The championship fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel took a dark turn in round eight at Baku, in Azerbaijan, with the Ferrari driver accused of purposefully colliding with Hamilton. Vettel justified his actions by accusing his main rival of ‘brake testing’ – deliberately breaking very hard and, in turn, forcing him to take evasive action to avoid an accident. Hamilton denies this and Vettel, who was given a ten second stop-and-go penalty for his vengeful actions, has apologised this week, saying “It was dangerous and unnecessary”.
Hamilton’s headrest came loose during the incident and he was forced to pit, losing his chance of maximum points. The British driver eventually finished fifth, a place behind Vettel, and now trails by 14 points in the title race.
Qualifying is set to be very tight, once again
Both Ferrari and Mercedes should be suited to the Red Bull Ring when the F1 circus moves on to Austria for round nine. Mercedes have addressed some of the tyre usage problems that plagued them in the early-season races and, at the time of writing, Hamilton was heading the Friday morning practice session, with Verstappen second, Bottas third and Vettel only fourth. Hamilton won this race from pole position 12 months ago, despite teammate Nico Rosberg trying to take him out on the final lap. Hamilton holds obvious claims of recording a second Red Bull Ring victory.
Vettel hasn’t had much joy since the Austrian Grand Prix was relocated to this circuit three years ago; failing to finish either side of his fourth place in 2015. He now has nine penalty points on his licence after the clash with Hamilton, just three short of an automatic race suspension. He will need to keep his temper under control this weekend, as Friday’s early qualifying suggests that his championship lead is under severe threat.
Red Bull were the beneficiaries of the Hamilton/Vettel shenanigans in Azerbaijan, with Daniel Ricciardo surviving an incident-packed race. He took the chequered flag ahead of Valtteri Bottas, with 18-year-old Lance Stroll securing the other podium position in the William Mercedes. Max Verstappen – Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate – failed to finish in Baku; his fourth non-completion of the season. All were down to reliability issues rather than driver error, and the Dutch teenager deserves a change of fortune. He has out-qualified Ricciardo in the last four Grand Prix and, with Red Bull no doubt fancying their chances on their home circuit, he could go well this weekend.
Valtteri Bottas lies third in the championship on 111 points, 28 behind Mercedes teammate Hamilton. The 27-year-old Finn continues to struggle for consistency, often qualifying well but failing to reproduce his form in the race. The pressure of having just a one-year contract should not be underestimated, and he may have to play second fiddle to Hamilton again this weekend.
Winner: Lewis Hamilton (4/6)
Podium Finish: Max Verstappen (5/4)