World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel refused to accept any blame for his ‘road rage’ ramming of Lewis Hamilton’s car in Sunday’s tempestuous Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Vettel was given a 10-seconds stop-go penalty for driving his Ferrari into Hamilton’s Mercedes following a stewards decision during the race.
The four-time world champion German, who has revealed flashes of his hot temper in the past, drove his Ferrari into Hamilton’s Mercedes while they were following the Safety Car after 19 laps of a tempestuous contest on the Baku Street Circuit.
Hamilton, who was leading after making a clean start from the 66th pole position of his career, had initially slowed to avoid the slow-moving Safety Car ahead of him, an action that caused Vettel to drive into the rear of his Mercedes.
This damaged both cars – loosening further an already loose head-rest in Hamilton’s car so severely that he was ordered to pit on safety grounds for repairs – and caused Vettel to lose his temper by pulling alongside Hamilton and then turning into him.
“I think it’s just not the correct driver conduct,” said Hamilton, picking his words as he spoke to reporters. “It’s dangerous driving and to get a 10-seconds penalty for that … I don’t need to say anything else.”
Vettel, who had attempted to demand an explanation for the penalty during a terse radio exchange with his Ferrari team, said that nothing had happened.
“Nothing happened, did it? He brake-checked me as well so what do you expect?
“I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, but for sure it was not the right move. If I’m struggling, people at the back are struggling even more so I don’t think it was necessary.
“I got damage. He risked damage. He’s done something similar in China at the re-start a couple of years ago so it’s not the way to do it, I think.”
Vettel had served his penalty during the race after the stewards decided his actions added up to ‘dangerous driving’. Hamilton was not reprimanded or punished.
The three-time champion Briton added later: “I didn't brake-check him at all. For him to pretty much get away with driving into another driver is a disgrace. I think he disgraced himself today.
“If he wants to prove he is a man we should do it out of the car, we should face to face. Imagine all the young kids watching today -- seeing that kind of behaviour from a world champion.
“I know my boys will be devastated [about the head-rest issue] but I think it’s important to take away the great performance throughout the weekend. We have to wipe the slate clean."
Vettel continued to protest his innocence after the race.
“I have no doubt he brake-checked me,” he repeated. “I didn't run into the back of him on purpose. There is then a chain reaction…
“I think it was very clear. In the end, we are racing with men. If one of us gets a penalty, we both do. We are both grown-up men. We want to race wheel to wheel.
“The championship battle is still respectful. I don't have a problem with him, but I think today's action was wrong.
“Every week in the Premier League you have refs blowing the whistle -- and some players agree, some disagree. It's the same here.”
Vettel went on to finish fourth and Hamilton fifth and they are now separated by 14 points in the title race.
In a statement after the race, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) made clear that Hamilton had not lifted or braked exceptionally in the incident and said that Vettel had been punished for ‘dangerous driving.’