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Sebastian Vettel strikes lucky again after Baku reprieve

Sebastian Vettel must give quite the apology.

For the second time since the Mexican Grand Prix last October, Vettel avoided further punishment from the FIA after humbling himself in front of the governing body over an incident at the previous race. But, unlike Mexico, where he apologised days after telling FIA race director Charlie Whiting to "f--- off" -- something which would earn a straight red or ejection in sports such as rugby, tennis and the NFL -- this was for something a lot more serious; pulling up alongside another car and intentionally turning into it. Whether driving at racing speed or behind a Safety Car, behaviour like that cannot be tolerated in a racing car, especially from the most decorated driver on the current grid.

Sebastian Vettel. ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images
Mistakes can happen in the heat of the moment. At that point Vettel did not have the benefit of the data which later cleared Lewis Hamilton of brake-testing, nor the countless replays from various angles. He had the incident itself and a split second to react -- rage took over and he reacted in a manner unbecoming of a four-time world champion. It was wrong, and would have been wrong regardless of the driver or the speed at which it took place. Vettel's demeanour after the race suggested he knew it.

Though intentionally driving into another car -- regardless of speed -- should never be tolerated, he would have earned much less criticism in the aftermath of the race had he simply admitted he made a mistake. Even his Ferrari engineer sounded confused when Vettel asked repeatedly over the radio what he had done to earn himself the 10-second stop-go penalty. With reports in Germany suggesting race steward Paul Gutjahr opted against a disqualification due to the ramifications it could have on the title fight, he should have been thanking his lucky stars he made it to the chequered flag in the first place.

But instead of owning it, the championship leader effectively refused to acknowledge the second contact took place, repeatedly crying foul over his penalty and then -- when he did finally accept there was a second incident -- responded to Hamilton's claim about him setting a bad example for kids by saying Formula One is a man's sport. There was never an apology.

It took Vettel eight days to issue one and according to the FIA he only took "full responsibility" for what happened after reviewing the video footage and data. The length of time in between the race and his acceptance of guilt makes the apology look forced and insincere and, worst of all, gives the impression that an apology a week after the fact excuses the inexcusable if you are a four-time world champion locked in a title fight. It sets a terrible precedent, suggesting a driver can get away with just a stop-go penalty if he intentionally drives into another car (and admits doing so intentionally, as Vettel has now done). It's a worrying grey area in the rulebook of a sport where grey areas are exploited for performance gains on a regular basis.

The negative reaction to Vettel's behaviour was undoubtedly heightened by his behaviour last year. As Hamilton pointed out, the Ferrari driver had shown his angry side on several occasions with his enraged radio messages, which culminated in him abusing the FIA's most senior F1 official in Mexico. As with Baku, once he stepped out of the car on that day he ignored his own in-car behaviour and instead sought out Charlie Whiting for a private apology before writing a contrite letter for FIA president Jean Todt.

On that occasion, the FIA decided: "In the light of this sincere apology and strong commitment, the FIA president has decided, on an exceptional basis, not to take disciplinary action against Mr Vettel by bringing this matter before the FIA international tribunal."

Sound familiar? The statement is remarkably similar to the one issued on Monday clearing Vettel of a further penalty. If the Baku car swipe had been by one of F1's hot-headed youngsters, such as Daniil Kvyat or Max Verstappen, it's hard to imagine an eight-day old apology would have saved them from disqualification (assuming they hadn't been disqualified on the spot in the first place).

With the decision made, attention will now turn away from the incident and to the FIA's handling of it. As the FIA statement made clear, the governing body remains "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".

Though Vettel's behaviour in Baku undoubtedly sets a bad example for kids watching the sport, the example set by Monday's decision is even worse.

Source: http://www.espn.co.uk/f1/story/_/id/19807241/sebastian-vettel-strikes-lucky-again-baku-reprieve

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