Vettel under further investigation; why the FIA has to step up

Everyone seems to have an opinion on that now infamous incident between Hamilton and Vettel in Baku. And with the news that the case will be heard by the FIA, with a verdict expected before the Austrian Grand Prix, the debate seems like it’s going to rage on for a while longer.

There is the chance that the FIA will decide that no further action is warranted, or they could deliver any number of punishments to the Ferrari driver from a fine to a race ban. It wouldn’t be the first time the FIA has taken retroactive action following a racing incident, most famously in the case of disqualifying Michael Schumacher from the driver’s championship in 1997 for his ‘avoidable’ collision with Jacques Villeneuve in the final race of the season. But the question of whether or not Sebastian Vettel deserves further punishment still remains

What should be taken into consideration is that this is not Vettel’s only case of road rage in the last twelve months. Everyone remembers his rather colourful language towards Charlie Whiting in Mexico last year, and the subsequent fallout from that. In that instance, the German escaped without punishment after his apologies to both Whiting and the FIA. That case was not brought before the FIA international tribunal. But Vettel was warned that in the event of a future ‘similar incident’ disciplinary action would be taken.

GP MESSICO F1/2016 – CITTA’ DEL MESSICO (MESSICO) 28/10/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Flash forward seven months or so, and Vettel loses his cool again, turning in on Hamilton after what he believed was a piece of brake testing by the Briton. He was not by any means the first driver to act in that way, and he almost definitely will not be the last. Although his mistake was of a different nature this time, it was avoidable and it was another case of his emotions clouding his better judgement. And as was the argument last November, it sets a very poor example for junior drivers hoping to make it to Formula 1 some day.

Without Mexico, and the promise by the FIA to follow up on any future incidents, further punishment would not be as necessary. But the fact that this is not the first time that Vettel has been involved in such an incident in recent months makes it hard to see how the FIA can justify not taking further action.

For example, race bans for incidents similar to Vettel’s are not uncommon in the junior formulas. In MSA Formula, British driver Dan Ticktum was banned for competing in motorsport for two whole years after deliberating colliding with a rival under safety car conditions. Though his case was far more extreme, and no one is calling for Vettel to be banned from motorsport for such a length of time, the two situations are definitely comparable. The basic premise is the same, and why should there be a different rule for older drivers who are supposed to know better?

Even more similar to the Hamilton/Vettel incident was the race ban received in 2016 by GP2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita for driving erratically after a safety car restart in Baku. After misjudging the safety car line, the Japanese driver accelerated, then braked, then attempted to accelerate again, causing mass confusion and several collisions. His actions were deemed dangerous and he was forced to miss a round of the championship. Though the speed difference is substantial between the two incidents, Matsushita’s offence lacks the aggression and intent of Vettel’s, which are arguably far graver factors.

2016 GP2 Series Round 3
Baku, Azerbaijan.
Saturday 18 June 2016.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix) leads Mitch Evans (NZL, Pertamina Campos Racing)
Photo: Andy Hone/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _ONY0719

Though penalties in lower categories of motorsport are ordinarily much harsher, since the drivers are learning the limits of rules and regulations, Formula 1 drivers are expected to know better and set an example. Whether Sebastian Vettel likes it or not, he is an ambassador for global motorsport, and purposely colliding with another driver, no matter the intent behind it, is an inexcusable action that does no favours for Vettel, or the sport of Formula 1.

After letting him off lightly following the events of Mexico last year, the FIA runs the risk of making themselves look weak, and their orders unenforceable if they do not follow up on this ongoing case. A ten second stop-go penalty hardly seems sufficient, especially considering it was the same penalty given to Kvyat in Canada for failing to reclaim his position before the safety car line, which is a far less dangerous offence.

Whether it be a grid penalty or a race ban, further action would send a clear message that behaviour like Vettel’s in unacceptable, and reaffirm the FIA’s commitment to road safety—a long standing mission of the organisation.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

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