Race Blog
Azerbaijan 2017

Disgracing themselves

A ten-second stop-go penalty - A TEN-SECOND STOP-GO PENALTY. The sporting world shudders in reaction to the severity of the sanction. Not.

In any walk of life the rule of law has to be respected. For any civilised society to work, anyone thinking of breaking the law must be sure in the knowledge that its full force will be brought to bear upon them if they are caught and found guilty.

Let transgressors off with no more than a slap on the wrist and one is simply asking for more and inevitably bigger trouble further down the track. Formula 1 is already there.

Sebastian Vettel’s downright despicable on-track behaviour on lap 19 of the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix falls woefully short of the conduct to be expected of any racing driver, let alone one of the top three in the world. In his fit of rage - possibly at himself as much or more so than at Lewis Hamilton, such was the amateurish nature of his driving - Vettel’s petulant and childlike decision to deliberately crash his car into his rival’s Mercedes should have resulted in a punishment befitting the crime.

“But the speed was so low,” I hear you assert, and you’d be correct, but that’s not really the point, is it? Perception is the name of the game and so, so important to control.

It's not the severity of the incident that is so appalling, rather the notion it engenders that taking the law into one’s own hands and retaliating in an aggressive manner is not a serious crime and deemed worthy of almost no punishment at all.

What does the President think?

Admirably, almost the entire reign of FIA President Jean Todt has been founded upon a campaign to improve road safety, through which he aspires to lower the shocking number of injuries and fatalities that occur globally on and next to our roads.

One would therefore quite reasonably expect that when the very top ambassadors for driving standards - those guys revered by anyone who sits, or intends to sit, behind the steering wheel of a car - drive in a dangerous and reckless manner, the resulting punishment sent down (by those charged by the FIA and its President to do so) would be draconian in its severity.

How on earth can you expect or encourage better on-road behaviour from mere mortals when their heroes are ‘allowed’ to behave like hooligans?

The FIA had a chance to send a strong message to the millions watching worldwide that this will not be tolerated, and totally failed to do so.

Don’t misunderstand me, I have no animosity per se towards Sebastian Vettel. The multi-F1-title-winning German is a proper F1 talent who - I’ve always felt -  never quite gets the credit he deserves for delivering four straight world titles to a Red Bull team who’d never got close before or since. Sure he had the ride under him penned - literally - by F1 design genius Adrian Newey, but having a race - and ultimately title - winning car is one thing; developing, driving effectively and winning race after race and championship after championship is another. It’s arguable that no racing driver, ever, has mastered the art of adapting his driving style to the technology and rules of any era as much as Vettel did with the exhaust-blown-diffuser cars.

I'll never forget Singapore 2013 and being out on track to experience up close and in the raw the totally awesome performance and complete at-one-ness of car and driver displayed by Sebastian and his Red Bull RB9 on that hot and sticky September night.

As cool as Vettel has always appeared to be in a very relaxed, unaffected, private and cheery way, there is obviously a darker side...

A darker, moodier, reactive and aggressive side that’s increased markedly since he’s been wearing red.

On-track contretemps with fellow competitors and invective-laden rants at FIA officials on live TV are testament to a change in attitude. A superlicence penalty-points count creeping perilously close to the race-ban-triggering 12 is yet more damning evidence of the not-so-nice Sebastian.

Ferrari really are a horrible team right now. Dismissive of interest, completely devoid of any grace, charm or humility, they exude an aggressive arrogance that is bitter in its mien and wholly unpleasant to experience. From team management to press staff through to the aggressive and often looking-for-a-fight mechanics, this bellicose attitude is projected with a focused zeal; and, sadly, it appears to have infected Vettel's on-track demeanour.

Vettel’s conduct in Baku can reasonably be attributed to the imperious attitude of his team and the almost certain knowledge that the feeble FIA Stewards would very likely let such hooligan-like actions go - effectively - unpunished. And so it came to pass.

You may think these are the opinions of a guy who’s never been a fan of the Scuderia, and you may well be correct - but believe me, like everyone in F1 I want the sport to do well. A competitive Ferrari team is good for all, but that doesn’t mean they have to be so damned unpleasant.

Fact is there are very, very few seasoned Formula 1 folk who’d - when honest – have more than a handful of positive words to say about them right now.

Under Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene, so frightened to upset Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne - the autocratic 65-year old who demands results or else - the team have operated an almost unparalleled media blackout of their personnel. Such a daft policy will inevitably bite when controversy occurs, since rivals with a grown-up attitude towards the press are far more able to control and react to the narrative.

The F1 media room hacks smell blood, and, knowing that Ferrari are woefully lacking in the necessary talent needed to kill the story, are circling their prey with impatient menace.

All of this controversy will of course encourage more eyeballs to look F1’s way, so in that sense there’s some positivity, but a sport lives and dies by the standards set by those at the very top. Formula 1 is no different to any other.

Allowing - and indeed indulging - wretched behaviour with an apparently lenient punishment policy will eventually bring the whole show crashing down, as respect for the rules erodes at an alarming rate.

You reap what you sow…


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