The Mexican Grand Prix was this weekend, meaning just two races left of the 2016 Formula One World Championship. The race appears to be stained due to several actions of the race stewards, most notably race director Charlie Whiting. Lewis Hamilton started on pole and managed to clinch his fifty first grand prix victory, equaling the tally of one Alain Prost.So where has all the controversy stemmed from? Let’s break it down.
At the start of the race, Hamilton locked his wheels into the first corner and proceeded to miss turn two completely; using the grass at his disposal. Nico Rosberg, running in second place, managed to get tangled with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and cut turn two as well, albeit not as much as Hamilton did. Behind the leaders, local boy Esteban Gutierrez tagged the Manor of Pascal Wehrlein, which in turn speared him into the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson, and that forced the deployment of the safety car by the end of the first lap. The field bunched up before being released again several laps later.
The rest of the race was a dull affair until the last portion when Rosberg locked a wheel while lapping Carlos Sainz’s Torro Rosso giving Max the opportunity to have a go himself. Nothing came of the move (which was his only real chance of the race) and that left him looking in his mirrors for the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. With three laps left to go, Max went wide as Sebastian made a move and the Red Bull engineers hinted that Max might have to give up the place. The race suddenly became interesting as Vettel began to hound the Red Bull further, with Australian Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo closing up again. Vettel, known for his rants on the radio over the season, unleashed a tirade of abuse at Verstappen:
He has to let me go! He has to let me go! Move for f**** sake!- Sebastian Vettel
Later on that same lap, the frustrated German launched a personal attack on the young Dutchman:
He’s a c***, that’s what he is. I mean, do you not see what I am seeing or is just me? He’s backing me into Riccardo the c***.- Sebastian Vettel.
Soon after, Vettel moved in the braking zone (an illegal move to prevent accidents) to block former team mate Riccardo; causing Daniel to lock up heavily and the Ferrari and Red Bull to tangle into turn four. With a damaged tyre, Ricciardo let Vettel go while Max pulled a small but vital gap. Hamilton crossed the line with Rosberg second but the attention was squarely with the two Red Bulls and the Ferrari. When Vettel’s complaints were answered by his engineer that race director Charlie Whiting was looking into it, Vettel unleashed another tirade:
Yeah, I’ve got a message for Charlie: F*** off! F*** off!- Sebastian Vettel
Members of the media, including Channel 4’s David Coulthard, said that ‘We’ve seen Seb cross the line there saying that Charlie Whiting needs to… er… take a hike; well I’m sorry, but even if you’re not happy there needs to be some sporting respect.’ Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle said on Twitter that Seb’s language was disgusting and hopes that the FIA take action.
On the cool down lap, on board footage from the Ferrari showed Sebastian wagging his finger at Max, with Max responding with the ‘wanker’ hand gesture. David Coulthard cheekily quipped that Max was showing Sebastian ‘Yeah, I can use Italian body language too’ and as the cars pulled into Parc Ferme, Max was informed he was given a five second time penalty demoting him to fifth and Sebastian to third. In the hours that followed, Vettel was found guilty of moving under braking and causing a collision and given a TEN second penalty; meaning Riccardo was now third.
The race has sparked two discussions: The first is the one of Vettel’s language. Many commentators on social media have said that ‘swearing in the heat of the moment is one thing- but mouthing off to the referee is another.’ Football players get booked and/or fined for dissent, rugby players get sent off for disrespecting officials and in many other sports bans and fines are common for bringing the sport in to disrepute. It will be interesting to see what action (if any) the FIA takes, as this is the first time anyone can remember in the current era of broadcast radio messages anyone has said anything of the sort. I seriously doubt if the ‘c**t’ remarks made about Max will be investigated but telling the race director to f*** off is something else. In any other sport Vettel would at least be fined.
The second is the rule regarding track limits. Due to the chaos that usually happens on the first lap, drivers are given a lot more freedom regarding blocking and corner cutting. Some argue that Lewis did indeed take a massive corner cut and was much further ahead after turn three than he was going into turn one, but the deployment of the virtual safety car (followed by the actual safety car) swiftly undid any advantage he had been given. Drivers such as Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg are seeking clarification on the rules, while Vettel was punished for the so-called ‘Verstappen Rule’: Moving in the braking zone; ironically something he had complained about in the past.
Vettel is a four time world champion and no one can dispute that. The thing is, his frustrations at not having a competitive Ferrari have meant that he is behaving like winning is an entitlement reserved for him; and instead of constantly whining over the radio he needs to start behaving like a four time world champion. Instead of bashing Max and dropping c-bombs; how about taking him to one side and offering some advice?