Fi­nally, the gloves are off in Vet­tel-Hamil­ton bat­tle

Sun­day’s Baku in­ci­dent is great for F1, says Bernie Ec­cle­stone

The Star Early Edition - - MOTORING -

ILOVE the smell of na­palm in the morn­ing, as Bill Kil­gore fa­mously says in Apoca­lypse Now. It was a sim­i­lar, strange whiff that For­mula One awoke to this week af­ter Sebastian Vet­tel threw a match on his ri­valry with Lewis Hamil­ton.

Much as there was gen­uine out­rage at the Ger­man’s be­hav­iour in bash­ing Hamil­ton’s Mercedes in a fit of anger dur­ing the Azer­bai­jan Grand Prix, there was also guilty rel­ish in see­ing the re­turn to the kind of mano a mano con­test that has pro­vided grand prix rac­ing with its most spell­bind­ing nar­ra­tives.

Up un­til Sun­day’s con­fla­gra­tion, Hamil­ton ver­sus Vet­tel had been nicey-nicey, two mul­ti­ple cham­pi­ons coo­ing about the other, hon­oured to be pit­ted to­gether at the head of the pack for the first time.

But sud­denly we are look­ing at a hos­til­ity with echoes of Ayr­ton Senna-Alain Prost, Hamil­ton- Fer­nando Alonso, Nel­son Pi­quet-Nigel Mansell - the list is long.

“What hap­pened in Baku is good all round,” said Bernie Ec­cle­stone, For­mula One’s chair­man emer­i­tus, who has al­ways un­der­stood the value of con­tro­versy.

Last year’s dy­namic be­tween Hamil­ton and Nico Ros­berg mostly sim­mered be­hind the scenes. Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team prin­ci­pal, re­cently lifted the lid on the an­tipa­thy by call­ing Ros­berg the ‘vi­cious one’.

Noth­ing has quite matched the tox­i­c­ity of Senna and Prost in 1988 and 1989. “He has no value as a man,” said Senna of Prost. “Ayr­ton’s prob­lem is that he thinks God drives with him,” re­torted the French­man.

Vet­tel has so far main­tained he did noth­ing wrong in Baku. Not ev­ery­one agrees Vet­tel was in the wrong on lap 19, when Hamil­ton, the race leader, drove slowly be­hind the safety car. Vet­tel ran into the back of him. An­gered, wav­ing his hands, Vet­tel then steered into the left side of Hamil­ton’s car.

Ec­cle­stone, who watched the in­ci­dent live in Baku, said: “I am cer­tain Lewis slowed down to try to dam­age Sebastian’s front wing. Sebastian was un­der­stand­ably frus­trated and he just gave Lewis a lit­tle mes­sage.”

Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chair­man, takes the op­po­site view. He knows more about heated ri­val­ries than most. His one with James Hunt was im­mor­talised in the film Rush.

“It is sim­ple,” said Lauda. “Lewis did not brake. We looked at the data and he did not. He slowed, as he is al­lowed to do and Vet­tel was not alert to what was hap­pen­ing.”

What depths will the an­i­mos­ity reach? Will it again go be­yond ver­bal joust­ing and games­man­ship such as when Pi­quet called Mansell an ‘un­e­d­u­cated block­head’ and hid the garage loo roll in Mexico in 1986 when his Wil­liams team-mate had a stom­ach bug - and flare up at a higher speed than the vir­tual walk­ing-pace brush on Sun­day?

Wolff be­lieves the rules of en­gage­ment have been changed rad­i­cally. “What hap­pened does not help their re­la­tion­ship,” he said. “The gloves are off.”

- Daily Mail

Vet­tel ges­tic­u­lates at Hamil­ton dur­ing the road rage in­ci­dent which ended their friendly bon­homie.

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