The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was one of the more remarkable and strangest races in recent times!
Daniel Ricciardo took a shock victory from tenth on the grid, which was the fifth race win of his career after falling to 17th after six laps after pitting on lap five from ninth to try and find some clear track to set some fast laps.
Valtteri Bottas took his fifth podium of the season, finishing second after falling a lap down after suffering a puncture on the opening lap after a collision with Kimi Räikkönen at Turn Two, while Lance Stroll got the first podium of his Formula One career, finishing third after starting in eighth, and became only the second teenager in history of Formula One to record a podium finish in a grand prix.
However, it is the two drivers who finished fourth and fifth in the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix that received all of the headlines in Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton and Vettel were first and second right from the opening lap respectively until the safety car was called on Lap 12/13 to recover the stranded Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.
The race was restarted on Lap 17, but the safety car was called again after a piece of debris flew from Räikkönen’s car, and at the end of this safety car period, this was when the incident happened between Hamilton and Vettel.
On Lap 19, the announcement was made that the safety car was coming this lap, and as per normal, the leader of the race, which in this case was Hamilton, is allowed to control the speed of the field in the lead-up to the restart.
However, through Turn 15 on Lap 19, Hamilton was slower than Vettel expected, and on exit of Turn 15, Vettel hit the back of Hamilton’s car. Vettel, in the heat of the moment, thinking that Hamilton brake-tested him, came alongside Hamilton to show his disapproval to his championship rival, and then decided to turn in on him, causing a collision.
Data showed, according to the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), that Lewis Hamilton did not brake-test Sebastian Vettel, but it was clear that Vettel caused a collision with Hamilton, and the stewards had to hand down a justifiable penalty.
After Hamilton had to pit after his head-rest was not attached properly after a red flag period to clean up debris, Vettel received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty breaching Article 27.4 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, and after the race, Vettel received three penalty points to take his total nine penalty points, leaving him three penalty points away from a one-race ban should he break the rules in a such a way in the next two races.
Article 27.4 reads:
27.4 At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.
However, did The FIA Stewards of the Meeting in Paul Gutjahr, Enzo Spano, Danny Sullivan, and Anar Shukurov get the decision right in regards to the penalty for Sebastian Vettel?
In my opinion, I don’t think they did. At the time of the incident, and seeing a number of replays of the incident, I felt that Vettel had to be disqualified from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for such a premeditated act.
However, in this case, I think the implementation of the penalty points system in recent years saw the stewards err away from the thought of disqualifying Vettel from the race, and implement a penalty they thought was much more appropriate to the situation, and what had happened.
Under Article 4.2 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations:
4.2 In accordance with Articles 31. 5 and 38.3, the stewards may impose penalty points on a driver’s Super Licence. If a driver accrues 12 penalty points his licence will be suspended for the following Event, following which 12 points will be removed from the licence.
Penalty points will remain on a driver’s Super Licence for a period of 12 months after which they will be respectively removed on the 12 month anniversary of their imposition.
However, the result of the penalty, after Hamilton had to pit to fix his issue, saw Vettel get ahead of Hamilton, and gain crucial world championship points over his championship rival didn’t seem morally right to most people, including Hamilton, who expressed his frustration of Vettel’s penalty during the race.
However, what wasn’t investigated was whether Sebastian Vettel overtook Lewis Hamilton under safety car conditions?
Under Article 39.8 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations:
39.8 With the exception of the cases listed under a) to h) below, no driver may overtake another car on the track, including the safety car, until he passes the first safety car line for the first time when the safety car is returning to the pits. However, if the safety car is still deployed at the beginning of the last lap, or is deployed during the last lap, Article 39.15 will apply.
The exceptions are :
a) If a driver is signalled to do so from the safety car.
b) Under 39.12 or 39.16 below.
c) When entering the pits a driver may pass another car remaining on the track, including
the safety car, after he has reached the first safety car line.
d) When leaving the pits a driver may overtake, or be overtaken by, another car on the
track before he reaches the second safety car line.
e) When the safety car is returning to the pits it may be overtaken by cars on the track
once it has reached the first safety car line.
f) Whilst in the pit entry, pit lane or pit exit a driver may overtake another car which is
also in one of these three areas.
g) Any car stopping in its designated garage area whilst the safety car is using the pit lane
(see 39.11 below) may be overtaken.
h) If any car slows with an obvious problem.
Looking at various replays of the incident again, it appeared that Vettel did pass Hamilton under safety car conditions, but this has appeared to have been missed by the stewards, and if this is the case, Vettel should have received another penalty.
It is something that the FIA and Formula One have got to review the footage as soon as possible to determine whether Vettel did overtake under safety car conditions.
However, the events of Azerbaijan will ensure that the world championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton will be one of titanic proportions!