SREELATA S.YELLAMRAZU | 15 JUNE, 2019
Furious Ferrari and Vettel Vexed See Red in Montreal
‘This is not the sport I fell in love with’
The prancing horse is hopping mad. Although sword fighting duels are a thing of the past, the Canadian Grand Prix was poised for a modern day version of a lip smacking battle between two of the contemporary greats of racing. That was until an incomprehensibly harsh penalty over a defiant driving manoeuvre cost Sebastian Vettel the opportunity to beat Lewis Hamilton to the finish line.
The end of the Canadian Grand Prix turned into a farce, as the final ten laps of the race were more animated on the radio than the race itself. Ferrari’s Vettel was beside himself as he ranted almost relentlessly over the radio, “I had nowhere to go… Seriously I had nowhere to go… I didn’t see him… Where the hell am I supposed to go?”
Just over three seconds in the lead, Vettel was set to lose the top place on the podium after being handed a five-second penalty in the late stages of the race for an error in the 48th lap.
Race stewards who reviewed the incident deemed Vettel’s attempt to get back into the race – going off track and onto the grass, to then oversteer to get back on track – as an “unsafe reentry” that forced Hamilton to “take evasive action to avoid collision.”
It could be argued that of the three pivotal moments in the race – one of them being the German’s cunning pit stop in the 27th lap that caught the Briton and his team off guard – the race stewards had not only stolen Vettel’s race as the Scuderia Ferrari driver claimed, but also robbed millions of Formula 1 racing fans of a thrilling final ten laps to the chequered flag.
With the result of a race a foregone conclusion thereafter, only speculation remained about whether, had it not been for the stewards’ decision, Hamilton would have been tempted to take his car to the limit in pursuit of the finish line.
Analysts went into overdrive as irate fans expressed their disgust at the decision, which denied Ferrari their first top podium finish and Sebastian Vettel his first win of the season that has thus far been a silver arrow show.
The stewards’ unanimous decision was said to have been influenced from several angles, not accessible to the viewing public. To them, the head position of Vettel in the car and his handling of the steering wheel appeared to suggest that Vettel had oversteered and then corrected, before letting his car drift enough to push Hamilton into a corner, forcing him to take action.
However, like Jenson Button, the former Briton world champion, there were others who were of the view that Vettel had done a great job – after his initial blunder which caused him to go off track in the first place – in not hitting the wall and instead oversteering to get the car back on track.
While it’s possible that Vettel could have anticipated Hamilton’s position behind him, there was no way he would deliberately risk a collision with the Mercedes driver at that stage of the race. In Button’s own words, “It looks like he is turning to the right of the circuit but he is not. He’s just correcting oversteer – you turn in to oversteer. I think Seb realised Lewis might be there and that’s when you see he doesn’t move out any further or closer to the wall.”
Fellow broadcaster and former Formula 1 racing driver Martin Brundle, who desperately chased down Vettel for words after the race, said the stewards’ decision felt like being kicked in the stomach.
Button agreed. “It’s disappointing when there’s a proper fight on the track between two greats, two multiple world champions, and then the stewards are able to come in and take that away from us.”
Vettel too suggested that the race was robbed by a decision that could at best be called marginal with many complexities to it. The race stewards could well have left it alone for the two drivers to figure it out on the track.
“This is not the sport I fell in love with,” Vettel told reporters after the fact.
“I am a purist. I love going back and looking at the old times, the old cars, the old drivers. It is an honour when you have the chance to meet them and speak to them. They are heroes. I just wish I could do what I do in their time, rather than today.
“It is not just about this decision, but other decisions, too. We have an official language and it is wrong. We should be able to say what we think, but we are not. I disagree with where the sport is now. I rejoined the track, Lewis had to react, but for me that is racing,” said Vettel.
Mark Webber, former Australia Formula 1 racing driver, seemed to concur with Vettel on his social media page. “Any of the stewards ever raced at the front in F1? Didn't watch the race.. have now seen the ‘incident’. Mental penalty.”
The irony of the situation was not lost on fans either, as Vettel asked them not to boo Hamilton. While the spectators may have taken a crude and obvious approach to expressing their disappointment, television spectators were privy to the radio conversation that went down between Hamilton and his team immediately after Vettel got back on track.
It was the Mercedes driver initiated a conversation between his team and the race stewards by stating, “He just came on the track so dangerously.” His team reacted with, “Yeah, copy, Lewis. We’re on it.”
Meanwhile, Vettel led the race from start to finish, animated and later furious. To his team’s imploring him to focus, Vettel responded, “I am focused,” but added that the race stewards had stolen the race away from Ferrari.
While some labelled his post-race antics immature and childish, the majority of the racing fraternity seemed to justify what Vettel had said about the state of affairs as far as Formula 1 racing was concerned.
Vettel refused to park his car on parc ferme and then proceeded to the Ferrari hospitality instead of the podium. When he did return eventually to take his place as decided by the stewards, he swapped the signposts by placing the No.2 card in front of Hamilton’s car and No.1 in the vacant spot where his car should have been.
Hamilton’s attempts meanwhile to pull a disgruntled Vettel on to the top spot at the podium did not convince the German, nor the many Ferrari fans who were just as vocal about their opinion of the race. Neither did his attempt to stay the course without implicating himself, when he was asked by Martin Brundle what he thought of the decision.
“That’s Vettel’s opinion,” Hamilton stated from the sidelines of the podium. “Ultimately the rules say when you go off, you have to come back in a safe manner. I was alongside and I had to back off to avoid a collision and I guess that’s why they made the decision.”
While Hamilton took full credit for forcing the error of Vettel in the first place, he left out the little detail that even from behind he was able to pull off a coup.
Ferrari have stated they will indeed appeal the stewards’ decision. According to Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto, “At the moment, we, as a team, are naturally disappointed, but most of all our thoughts are with Sebastian and the spectators.”
Binotto added, “As for Seb, I don’t think he could have done things differently, which is why we have decided to appeal the stewards’ decision. It’s a good sign for a driver. He’s very hungry. We are all hungry here and that is certainly what will help us through the coming weeks and months and races.”
The rest of the racing fraternity, however, did not agree with the Briton’s record-equalling seventh win at the Canadian Grand Prix. It’s another Ferrari driver who is seven-time world champion, Michael Schumacher.
Leave it to former world champion Nigel Mansell to explain the angst of racing fans the world over. Here is what an irate Mansell posted on his social media page:
“That’s ridiculous 5 second penalty, Seb did well not to hit the wall. NO GRIP ON GRASS! No room on track there. Great driving from Lewis.
“What’s Seb supposed to do? Crazy, the car stepped out. At that point he (Vettel) was a passenger.
“Very very embarrassing. No joy in watching this race, two champions driving brilliantly, will end in a false result.”
Vettel would agree. So would Formula 1 racing fans. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Mercedes extend their lead over the team from Maranello.