Formula One’s governing body is confident that the most controversial moment of a gripping title race is officially resolved, after Sebastian Vettel completed the formality of publicly apologising to arch-rival Lewis Hamilton for driving dangerously.
This weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix will show if the rift between the fiercely competitive multiple world champions has really been healed, or whether the pressure of race day could bring it back out into the open on Sunday.
Vettel, who has four world titles to Hamilton’s three, escaped further punishment from the FIA this week after they ordered a review of his deliberate collision with Hamilton at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix two weeks ago. An irate Vettel swerved into Hamilton, albeit at slow speed, because he thought the British driver had slammed his brakes on recklessly late, right in front of him, seconds earlier.
It was another incident that underlined how, despite 45 Grand Prix wins, the vastly experienced Vettel is prone to moments of uncontrolled volatility. Yet Hamilton, for all his brilliant driving, retains a steely edge to his driving that some – such as Vettel and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg over the last three years – consider overly provocative.
Despite the view that he was in the wrong in Baku, Vettel effectively escaped with a slap on the wrist.
Vettel leads Hamilton by 14 points after eight races, so the apology arguably makes little difference in terms of the standings.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team, curiously restrained in its criticism of Vettel two weeks ago, is trying to tackle different issues.
“Every great Formula One season is marked by a great rivalry,” Mercedes’ head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “As calm as it started, it was only a matter of time until the rivalry would eventually become more fierce and controversial.
“We have moved past that moment now and it is a closed chapter,” Wolff continued.
“Our focus since Baku has been on our own shortcomings, reviewing both the design and procedures around our headrest which cost Lewis the win two weeks ago.”
The heated clash took the spotlight away from the fact that Hamilton arguably missed out on victory – finishing one spot behind fourth-place Vettel – because he had to change his car’s faulty headrest at the same time Vettel was in the pit lane serving out his time penalty.
Mercedes has dominated recent seasons, but 2017 has been difficult for the team.
Mercedes has notably had to deal with tyre issues related to the disparity between the front and real axels causing an imbalance highlighted in practice and qualifying. – AP