Kurt Verlin
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Formula One Community Divided on Unusual Vettel-Hamilton Clash

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Vettel Bumps Hamilton in Baku

On Sunday during the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, an unusual event took place that is still causing great discussion and friction among Formula One fans, drivers, experts, and pundits.

While leading the race behind the safety car, Lewis Hamilton prepared for the restart by backing up the pack in the usual fashion. His championship rival, Sebastian Vettel, had been left in the dust on previous restarts and was keen to stay closer this time around.

Then Hamilton seemed to suddenly slow down. Caught by surprise, Vettel touched the back of the Mercedes and lightly damaged both cars. His angry reaction was immediate: he bellowed in the radio that Hamilton had brake-checked him and pulled up next to Hamilton to make his feelings known via furious gesticulation. In the process, he steered into his rival and the cars bumped wheels. It was a low-speed contact and no damage was done, but Vettel was nonetheless penalized for making contact with another driver.

Reaction to the incident has been incredibly varied. Hamilton said Vettel “disgraced himself” but Vettel thinks Hamilton should have also been penalized for brake-checking him. Helmut Marko, head of Red Bull’s young driver program and Vettel’s former mentor, believes Vettel was in the right to get even. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff says it’s time to move on and look forward to the next race. Most ex-drivers seem to agree Vettel had an unacceptable red-mist moment but that the 50-kph wheel bump was ultimately inconsequential, and thus not worthy of a greater penalty.

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To say that the event divided the fan community would be an understatement. Many forums, YouTube comment sections, and reddit threads have been filled with some constructive but mainly toxic and vitriolic reactions. Some say Hamilton was at fault and deserved the bump, while others believe Vettel’s penalty was too lenient.

What complicates matters is that the FIA reported Hamilton had in fact not brake-checked Vettel. Instead Vettel was simply caught out on a piece of the track where he had expected Hamilton to accelerate but the latter simply didn’t; it was, after all, on the exit of a slow corner—not somewhere you typically release the throttle, which thanks to F1 cars’ extreme downforce tends to significantly slow them down even without using the brakes.

And then there’s the matter of Vettel apparently denying that it even happened. In post-race interviews he talked about the brake-check and about moving up alongside Hamilton to gesture at him, but never acknowledged the wheel bump as something that actually took place. It’s difficult to decipher why. Is he embarrassed? Had he not seen a replay? (And, in his adrenaline-fueled rage, is it possible he hadn’t even realized he had made contact?) Is he worried that admitting to it would incur further penalties? Was the move intentional or accidental?

In any case it was an extremely bizarre event that added yet more drama to the championship battle and is sure to generate further discussion for some time to come.

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