Vettel on thin ice after Hamilton run-in while Ricciardo restores Red Bull fizz | Giles Richards

Vettel is on the brink of missing the British Grand Prix, Ricciardo and Verstappen are transforming Red Bull’s outlook and Stroll is proving his critics wrong

1) Hamilton has the high ground

There was clear disappointment for Lewis Hamilton after his charge in Baku ended in him dropping a further two points to his title rival Sebastian Vettel but, moving on from it and the acrimonious exchanges between the pair, the British driver emerged looking the stronger and more rounded. It was the loose headrest that had actually cost him the win and he took it on the chin and did not apportion blame. “I know the team will be devastated about the issue with the headrest,” he said. “We all feel that pain but it’s on me to gather my thoughts and try and lead through this adversity.”

Equally, while social media might still be debating the incident, the evidence says the argument is over. The team’s telemetry and the FIA’s investigation of it confirm that Hamilton did not brake-test Vettel. He took damage to the diffuser in the incident and had every right to be angrier than he was at Vettel’s side-swipe on track. His measured response later was one of a driver with his eye on the bigger picture.

“I am going to do my talking on track,” he said. “All I am thinking now is to get my head together and I want to kill it the next 12 races.”

2) Vettel takes a dive

Vettel, on the other hand, is on thin ice. He was unrepentant after the race and stuck to his line that he had been brake-tested. This only exacerbated the negative reaction to his on-track strike. Ordinarily a hugely likeable person out of the car, his reputation has taken a battering and he might consider himself lucky. The German magazine Auto Motor und Sport reports that the stewards were close to disqualifying Vettel but opted not to for fear of intervening in the world championship. He has form for red mist on track as his former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo confirmed. “Seb probably sometimes doesn’t think before he acts,” he said. “Sometimes he will just go crazy.”

In this case it may not be over either. He now has nine penalty points – the highest of any driver since the system was instigated in 2014. They run for a 12-month period – if he takes three more at the next race in Austria he will be banned from the British GP. Furthermore the FIA may still impose a further sanction. It can if an incident is seen as bringing the sport into disrepute and there is precedent for this – with Michael Schumacher disqualified from the 1997 season standings after driving into Jacques Villeneuve at the decider in Jerez.

3) Red Bull making moves

Ricciardo was, as always, all smiles after his fifth F1 victory and rightly so, he had fought mighty hard for it. But although he and the team were aware they would not have managed it without the drama out front, they have every reason to be optimistic. Ricciardo and especially Max Verstappen were very strong in practice. Verstappen topped the time sheets in two sessions. Then in qualifying they were closer to Ferrari than they have been all season. Verstappen was just three-hundredths down on Vettel and two-tenths back from Kimi Raikkonen and could have out-qualified them without a minor error and some technical glitches. He was strong again in race pace and Ricciardo proved with his remarkable comeback that the car is fundamentally strong. Christian Horner certainly believes they have turned a corner. The team had been struggling with correlation of data, with information from computational fluid dynamics and the wind tunnel giving results that were not being matched on track. Horner was confident they have solved it. The championship has gone but they are targeting more wins on merit and hopefully will achieve just that.

4) Stroll on song

The “son of billionaire Lawrence Stroll” as he is popularly referred to finally had a chance in Baku to make his own mark. Stroll has been under intense scrutiny since he started in F1. The role his father has played in bankrolling both him and Williams and his relative lack of experience has led to a harsh reception. He has handled it well, level-headed and with equanimity.

The doubts will not go away and he still has much to prove but he went a long way to making a case without words. Having scored his first points in Canada, to follow it with his first podium place – as the youngest rookie to have done so – was impressive. He tested a 2014 Williams at the Circuit of the Americas last week and his confidence was high. He out-qualified his team-mate, Felipe Massa, and then held his nerve and composure under intense pressure to claim third in the race. The criticism he had dismissed as “just noise”, he said. If he continues to improve it will disappear altogether.

5) Order required at Force India

Beyond what happened at the front Baku offered a race of drama, spills and thrills throughout the field. What was a rather staid procession last year transformed into a rollercoaster that was gripping for its entirety. But Force India are rightly unhappy with how their drivers contributed to the spectacle. What might have been another very strong weekend for the team was stymied when Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez clashed at turn two. Each driver blamed the other, creating further tension after Pérez refused to let Ocon pass him in Montreal. They had a shot at the podium but finished with a DNF for Pérez and sixth for Ocon. The team’s chief operating officer, Otmar Szafnauer, was blunt in his reaction. “We will definitely review it, talk to the drivers and say this is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s bad enough if you run into a competitor because that can damage your race, but not your team-mate because that can take you both out.” Ocon is proving a talent to watch, confirming the very positive opinion Mercedes have of him and Pérez is possibly stronger than at any point in his career but the team badly need to impose control on them to maximise their chances.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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