Lauda backs Hamil­ton over Vet­tel in­ci­dent in Baku

Mercedes chief stands by driver

The National - News - Sport - - LEADING OFF -

Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s rep­u­ta­tion has been tar­nished af­ter he de­lib­er­ately swerved into Lewis Hamil­ton dur­ing Sun­day’s Azer­bai­jan Grand Prix, Niki Lauda, the non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Mercedes-GP has claimed. Four-time cham­pion Vet­tel was pun­ished by the stew­ards for his mo­ment of mad­ness dur­ing a chaotic race in Baku. Daniel Ric­cia­rdo claimed both his and Red Bull Rac­ing’s first vic­tory of the sea­son, but the spot­light was firmly on Vet­tel last night af­ter he banged wheels with his ti­tle ri­val.

Vet­tel ad­judged Hamil­ton to have brake-tested him dur­ing the sec­ond of three safety car pe­ri­ods in a fre­netic race on the streets of Azer­bai­jan’s cap­i­tal city. Af­ter he rammed Hamil­ton from be­hind at Turn 16, the Ger­man then pulled along­side his Bri­tish ri­val be­fore ges­tic­u­lat­ing with both hands and slam­ming into Hamil­ton’s car.

Vet­tel, who fin­ished fourth and ex­tended his lead over Hamil­ton in the cham­pi­onship race af­ter the lat­ter was forced into an un­sched­uled pit stop fol­low­ing a prob­lem with his head­rest, protested his in­no­cence.

But the stew­ards took Hamil­ton’s side, hit­ting Vet­tel with a

Niki Lauda Mercedes-GP non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man

stop-and-go penalty and lat­terly three points on his li­cence. Three-time world cham­pion Lauda was asked whether Vet­tel’s rep­u­ta­tion had been tainted fol­low­ing the dra­matic in­ci­dent on Lap 19.

“Sure,” he said. “He freaked out in him­self.

“When you hit some­body – it is your fault. No ques­tion. But then to drive next to him and hit him on pur­pose, I have never seen any­thing like this.

“To do that I don’t un­der­stand. 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.” In­deed Hamil­ton, now 14 points adrift of his cham­pi­onship ri­val af­ter he crossed the line only fifth, was fu­ri­ous with Vet­tel’s ac­tions brand­ing the Ger­man a “dis­grace”, while also sug­gest­ing he take on his ri­val “out of the car, face-to-face”.

To drive next to him and hit him on pur­pose, I have never seen any­thing like this

Valdrin Xhemaj / EPA

Lewis Hamil­ton, now 14 points adrift of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, called his ri­val a ‘dis­grace’.

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