, this is not a preview of the treatment that Sebastian Vettel can expect on Thursday at the Austrian Grand Prix’s media day when he makes his first public appearance since it was confirmed he faced no further punishment from the FIA, motorsport’s ruling body, for his conduct in Azerbaijan last month when he was penalised for dangerous driving after making contact with Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes-GP car behind the safety car.

Rather 15 years ago, Vettel’s idol as a youngster Michael Schumacher was underfire after his Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello had moved over after the final corner to gift a race win to the German, leading to whistles of derision from the fans in the grandstand and consequently a rule being brought into force for more than eight years that team orders were banned.

Schumacher had thick skin, that was one of his greatest assets, and helped him to his seven world titles as his willingness to do whatever it took on track to prevail was matched by his outright speed.

Vettel has demonstrated that mentality himself in the past, most notably in blocking out the negative reaction after a public spat with then Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber in 2013 in Malaysia when he ignored his own team’s orders for Webber to win as he triumphed himself.

The four-time world champion can expect a hard time from the members of the international press on Thursday, who will again challenge just what was going through his mind when, after striking the back of Hamilton’s car during a full-track caution period, he pulled alongside his championship rival and banged wheels with him.

There has been considerable consternation on social media over the fact Vettel escaped further sanction after the race stewards had decided the incident was worthy of only a 10-second stop-go penalty.

There are precedents for the FIA revisiting incidents already ruled on by stewards. Namely Schumacher, after being found to have deliberately driven into Jacques Villeneuve in the final race of the 1997 season by a FIA panel, when he had faced no punishment at the time, and was disqualified from the final standings.

Given Schumacher was only interested in winning the title, and that had been the objective in trying to eliminate Villeneuve, it was hardly a punishment at all.

In context, Vettel was extraordinarily fortunate not to be disqualified from the race.

Having been given a warning about his conduct after shouting abusive language at race director Charlie Whiting in the closing laps of the Mexican Grand Prix last October due to his anger at Max Verstappen not being penalised for missing a corner, some eight months later he has again allowed his anger to boil over.

The FIA had a chance this week to show, with a stronger punishment on Vettel, that losing your temper behind the steering wheel and using your car as a device to intimidate another driver is unacceptable.

Instead it is apparently worth no more than a 10-second stop-go penalty, and a dangerous precedent has been set and in many ways it is the FIA should face more scrutiny than Vettel in the coming weeks.

The case is closed and Vettel will move on, once he has undoubtedly spent a lot of time explaining himself on Thursday.

Maybe, one of the reasons that the punishment seems so light is that the German actually extended his lead in the championship on a day when he was lucky to get any points at all.

But, that element is not completely his and the FIA’s fault. If Hamilton’s headrest had not come loose, and requited an extra pit stop, he would have won, rather than finishing fifth, one place behind Vettel, and he would lead the standings by three points rather than trailing by 14.

The clash has certainly added needle to what was already a good title duel between the pair, and hopefully the talking can return to the track this weekend, once Vettel’s public grilling is completed today.

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