Of Upsets and Upstarts: The Azerbaijan Grand Prix
As promised on Friday, here’s the re-cap of the Grand Prix that has the Formula 1 world all atwitter- and with Twitter such a successful social media format for the F1 fan, that word choice is thoroughly apropos. That Grand Prix is none other than the Grand Prix that took place at Azerbaijan on the narrow streets of the medieval city of Baku.
Dear readers, I have never watched a race so intently. Tumultuous doesn’t even begin to describe it. All I can say is thank God for DVR. I had to rewind several times because I blinked. The swift changeability of this last race still percolates excitement through my blood and I’ve been ruminating on it for days now.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was beyond suspenseful, almost like that Turandot scene in Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation (you remember, this one).
In his 66th pole, Hamilton started on grid first followed by Bottas (P2), Raikkonen (P3), Vettel (P4), Verstappen (P5)… Stroll(P8)…Ricciardo (P10)… I listed these drivers, because, for all intents and purposes, these were the power players of this Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Now, as discussed on the Monaco Grand Prix posts at Whiskers on Kittens, any street racing done is always tight. It’s just the way of it. (It’s why I love it so much and feature it so heavily in my novel.) However, the streets of Baku presented a real challenge to the drivers this year. (Not to mention that the temperature of the track at the start of the race was about 140°F.)
Right from the start, there were collisions and crashes (7 of the 20 drivers didn’t even finish the race). With race cars and debris strewn about the narrow confines of the track (and lacking the well placed cranes that lift disable cars off the track swiftly to ensure more optimum race time like in Monaco), the safety car was deployed with irritating frequency (3X in total). In fact, race leader, Lewis Hamilton remarked that the safety car’s deployment was actually unsafe because it forced the drivers to slow to speeds where their tires and brakes could not remain at safe temperatures.
Now, it’s important to note this. The race leader sets the pace behind the safety car. During the first two deployments of the safety car, Hamilton was cautioned to slow down because he was too close to the safety car (rules stipulate that the leader must be ten car lengths behind the safety car). So, when the safety car deployed for a third time, Hamilton slowed. Unfortunately, Vettel was not paying enough attention and ended up ramming into the back of Hamilton’s racer. Over the team radio, Vettel’s angry voice was heard, decrying Hamilton for brake testing him. (Brake testing is a motorsport term used to describe a maneuver in which the one driver brakes hard to cause the driver behind him to brake hard, and often times, do an evasive maneuver to avoid an accident.) Furious at this turn of event, as it had greatly damaged his front wing, Vettel drew up alongside Hamilton, raised his hand and then proceeded to turn his racer into Hamilton’s, leading to contact on track behind a safety car.
Vettel has maintained that the collision with Hamilton, where he bumped him on the side, was not intentional. However, I find it completely unbelievable even to offer the supposition that Vettel ‘accidentally’ collided with Hamilton. Furthermore, the use of the word collision implies dual responsibility. In this case, Vettel purposely crashed into Hamilton. The bumping of tires is too entirely precise, the driving just a little too perfect for the whole incident not to be intentional. Like a red flag to a bull, Vettel let his anger galvanize him to charge ahead and do something unbefitting a 4X World Champion. Were that all, I would leave it at that, but what’s more egregious is the fact that Vettel cannot admit that he just blew his top. In all the post-race interviews, he obfuscates most of the time, with the occasional foray into almost hinting that his behavior was justified or warranted. Nope. It wasn’t. It never would be. And, with the platform he stands on as a 4X World Champion, he should be held to a higher standard.
Vettel received a ten second penalty, but there is tremendous controversy about it. At the end of the day, Vettel still finished fourth on track, even with the penalization. Perhaps even more upsetting, he finished in front of Hamilton, who finished fifth after having to pit because of a loose headrest that needed to be secured. (There has been quite a lot of twitter on Twitter about how Vettel should have a race ban- where he cannot race for one entire race- because of his seemingly unsportsmanlike conduct. Most people agree, it’s pretty shoddy that he can behave in such a manner and still finish in fourth place, as if he really had no penalty at all.)
At the end of the day, with Hamilton having to pit for his headrest, Vettel receiving a ten second penalty, and Verstappen, Raikkonen, Perez, Massa, Hulkenberg, Kvyat, and Palmer being forced to retire, the race ended in a thoroughly interesting way.
No one predicted the outcome: Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took first, Mercedes’ Bottas took second, and Williams’ rookie Lance Stroll took third, his first podium ever. And, as it was indeed his first podium, Stroll was graced with the honor of sipping champagne from the winner’s shoe. Yes, Ricciardo had Stroll do a shoey. How many more will Ricciardo add to his ever increasing list of shoeys? (Gerard Butler, Sir Patrick Stewart, Mark Webber, Max Verstappen, Nico Rosberg, Lance Stroll… and the list just keeps on growing.)
So, Baku. What a race. Upsets, upstarts, and two shoeys. What will the Austrian Grand Prix hold for us, I wonder? As the 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill remarked on his Twitter account, “What next!!?? Plague of locusts? Boils? Frogs?”
As of this writing, the FIA is putting Vettel’s actions on track under further investigation. The public outcry concerning his behavior and the seemingly lenient penalty meted out by the race Stewards, only 10 seconds, has marshaled the FIA to action. They will be reviewing all the material on July 3rd- today, my darlings- to determine if further action need be taken. The reason this is significant, besides the fact that their decision could potentially impact the outcome of who takes the World Championship this year, is because this sort of angry, aggressive, hot headed behavior is nothing new for Sebastian Vettel. Last year he narrowly escaped being drug up before an FIA Tribunal by (finally) apologizing for his unbecoming, expletive strewn vituperation against Charlie Whiting, FIA Formula One Race Director, during the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix.
What are the potential sanctions the FIA could set down on Vettel today? Well, they could give him a race ban. Or they could disqualify his results from the last race, which would put Hamilton and Vettel neck-and-neck for the Championship. Or they could put three penalty points on Vettel’s FIA Super License. What is that, you might ask, and what would that mean? Well, a FIA Super License is required for any driver to drive in Formula One. In regards to penalty points, they are not unlike the points that we ordinary drivers can accrue on our own licenses. If we receive fines or tickets for speeding or reckless endangerment or the like, we can also get points on our license. And, just like with you and me, when a F1 driver accrues too many points on his license, he receives a penalty. At this point, Vettel already had nine points on his license. If he gets another three, which is a possibility in this case, then he receives an automatic race ban in Austria. So, things aren’t looking too hot for Vettel right now, regardless of how he obfuscates and denies any wrong doing. Mores the pity, too, as today is Sebastian Vettel’s 30th birthday. (Happy Birthday, Sebastian.)
What do you think, dear reader? There’s lots to talk about. Do you think Vettel intentionally hit Hamilton? Do you think he should just man up and admit he’s human, prone to our mere mortal emotions? Do you think he should have been penalized more strongly? Do you think we’ll see anymore shoeys this season? Are you happy for rookie Lance Stroll?