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Azerbaijan GP: 'F1 in 2017 just got nasty - and it's Sebastian Vettel's fault'

The Formula 1 title fight just got nasty. And, despite his claims to the contrary, that is Sebastian Vettel's fault.
madly chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix provided talking points aplenty but there was no doubt about the biggest - the clash between the Ferrari driver and Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel slammed into the back of Hamilton's car as they prepared for one of three restarts, damaging his front wing and the Mercedes' floor. Then Vettel pulled his Ferrari alongside Hamilton's car, gesticulated, and swerved at him, banging wheels.
It was a shocking moment. Formula 1 cars collide all the time - it's just what happens sometimes in racing, and it happened an awful lot in Baku on Sunday. But this was different. This was one driver making a conscious decision, apparently in anger, to turn his steering wheel to collide with another.
Yes, it was at slow speed, but, no, it was not acceptable, whatever Vettel thought Hamilton may have done. And the available evidence says Hamilton did nothing wrong.
Vettel did not deny he had deliberately driven into Hamilton in the second impact, although despite repeated questions, he also did not address it directly.
"F1 is for grown-ups," he said. "I drove alongside and we had a little contact. I wasn't happy with the brake-testing. I drove alongside him and raised my hand to say that is not the way to do it."
Hamilton was not amused. "If he wants to prove he's a man, we should do it out of the car face to face," he said, adding that he felt the German had "disgraced himself". "I don't fancy seeing him," Hamilton concluded. "It might turn into something else."
It was already developing into a thrilling season, with two greats of the sport locked in combat in evenly matched cars, set to duel it out through a marathon 20-race season. But this has added an extra dimension to the battle, which Vettel now leads by 14 points after finishing a place ahead of his rival in fourth.
Vettel said after the race that he would seek Hamilton out once they had left Baku to talk the incident through.
"It is still respectful," he said. "I don't have a problem with him. It is just one action today that was wrong. I am willing to sort it out with him. I don't think there is much to sort out. I will talk to him when you (the media) are not there and then we move on."
Had things got dirty, Hamilton was asked by Channel 4? "Not for me," he said. "I am going to keep going. We had the upper hand this weekend. We can continue to move forwards in the future. Through difficult times true colours show, so it is a good day for me."
Vettel's anger was triggered because he felt Hamilton had committed an offence known in F1 as "brake-testing" - when the driver in front deliberately slows down to cause problems for the one behind. It is a risky tactic, because contact in such an incident can damage either or both cars, but it is not unknown for drivers to do it.
Vettel said: "I think it was quite obvious. I don't run into the back of him on purpose. I damaged my wing. He had a little damage as well. It's just not the way to do it. He did something similar a couple of years ago in China at the restart. It is not the way to do it."
Hamilton denied he had done any such thing. "I didn't," he said. "I controlled the pace. All the restarts I slowed down in the same spot. He was obviously sleeping. That for me isn't the issue. Driving alongside and deliberately driving into a driver and coming away scot-free is a disgrace. He disgraced himself today."
He added in his news conference with the written media: "I basically didn't accelerate out of the corner because I was having to get the gap to the car ahead.
"The stewards looked at my data and the reason I didn't get a penalty was clearly I didn't, and I don't have any intention to brake-test anyone. I am leading; why brake-test him? I was leading by a good gap before the safety car. I had no reason to brake-test him. There is zero benefit."
The rules say that at a restart behind a safety car, "drivers must proceed at a pace which involves no erratic acceleration or braking, nor any other manoeuvre which is likely to endanger other drivers or impede the restart".
The stewards analysed the incident and concluded from Hamilton's data that he had not transgressed this rule and governing body the FIA backed Hamilton's version of events.
The data showed he did nothing abnormal, maintained a more or less constant speed, a spokesman said, neither braking nor lifting off completely, and behaved as he had at all the other restarts.
Hamilton told race director Charlie Whiting over the radio during the race that he felt a 10-second stop-and-go penalty was not harsh enough for Vettel's behaviour.
"If that is the only result you can get from such disgusting driving," he said, "it means we can all drive like that and you can still score fourth place, you can still get away with it.
"I don't know what the penalty should be. I can't remember coming across that, particularly not in F1. It is not sportsman's conduct."
The problem for the stewards was that the next level of penalty was disqualification, and they demurred from that. But two experienced senior figures from teams not involved in the incident told this reporter after the race they felt that is exactly what should have happened.
Vettel has both a short-term problem and a longer-term concern arising from this situation.
The short-term problem is that three penalty points he received in addition to the penalty mean he now has nine on his licence for driving offences. Twelve in a calendar year triggers an automatic race ban.
The tally started at the British Grand Prix last year, when Vettel was given two points for driving Felipe Massa's Williams off the track. He received two more for causing a collision with Nico Rosberg's Mercedes in Malaysia and another two for driving dangerously in Mexico, the same race he told Whiting over the radio where to go using a four-letter word.

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