So Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari head to Austria this week with a 14-point lead in the championship, sent on their way with a flea in their ear over on track deportment but no further penalty for their exquisite brand of grand prix hooliganism on display in Azerbaijan.
With cap in hand, tugging furiously at his forelock, a fortunate Vettel walked out of the Paris dock a relieved man, but with his reputation severely dented and, too, that of a governing body that stood back from making an example of him as the incident demanded.
Called by Formula One’s justice system to account for the mad, road rage moment in Baku, where he took it upon himself to smash into the wheels of title rival Lewis Hamilton in an unprovoked attack, Vettel did as he was bid and showed the necessary contrition.
In executing the full volte face Vettel stood back from the arrogance and conceit that characterised his behaviour in Baku, apologising profusely and accepting full responsibility for the incident that shocked the sport.
Choreographed Attitude Shift
Jean Todt, the president of the sport’s governing body, the FIA, could have referred the matter to a full tribunal but after Vettel’s choreographed shift in attitude decided the stop-go penalty imposed by the stewards was punishment enough on this occasion, though he sent him on his way with a warning.
In effectively decreeing the episode a racing incident and thus contained by the rules of the game F1’s governing body have been claimed by a paradox of their own making. This is an organisation that has given itself the responsibility for setting the road safety agenda across the world but in ringfencing Vettel and Ferrari in this way they have stood back from that mission.
This was not a sporting incident it was rank, bad form. The rules of the road don’t apply to me, mate. That’s for mortals like you. I do what I want. The FIA called him to Paris not to apply appropriate sanction but to fashion a way not to. The message being you can do what you like, as long as you say sorry.
“In light of these developments, FIA president Jean Todt decided that on this occasion the matter should be closed,” a spokesman said. “Nevertheless, in noting the severity of the offence and its potential negative consequences, FIA president Jean Todt made it clear that should there be any repetition of such behaviour, the matter would immediately be referred to the FIA International Tribunal for further investigation.”
Setting The Wrong Example
You might wonder, given the characterisation of the offence as severe, how the FIA could arrive at this judgment. Though leniency is offset by the warning of future reprisals, plus some community service with the FIA road safety campaigns it is difficult to see how this action protects against other drivers taking the law into their own hands if the black flag is not to be waved, not to mention those in junior categories.
Todt offered the extreme nature of the enterprise to explain the outcome. “Top level sport is an intense environment in which tempers can flare. However, it is the role of top sportsmen to deal with that pressure calmly and to conduct themselves in a manner that not only respects the regulations of the sport but which befits the elevated status they enjoy.”
In a further contradiction Todt said the FIA “remained deeply concerned by the wider implications of the incident, firstly through the impact such behaviour may have on fans and young competitors worldwide and secondly due to the damage such behaviour may cause to the FIA’s image and reputation of the sport.”
Deep concern, eh? Move along, nothing to see here.