Sebastian Vettel is under fire amid accusations he deliberately rammed championship rival Lewis Hamilton while behind the safety car during the F1 race in Baku. Vettel accused Hamilton of “brake-testing” him, which damaged the German’s front wing and sent him into a rage. Afterward, a furious Hamilton said the next time Vettel wants to take him on, it should be face to face.
He wasn’t the only one chirping afterward.
“Lewis will hit him one day,” agreed Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda. “Not with the car but with the fist.”
When grilled by the media about the incident, Vettel simply would not refer to it.
“I went next to him to lift my hand because I wanted to make it clear that this was not right,” he said.
When asked if it was deliberate, Vettel asked the reporter: “That I lifted my hand?”
Despite repeated attempts by reporters to refer to the clash, Vettel would not even admit there was contact, instead insisting again and again that Hamilton had brake-tested him.
But the FIA released data showing that Hamilton’s attempts to warm his brakes were consistent throughout the safety car periods.
“We are racing, but we are men,” Vettel said. “We are not in kindergarten,” he is quoted by Bild newspaper. “We are expected to race, to use our elbows.”
However, Hamilton said Vettel’s actions set a “precedent” for impressionable young racers coming through the ranks, and others agree that the FIA could still act.
“In Britain, they have just banned a driver for a year for deliberately causing an accident,” a Mercedes source said.
What is clear is that the gloves are now off in the championship fight, with Vettel saying he would call Hamilton by phone in the coming. But Hamilton isn’t expecting one.
“I don’t think he has my number,” he said.
For their part, Ferrari officials are backing their driver, with boss spokesman Alberto Antonini coming to his aid.
“We all saw what happened,” he said. “It was unnecessary for Lewis to be so slow. Seb is not to blame.”
Team boss Maurizio Arrivabene chimed in too.
“With what happened between Bottas and Kimi and then Sebastian, I would say, ‘Is this Formula 1 or the Colliseum,’ Arrivabene said. “But we do not want to complain because it is not our style.”
As for Lauda’s criticism of Vettel, Arrivabene had one more thing to say.
“Lauda can say what he likes,” he said. “We want to remain quiet and work.”