All eyes on Vet­tel, Lewis

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

SPIEL­BERG, Aus­tria: For­mula One’s gov­ern­ing body is con­fi­dent that the most con­tro­ver­sial mo­ment of a grip­ping ti­tle race is of­fi­cially re­solved, after Se­bas­tian Vet­tel com­pleted the for­mal­ity of pub­licly apol­o­gis­ing to archri­val Lewis Hamil­ton for driv­ing dan­ger­ously.

This week­end’s Aus­trian Grand Prix will show if the rift be­tween the fiercely com­pet­i­tive mul­ti­ple world cham­pi­ons has re­ally been healed, or whether the pres­sure of race day could bring it back out into the open on Sun­day.

Vet­tel, who has four world ti­tles to Hamil­ton’s three, es­caped fur­ther pun­ish­ment from the FIA this week after they or­dered a review of his de­lib­er­ate col­li­sion with Hamil­ton at the Azer­bai­jan Grand Prix two weeks ago. An irate Vet­tel swerved into Hamil­ton, al­beit at slow speed, be­cause he thought the Bri­tish driver had slammed his brakes on reck­lessly late, right in front of him, sec­onds ear­lier.

It was an­other in­ci­dent that un­der­lined how, de­spite 45 Grand Prix wins, the vastly ex­pe­ri­enced Vet­tel is prone to mo­ments of un­con­trolled volatil­ity. Yet Hamil­ton, for all his bril­liant driv­ing, re­tains a steely edge to his driv­ing that some — such as Vet­tel and Mercedes driver Nico Ros­berg over the last three years — con­sider overly provoca­tive.

De­spite the view that he was in the wrong in Baku, Vet­tel ef­fec­tively es­caped with a slap on the wrist.

Vet­tel leads Hamil­ton by 14 points after eight races, so the apol­ogy ar­guably makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence in terms of the stand­ings.

Hamil­ton’s Mercedes team, cu­ri­ously re­strained in its crit­i­cism of Vet­tel two weeks ago, is try­ing to tackle dif­fer­ent is­sues.

“Ev­ery great For­mula One sea­son is marked by a great ri­valry,” Mercedes’ head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “As calm as it started, it was only a mat­ter of time un­til the ri­valry would even­tu­ally be­come more fierce and con­tro­ver­sial.

“We have moved past that mo­ment now and it is a closed chap­ter,” Wolff con­tin­ued. “Our fo­cus since Baku has been on our own short­com­ings, re­view­ing both the de­sign and pro­ce­dures around our head­rest which cost Lewis the win two weeks ago.”

The heated clash took the spot­light away from the fact that Hamil­ton ar­guably missed out on vic­tory — fin­ish­ing one spot be­hind fourth-placed Vet­tel — be­cause he had to change his car’s faulty head­rest at the same time Vet­tel was in the pit lane serv­ing out his time penalty.

Mercedes has dom­i­nated re­cent sea­sons, but 2017 has been dif­fi­cult for the team.

Mercedes has no­tably had to deal with tire is­sues re­lated to the dis­par­ity be­tween the front and real ax­els caus­ing an im­bal­ance high­lighted in prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing. – AP

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