Friday 15 December 2017

Lewis Hamilton brands Sebastian Vettel a disgrace - 'If he wants to prove he's a man we should do it out of the car'

Sebastian Vettel rams Lewis Hamilton's car in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel rams Lewis Hamilton's car in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Phil Duncan

Lewis Hamilton has branded Sebastian Vettel a “disgrace” after the Ferrari driver was deemed to have deliberately crashed into his title rival during a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

This year’s Formula One championship burst into life sensationally here following four safety-car periods, one red flag and the spectacular demise of the sport’s so-called friendly rivalry in Baku.

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo won the race, while Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, recovered from last to finish second as Lance Stroll, the 18-year-old rookie, completed the most unlikely of podiums. Vettel finished fourth, while Hamilton crossed the line just 0.2 seconds behind him.

But despite all the drama, it was four-time champion Vettel who was under pressure to issue an apology to Hamilton after his reckless actions were alleged to have brought the sport into disrepute.

The flashpoint arrived on lap 19, when Vettel rammed into the back of Hamilton as the safety car was deployed for a second time. Then, the 29-year-old German, believing Hamilton had deliberately ‘brake-tested’ him by slowing suddenly, pulled alongside the Mercedes before driving into the side of Hamilton’s car.

Niki Lauda, the non-executive chairman at Mercedes and a three-time world champion, described Vettel’s response as “crazy”, before reaching agreement that the moment of madness had tainted the German’s reputation.

For his part, Vettel denied any wrongdoing and claimed that his 10-second stop-and-go penalty, and the three points he will serve on his licence, were unduly harsh.

But it was not a view shared by those in the paddock, with Hamilton, now even further adrift of Vettel in the title race, the first to hit out.

“For him to pretty much get away with driving into another driver is a disgrace,” Hamilton 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 misjudgment 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.”

Lauda was equally disparaging. Asked if the incident tainted Vettel’s reputation, the Austrian said: “Sure. He freaked out in himself.

“When you hit somebody up the a--- it is your fault. No question. But 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 the fist.

“If I was Lewis, I would speak to Sebastian and ask him what is wrong. Sebastian said he didn’t do anything wrong. This is his normal reaction. He is still somewhere else in his brain. After three days, hopefully he realises.”

On the evidence of Vettel’s mood, however, the German showed little signs of backing down. While he vowed to speak to Hamilton, an apology, it seemed, was not on the cards.

“We had a little contact, but I drove alongside him, mostly to raise my hand. I did not give him the finger. I just wanted to tell him, because I can’t literally talk to him, that what he did was not right.

“I don’t agree with the penalty I got. If you penalise me, then you should penalise both of us because that was not the way to do it.”

Vettel, who has won 45 grands prix during an illustrious career, and is among only a handful of drivers to have won more than three titles, insisted that his reputation had not been affected.

“We are grown-ups, and we are expected to race, use our elbows, and that is what people want.”

Hamilton, who now trails Vettel by 14 points in the championship, led the opening phase of a frenetic race and probably would have won, only for his headrest, which sits on top of the Mercedes cockpit, to come loose.

Hamilton tried desperately to repair the flapping piece of silver bodywork by holding it down with his right hand while using his left to grasp the steering wheel as he reached speeds in excess of 220mph.

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