All eyes on Vettel ahead of Austrian GP
Ferrari driver’s off the hook for Baku bustup, but his challenge may have lost sting
FORMULA One points leader Sebastian Vettel may have escaped further penalty after his on-track bust-up with Lewis Hamilton two weeks ago in Baku, but the Ferrari driver’s fit of road rage could have a lasting effect on this year’s championship.
Vettel, who purposely bashed into the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes while behind the safety car in Azerbaijan, admitted full responsibility for the incident and apologised to a panel of FIA officials this week. The four-time world champion also pledged to make a public apology, and to dedicate some personal time to advocating junior racing categories over the next year. But while the sport’s governing body has agreed to take no further action, it said a repeat offence would be met with punishment.
Unfortunately this means Sebastian, who leads Lewis by 14 points at the top of the log, might be forced to pull some punches over the season’s 12 remaining races. That said, it’s hard to imagine that either driver will back down from a fight, especially now that their rivalry has flared up to levels comparable with the alltime greats. It’s genuine Senna/ Prost stuff at the moment, and F1 fans would hate for the flames to be doused by the FIA’s water.
The Vettel/Hamilton feud will resume this weekend at the Austrian Grand Prix, where both drivers will look to add to their tally of three wins apiece this year. The Österreichring (aka Red Bull Ring) rejoined the F1 calendar in 2014, and of the three races at the updated venue, retired Nico Rosberg won two. Hamilton, however, is the most recent winner there.
But let’s not forget that the Österreichring is Red Bull’s home track, and Daniel Ricciardo will arrive bright-eyed and bushytailed after his Baku victory. The Australian was perfectly placed to pick up the scraps after a crashstrewn Azerbaijan race, scoring his first win in 14 outings. His team-mate Max Verstappen is also hungry to return to the form he seems to have left behind in 2016. The Dutch driver has only podiumed once this year, and has four retirements to his name already.
And don’t discount Merc’s second driver, Valtteri Bottas, the only other winner this season. The Finn currently sits third in points, and is well within striking distance of his team-mate. Bottas also had a fantastic run in Baku, recovering from last place after a first turn altercation with compatriot Kimi Raikkonen to finish second. Kimi’s also poised for a result, and though his fifth place points position might look dire, the Ferrari man has been on the pace with two podiums, two fastest laps and a pole position.
Further down field, McLaren will hope to lift itself from last place in the Constructors’ table with an upgraded power unit. The Woking team has confirmed both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne will have a new “Spec Three” Honda engine at their disposal. Honda is under more pressure than ever to perform, after recent public criticism about pace and reliability from McLaren boss Zak Brown and team director Eric Boullier.
Live coverage from Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix will start on SuperSport 6 at 12.30pm, with the actual race scheduled for 2pm.
Lewis Hamilton (left) will hope to leapfrog Sebastian Vettel (right) in points at the Red Bull Ring.