The final 3 laps of this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix contained as much excitement as a number of other races from this season put together.
The excitement came during the battle for third place contested by Max Vertsappen, Red Bull’s teenage sensation, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
In the final laps these drivers attacked each other at various points leading Verstappen, on lap 68 of 71, to run off the first corner of the track but re-join the circuit ahead of the Ferrari, a move that incensed Vettel who felt that Verstappen had unfairly gained an advantage and that he should immediately be required to give back third place.
The decision was not taken immediately by FIA Race Director, Charlie Whiting, with it instead being placed under review by the Stewards. This incensed Vettel further who made his feelings clear in a ‘NSFW’ exchange with his race engineer which was broadcast to the millions of TV viewers around the World.
The first three drivers across the line were Lewis Hamilton, Championship leader Nico Rosberg and Verstappen closely followed by Vettel and Ricciardo. Following the race the usual Parc Fermé footage showed the first three drivers discussing events as they prepared for the presentation ceremony.
In unusual, but not unprecedented scenes, Verstappen was, immediately following the conclusion of the race, given a five second penalty for failure to give up the place gained by the unfair advantage of cutting the first corner in breach of Article 27.4 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations (“the Regulations”). This led to the indignity of Verstappen having to leave the presentation holding room whilst Vettel ran to collect his third prize. As a result it would appear that Vettel’s rage in respect of Verstappen’s driving was justified albeit he was wrong to direct this at Charlie Whiting given the correct decision was made albeit after the race had ended. However this was not the end.
Following the race, Vettel himself received a 10 second penalty for ‘moving under braking’ in contravention of Article 27.5 of the Regulations during a move which saw his car touch Ricciardo’s in the penultimate lap of the race.
Moving under braking has become a controversial subject in F1 with a number of drivers accused of racing dangerously as a result. In the Stewards’ decision concerning Vettel they stated:
“Notwithstanding the F1 Commission directive to “let the drivers race” we note the concern that has been expressed about manoeuvres involving a change of direction under braking as expressed at the Drivers Briefing at the US Grand Prix and in the Race Director’s Notes from the US Grand Prix and this event .
The telemetry and video evidence shows that [Vettel] did change direction under braking.
Article 27.5 and the Race Director’s Notes have essentially three criteria that determine a breach
1) Driving in a manner potentially dangerous
2) An abnormal change of direction
3) Another driver having to take evasive action
The video footage, including the close circuit footage, the broadcast vision, both driver’s on board cameras plus the telemetry show that there was an abnormal change of direction by [Vettel] and this was considered to be potentially dangerous in view of the proximity of the wheels of each car.
The video evidence clearly shows that [Ricciardo] had to take evasive action as a result.
Accordingly as all three criteria have been met, [Vettel] is guilty of a breach of Article 27.5”
This 10 second penalty resulted in Vettel being demoted from third place to fifth with Ricciardo being promoted to third place (albeit he missed out on the ritual champagne soaking).
This too would appear not to be the end of the consequences of the Mexican Grand Prix for Vettel.
It has been reported today that the FIA will look into Vettel’s expletive riddled radio rant directed at Whiting and possible breaches of Article 12.1.1.c and 12.1.1.f of the FIA’s International Sporting Code (“the Code”) which prohibit:
“12.1.1.c – Any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any Competition or to the interests of motor sport generally.
12.1.1.f – Any words, deeds or writings that have caused moral injury or loss to the FIA, its bodies, its members or its executive officers.”
If Vettel is found guilty of a breach of the Code this could lead to a number of sanctions including a fine, further demotion or even disqualification. It is no doubt for this reason he is reported to have sent a letter of apology to Whiting.
The truth is the comments, which one would not want younger viewers to hear, were mostly likely those of a frustrated competitor desperately trying to perform to the best of his ability. F1 has in recent times been criticised for the processional nature of its Championships and the sterility of the current crop of drivers compared to previous eras. The FIA will need to ensure that when considering this latest issue it does so proportionally and without diluting the unique appeal of the sport.
UPDATE: The FIA has announced that Vettel will, “on an exceptional basis”, not be charged for his outburst whilst warning drivers that any similar incidents in the future will be the subject of disciplinary action before the FIA International Tribunal.