All eyes on Vet­tel ahead of Aus­trian GP

Fer­rari driver’s off the hook for Baku bustup, but his chal­lenge may have lost sting

The Star Early Edition - - MOTORING - JESSE ADAMS

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.

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