The race is on as For­mula One gets an­gry

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

LON­DON: The gloves are off and the fight is on be­tween For­mula One ti­tle ri­vals Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Lewis Hamil­ton.

Sun­day’s ex­plo­sive Azer­bai­jan GP more than made up for last year’s dull race in Baku, burst­ing the bud­ding ‘bro­mance’ and re­plac­ing it with some­thing much more heavy­weight.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said as much af­ter a crazy after­noon.

“No­body wanted to see the schmooz­ing any­way, so now the gloves are off,” the Aus­trian told Sky Sports af­ter Hamil­ton had dubbed the Fer­rari driver a “dis­grace” and sug­gested they sort things out “face-to­face”.

“The sport needs the ri­valry. What we have seen (on Sun­day) is the in­gre­di­ent of a great cham­pi­onship,” said Wolff.

Baku, with the cham­pi­onship favourites col­lid­ing and a podium of driv­ers who could scarcely be­lieve their luck, pro­vided enough drama to keep the cham­pi­onship bub­bling away for months to come.

Last month, Hamil­ton had spo­ken about how en­joy­able it was to be bat­tling a ri­val who was not a team­mate – his main op­po­nent for the past three sea­sons and the ad­mi­ra­tion he felt for Vet­tel’s speed and con­sis­tency.

The Bri­ton had warned then, how­ever, that it might not last and on Sun­day he was proven right.

The bat­tle lines were drawn the mo­ment Vet­tel went into the back of Hamil­ton’s Mercedes dur­ing the sec­ond of three safety car pe­ri­ods, the Ger­man shak­ing his fists and pulling along­side to bang wheels in a ges­ture that looked a lot like ‘road rage’.

The frus­trated and an­gry man of 2016, who raged at ri­vals and had to apol­o­gise to race di­rec­tor Char­lie Whit­ing in Mex­ico last Novem­ber af­ter an ex­ple­tive-laden ra­dio rant, was back.

The stew­ards were clear in ap­por­tion­ing blame, im­pos­ing a 10 sec­ond stop-and-go penalty on the Ger­man.

The cham­pi­onship leader, now 14 points clear of Hamil­ton af­ter fin­ish­ing fourth to the Bri­ton’s fifth, was also given three penalty points, which could prove sig­nif­i­cant.

They bring Vet­tel’s tally in the last 12 months to nine and means another such sanc­tion in Aus­tria in two weeks’ time would trig­ger an au­to­matic race ban for the fol­low­ing round at Sil­ver­stone.

There were some who felt such a penalty should have been ap­plied al­ready.

“De­lib­er­ately driv­ing into another driver and get­ting away pretty much scot-free as he still came fourth, I think that’s a dis­grace. I think he dis­graced him­self (on Sun­day),” said triple cham­pion Hamil­ton.

“Imag­ine all the young kids that are watch­ing F1 and see that kind of be­hav­iour from a four-time world cham­pion. I think that says it all.”

Vet­tel’s as­ser­tion that Hamil­ton had ‘brake-tested’ him, by slow­ing so sud­denly that the Fer­rari ran into the back of the Mercedes, was also un­der­mined by the ev­i­dence.

The gov­ern­ing FIA con­firmed that Hamil­ton’s car data showed he “main­tained a con­sis­tent speed and be­haved in the same man­ner on that oc­ca­sion as in all the other restarts dur­ing the race”.

Mercedes non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Niki Lauda said he had never seen any­thing like it. “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,” he said. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: EPA

WHO WILL PULL OUT IN FRONT: The cor­dial re­la­tion­ship be­tween Lewis Hamil­ton of Mercedes, top, and Fer­rari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel might be over af­ter this past week­end’s Grand Prix of Azer­bai­jan.

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