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FIA takes no further action against Vettel for Baku F1 clash

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The FIA has confirmed it will take no further action against Sebastian Vettel for his clash with Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton in Azerbaijan.

Vettel drove towards Hamilton behind the safety car in Baku eight days ago after feeling he was brake-tested ahead of the restart, causing contact between the two drivers with a side-swipe.

Vettel was hit with a 10-second stop/go penalty during the race – the harshest penalty besides disqualification – before the matter was re-examined by the FIA following outcry from a number of figures in the paddock, including Hamilton.

On Monday, the FIA announced that it would be taking no further action against Vettel, respecting the stewards’ decision from the Baku race as the German took full responsibility for the clash and issued an apology.

“The FIA remained deeply concerned by the wider implications of the incident, firstly through the impact such behavior may have on fans and young competitors worldwide and secondly due to the damage such behavior may cause fo the FIA’s image and reputation of the sport,” part of a statement from the FIA reads.

“Following detailed discussion and further examination of video and data evidence related to the incident, Sebastian Vettel admitted full responsibility.

“Sebastian Vettel extended his sincere apologies to the FIA and the wider motorsport family. He additionally committed to devote personal time over the next 12 months to educational activities across a variety of FIA championships and events, including in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, the FIA Formula 3 Championship, at an FIA Formula 4 Championship to be defined and at the FIA Stewards’ seminar.

“Due to this incident, president Jean Todt instructed that no road safety activities should be endorsed by Sebastian Vettel until the end of this year.

“The FIA notes this commitment, the personal apology made by Sebastian Vettel and his pledge to make that apology public. The FIA also notes that Scuderia Ferrari is aligned with the values and objectives of the FIA.

“In light of these developments, FIA president Jean Todt decided that on this occasion the matter should be closed.”

However, Todt did stress that a repeat of the incident would not be tolerated, and would be referred immediately to the FIA International Tribunal should it occur again.

“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,” Todt said.

“Sportsmen must be cognizant of the impact their behavior can have on those who look up to them. They are heroes and role models to millions of fans worldwide and must conduct themselves accordingly.”

After dodging further punishment, Vettel will head to this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix still leading the drivers’ championship by 14 points from Hamilton with 12 races remaining.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.