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Good news for F1: Gloves are off between Hamilton and Vettel

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) The gloves are off between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, and Formula One is already the winner.

After so much talk of mutual respect, their previously harmonious relationship melted in the heat of Sunday’s hectic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Hamilton said Vettel “disgraced himself” by deliberately driving his Ferrari alongside and swerving it into the side of him. Vettel, who was given a time penalty, said he only did it in response to a dangerous braking move by Hamilton right in front of him.

Whatever the arguments, F1 finally has what it craves: a saga between fiercely competitive champions that promises to last all season.

“Now we have a situation where there is more controversy. It was clear this could happen the closer it gets,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “(It) certainly doesn’t help their relationship going forward. So now the gloves are off.”

Hamilton and Vettel have won a combined seven F1 titles and more than 100 races. Vettel has four of those titles, while Hamilton has three. But the British driver has won more races, 56 to 45.

This season they are evenly matched, with three wins each, and Vettel leads Hamilton in the overall championship by 14 points after eight races.

While Hamilton often tangled with former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg over the past three years, losing the title to him last year, this new showdown is more intriguing. Not only does it oppose multiple world champions – which was not the case with Rosberg – it also pits Mercedes against a fiercely proud Ferrari team chasing its first drivers’ title since 2007 and its first constructors’ since 2008.

Ferrari is desperate to end its barren run and is banking on Vettel to deliver. The German driver is under enormous pressure.

“The sport needs the rivalry and what we’ve seen has the ingredient of a great championship,” Wolff said. “At a certain stage, the best ones that compete for world championships can’t be friends. Maybe we’ve seen the limitation of that respect.”

Wolff has noticed a change in behavior from Ferrari, too.

“Normally I get a breakfast (at Ferrari) on Sunday morning. (This time) only a tea,” he said. “For me the analogy is like rugby, during the race they are our enemies. But we must be capable, once the race is done, to have a beer like rugby players and acknowledge someone’s performance.”

Although Vettel appeared to be more to blame on Sunday, Wolff had some sympathy for him.

“They’re warriors and you’re at war at that moment, fighting for the race win and the championship,” Wolff said. “Emotions are running high.”

Hamilton finished fifth in Sunday’s race, while Vettel was fourth. Although that meant Hamilton lost a bit of ground, he saw something to exploit over the remaining 12 races, something he considers Vettel’s vulnerability under high pressure.

“As a team we can only look at that as a positive for us,” Hamilton said. “He’s obviously under pressure and that’s not a bad thing if that’s how he reacts.”

The next race is the Austrian GP in two weeks, Round 9 of their heavyweight contest.

Smith: Baku, Ricciardo, Stroll shine as Vettel/Hamilton title fight ignites

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Almost 24 hours have passed since the checkered flag fell in Baku, yet the dust shows few signs of settling after one of the most explosive Formula 1 races in recent memory.

It was inevitable though, wasn’t it? The chummy, cordial, sickly-sweet duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel for this year’s F1 drivers’ title had to blow up at some point.

And boy, did it blow up.

This was a race that had it all. A far cry from some of the more processional races that have been rather regular in recent times, the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix will be remembered for all of the right reasons (well, unless you’re Sebastian Vettel); a defining moment for the 2017 season and the new era of F1 that started in Australia.

THE INEVITABILITY OF SEB VS. LEWIS

It was bound to happen in the end. There was no way that a direct fight between the two of the finest racers of F1’s current generation could not descend into chaos at one point.

It’s perhaps surprising that we made it eight races before the first cracks in the Gatsby-esque “well done old sport” camaraderie between Hamilton and Vettel began to show.

This will be looked back on a key flashpoint in the title fight for 2017 and the wider rivalry between Hamilton and Vettel. Baku was where things got nasty.

The incidents themselves were pretty cut and dry. Anyone watching could see what happened.

The first contact between them coming out of Turn 15 was a result of Vettel misjudging how Hamilton was controlling the pack. With the safety car’s lights going out and peeling away, Hamilton became the defacto safety car. He had every right to go as fast or as slow as he liked.

Vettel was expecting Hamilton to accelerate out of Turn 15, perhaps thinking the Briton would bolt early as he did on the first restart. Hamilton instead kept at a steady pace, with the FIA data confirming as much, leading to the contact between the pair.

Vettel was unhappy and frustrated. That was perhaps justified. But what happened next was not. Not one bit.

Drawing alongside Hamilton, Vettel wanted to make his feelings known. He raised his hand in complaint, which may have been enough to get the Mercedes driver to speed up. After all, he needed to stay ahead as the lead car.

The swipe that Vettel then made towards Hamilton was, as explored by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton in this thread, a scare tactic. It was meant to spook his rival. But he got it wrong and the two made contact.

The FIA’s response was to give Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty, the strongest in-race sanction barring disqualification. It dropped Vettel back down the order and ended his win hopes, yet because of Hamilton’s unplanned pit stop to fit a new headrest, the German actually jumped ahead of his rival.

The end result should not be part of the context of the incident, though. Hamilton losing his headrest and dropping behind Vettel was totally separate and, frankly, just bad luck for the Mercedes man. The two incidents were unconnected.

Would Hamilton have been so aggrieved had he won the race and regained the lead of the championship from Vettel? One would hope so. Because it was a dangerous incident that, as Hamilton told NBCSN after the race, sent out totally the wrong message to young drivers coming through the ranks.

You do not, even just to spook your rival, deliberately drive towards another car like that under the safety car.

Why no disqualification? A report from Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport after the race suggested there were fears it could impact the title fight. Exclusion may have been a strong response, but it would certainly have sent out a clear message. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity to do exactly that.

Instead, Vettel and Hamilton will now be left to stew over it for a couple of weeks before heading to Austria. Once both drivers have cooled off, hopefully proper, adult talks can take place in a bid to clear things up.

We may like a bit of heat between sporting rivals, but respect is a rarer, more precious thing. It is something that was severely lacking in Baku.

Hopefully we can then see them settle things out on-track the proper way, just as they have done for much of the season so far.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 25: Race winner Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates his win in parc ferme during the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 25, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“BUTTER MY BUTT AND CALL ME A BISCUIT”

Daniel Ricciardo rarely disappoints when it comes to a good a quote, with the words of wisdom above gracing his Twitter account in the aftermath of the race. Frankly, we couldn’t have put it any better.

Ricciardo’s charge from P10 on the grid to victory was an unlikely one, requiring him to negotiate a number of pitfalls that caught out his rivals – and, as proven by his qualifying crash on Saturday, had already bitten him.

Ricciardo attacked the race with his usual gusto and bravado, with the race-winning move – albeit just for third at the time – being a brave double-pass on the Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll into Turn 1 after the safety car restart.

Ricciardo has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. All five of his F1 wins have come from starting outside the top three, and all have required a good dose of fortune. Alas, a win is a win – and when the front-runners falter, more often than not it is Ricciardo who is there to pick up the pieces.

Ricciardo’s victory also means that we have more than two teams winning races in a season for the first time since 2013, when Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari again shared the spoils. Variety is never a bad thing.

The top officials at Red Bull are under no illusions about the team’s current standing in F1. It still remains the third-fastest team and, under normal conditions, would stand no chance of beating Ferrari or Mercedes in a straight fight.

But that doesn’t devalue Ricciardo’s win at all. Instead, it makes it all the more impressive that he was there to capitalize on the opportunity that came his way.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 25: Second place finisher Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 crosses the line ahead of third placed Lance Stroll of Canada driving the (18) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes during the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 25, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

A FLYING FINNISH FOR BOTTAS

While the majority of the plaudits after the race lay with Ricciardo and Lance Stroll (who we’ll come onto), perhaps the greatest fightback of all in Baku came courtesy of Valtteri Bottas.

The Finn tangled with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 2, sustaining a puncture that left him limping back to the pits for repairs and a lap down on the field. The race already appeared to have been turned into an extended test session.

But Bottas dug deep. He was able to get a wave-by under the first safety car, and then put the hammer down to pick his way through the field as those ahead began to lose their heads.

The drag race with Stroll to the line was dramatic, with Bottas emerging just 0.1 seconds ahead to clinch second place and salvage a big result from a pretty disastrous race for Mercedes, all things considered.

So what more can Bottas do to secure a contract renewal and ease the current “uncomfortable situation” he is in?

Frankly, nothing. He’s doing all he can. If the team wants harmony and stability, then surely keeping Bottas for 2018 and beyond is the way to do that.

If the appeal of Alonso, Vettel (well, maybe not after this weekend…) or Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon is a greater pull for the team, then it isn’t for want of trying on Bottas’ part he would depart, that’s for sure.

He has everything it takes to race for a title-winning team. Baku proved that.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 25: Lance Stroll of Canada and Williams celebrates his first podium and finishing in third place during the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 25, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

STROLL COMES GOOD – FINALLY

Lance Stroll’s charge to third place in Baku may have come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t have.

He was, after all, F1’s best-prepared rookie since Lewis Hamilton thanks to an extensive test program prior to his debut, and came off the back of a record-breaking Formula 3 title win.

But after a raggedy first six races in F1, the critics were beginning to question Stroll’s readiness for grand prix racing, with his charge to ninth in Canada going some way to proving a point.

Sure, his rise has been accelerated by funding from his billionaire father, Lawrence, but the talent has to be there to back it all up. We saw that talent in Baku.

Stroll drove a clean, trouble-free race that would have seen many other rookies lose their cool at the chaos that was unfolding around them. The Williams FW40 is a quick car, and while he couldn’t keep Bottas back at the end, P3 was nevertheless a remarkable result for the young Canadian.

The catalyst for all of this may have been a revised preparation program for Baku. Following his run to his first points finish in Canada, Stroll stayed out in North America to complete a private test at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas with a 2014-spec Williams, and has also been working with a new driver coach.

All of this appears to have calmed the 18-year-old. Now with his first points and podium chalked up, Stroll will hopefully be more at ease. He doesn’t have a point to prove anymore. Perhaps that will yield more displays like the one in Baku on Sunday.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 23: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the European Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 23, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

WELL DONE BAKU

The trackside message of “Well Done Baku!” that ultimately turned into a meme during F1’s first visit to Azerbaijan actually rang true in the wake of this year’s race: the crazy Baku City Circuit delivered, and then some.

The track is one of the maddest on the F1 calendar, featuring a mix of slow-speed sections, two high-speed complexes – oh, and a castle. It’s the kind of thing you might find in Mario Kart.

It was all said prior to the 2016 race when a crazy event featuring multiple safety cars and crashes galore was expected, only for a disappointingly straightforward race to set in. This time around though, Baku threw up the madness that has been expected.

Much like the 2012 European Grand Prix at Valencia, yesterday’s race proved that street circuits can throw up some spectacular results. For an event that seemed an odd addition to the F1 calendar at first, Baku has found a good groove with its second running.

So, well done Baku. You’ve given us a race that will be looked back on in years to come. Good on you.

Hamilton: Soft Vettel penalty for Baku clash sets dangerous precedent

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Lewis Hamilton feels that Sebastian Vettel’s 10-second stop/go penalty for dangerous driving during Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix sets a concerning precedent for Formula 1 and wider motorsport.

F1 title rivals Hamilton and Vettel came to blows before half-distance in Baku when running behind the safety car, the latter accusing his rival of brake testing him after bumping the rear of his car.

Vettel responded by moving alongside Hamilton and driving towards him, causing contact between the pair.

The stewards reacted by giving Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty and three penalty points on his FIA super license, putting him just three away from a race ban.

Debate was rife in the paddock after the race regarding the incident, with Hamilton expressing his dismay over the penalty that was awarded amid calls from some corners for disqualification or a race ban.

“It definitely sets a precedent. It sets a precedent within Formula 1,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“I think it also does for all the young kids that are watching us Formula 1 drivers drive and conduct ourselves, they’ve seen today how a multiple four-time world champion behaves. Hopefully that doesn’t ripple into the younger categories.

“In terms of how things are penalized, how you can do something like that and still finish fourth, I think it’s… I don’t know.

“I’ve not really thought too much about it since. I just tried as hard as I could to get back up. It’s not a good day.”

Vettel ultimately finished the race fourth ahead of Hamilton in P5, the Briton being forced into a second unscheduled pit stop when the headrest in his Mercedes car came loose.

The German insisted after the race that he was unaware why he received the stop/go penalty, believing that Hamilton should have been sanctioned for brake testing him under the safety car.

“The leader dictates the pace, but we were exiting the corner, he was accelerating and then he braked so much that I was braking as soon as I saw but couldn’t stop in time and ran in the back of him,” Vettel told NBCSN.

“I think Formula 1 is for grown-ups. As I said, the maneuver before was not necessary and damaged my front wing, damaged also his rear as well I think a bit.

“I think it was not hte right way to do it, exiting the corner, accelerating and then braking. I don’t think there was any point of doing it.”

Vettel issued 3 penalty points following Hamilton clash in Baku

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Sebastian Vettel has been assessed three penalty points following his clash with Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car period in today’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the FIA has confirmed.

Vettel and Hamilton collided twice on Lap 19 behind the safety car in Baku, with the German driver appearing to make a deliberate move on the second occasion in retaliation after believing to have been brake tested.

Vettel was handed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty in the immediate aftermath of the incident, dropping him out of contention for victory. The Ferrari driver ultimately finished the race fourth ahead of Hamilton in P5.

After the race, the stewards assessed a further penalty to Vettel that takes him up to nine total for a 12-month period.

“The Stewards examined video evidence which showed that car 5 drove alongside and then steered into car 44,” the report from the FIA reads.

“The Stewards decide this maneuver was deemed potentially dangerous.”

“I don’t know why I got the penalty and Lewis didn’t. It’s disappointing because it could have been a better result,” Vettel said after the race.

“I don’t have a problem with Lewis but I just think that what he did on the track was not OK.

“By now the decision is done but, in an episode like this one, I still think that if you give out a penalty, then it should be to both drivers.”

Now holding nine penalty points in a 12-month period, Vettel is just three away from a one race ban.

Ricciardo wins crazy Azerbaijan GP as Vettel, Hamilton come to blows

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Daniel Ricciardo survived one of the most chaotic Formula 1 races in recent memory to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as championship rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton both hit trouble and came to blows on-track.

A clash between the pair under the safety car acted as the first sign of a needle in their title fight, relations having remained fairly cordial to this point.

Vettel was deemed to be responsible for dangerous driving, receiving a penalty, while Hamilton was forced into an unplanned second stop when his headrest came loose, ruling both title contenders out of contention for victory.

All of this allowed Daniel Ricciardo to battle his way from 10th place on the grid to take Red Bull’s first win of the season, leading home Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and F1 rookie Lance Stroll, who took Williams’ first podium in over a year in just his eighth grand prix start.

Hamilton managed to make a clean getaway from pole position to retain his lead ahead Mercedes teammate Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, only for contact between the two to leave both cars with damage. In Bottas’ case, a new front wing was required, leaving him to limp back to the pits and fall a lap down.

The incident allowed Vettel to gain two places and run second behind Hamilton, with Sergio Perez moving up to third for Force India ahead of Max Verstappen and Raikkonen down in fifth, the Finn unamused by Bottas’ move at Turn 2.

Hamilton wasted little time in beginning to push at the front, quickly opening up a three-second gap ahead of Vettel, forcing the Ferrari man to respond to stop the gap from growing further.

In the battle behind, Perez was left fighting hard to keep Verstappen back with some bold defensive moves, only to soon be relieved of the pressure when the Red Bull driver suffered an engine problem, causing him to slow and drop all the way to eighth.

The safety car was deployed on Lap 12 to allow Daniil Kvyat’s stricken Toro Rosso to be recovered after an engine issue, sparking the lead drivers to dive into the pits. Hamilton was able to retain his lead ahead of Vettel, but Verstappen was forced to park his car up in the garage, marking his fourth retirement in six races.

The entirety of the field made use of the safety car to pit and switch to the soft tire that would likely take them to the end of the race, with Hamilton heading the field ahead of Vettel and Perez for the restart on Lap 17.

Hamilton bolted early as the safety car peeled in, dropping the surprised Vettel into the clutches of Perez behind. Vettel was able to defend on the inside at Turn 1 and hold the position, but teammate Raikkonen was less fortunate, slipping behind Felipe Massa and Esteban Ocon. The Ferrari driver also lost a chunk of bodywork from his car at Turn 1, prompting the stewards to throw a second safety car to allow the track to be cleared.

After nearly catching the safety car up on the first restart, Hamilton went to the other extreme the second time around, bunching the field right up. The Briton slowed so much that Vettel bumped into the back of him at Turn 15, before going side-by-side and raising his hand to complain. The pair touched again, Vettel appearing to drive towards Hamilton in a deliberate move.

When the race returned to green, Hamilton streamed away at the front while Vettel, running with damage, was left to defend his position from Massa, Perez and Ocon behind.

Massa tried to pass on the inside and moved up to third, while Ocon dived past Force India teammate Perez at Turn 3 and made contact, leaving both cars with damage. Ocon pitted and got a new front wing before going back out, but Perez was less fortunate, returning to his garage.

The safety car was deployed for the third time as debris was cleared, albeit too late for Raikkonen, who sustained damage to his car after running over bodywork at Turn 1, forcing him to head to the garage.

With debris strewn across the track, the FIA race stewards opted to throw a red flag so that the marshals could properly clear it, leaving all of the cars to return to the pit lane and queue up. Both Vettel and Hamilton were left in deep conversation with their teams regarding their clash, with the stewards doing much the same, confirming the incident was under investigation.

As teams waited for the race to resume behind the safety car, Ferrari and Force India were both able to complete rapid repairs on Raikkonen and Perez’s cars to get them back into the race, albeit two laps down on the field.

Around 25 minutes after the red flag was thrown, the race resumed behind the safety car with Hamilton and Vettel leading the way. Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll made the most of the madness to rise up to third and fourth respectively for Williams, while Ricciardo sat fifth for Red Bull.

Ricciardo was the big mover on the restart – which was absent of contact – to move from fifth to third ahead of both Williams drivers. Having reported a problem on his car, Massa began to lose multiple positions, while Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg clipped the wall and damaged his car, resigning both to retirement.

As the stewards continued to mull over his clash with Vettel, Hamilton began to pull away at the front once more, running over two seconds clear of his rival as the race passed half distance. His race took a twist when his head rest started to come loose, forcing the Briton to try to push it back down while running at 200 mph on the main straight. Unable to clip it back in fully, Hamilton was left to manage as best he could to keep the head protection in place.

Not wishing to risk a safety breach, Mercedes had no choice but to pit Hamilton from the lead and fit a new headrest, dropping the Briton all the way back to eighth place. However, just as he came in, the stewards announced that Vettel had been hit with a 10 second stop/go penalty for dangerous driving, pulling the race away from the Ferrari man just when it had been presented handed to him.

Vettel served his penalty and emerged back out on-track in seventh, one place ahead of Hamilton, with both drivers unhappy with the sanction that had been handed out. All of this left Ricciardo leading from Stroll and Magnussen, with Ocon fourth and Bottas – who was a lap down early on – fifth with 15 laps to go.

Magnussen was powerless to stop the Mercedes-powered cars from passing, with Bottas also overhauling Ocon to take third. Vettel and Hamilton were also able to slip past Magnussen before coming across Ocon, the Force India being made light work of, making Bottas the next target with six laps to go, who himself was catching Stroll at a rapid rate of knots.

At the front, though, Ricciardo had no such dramas to contend with. After 51 crazy laps in Baku, the Red Bull driver crossed the line to record the fifth victory of his grand prix career and the team’s first of the season.

Bottas denied Stroll second place at the line, finishing just 0.1 seconds ahead after a drag race at the finish, but the Canadian was nevertheless able to take third for Williams in just his eighth grand prix start, acting as a remarkable result for the rookie.

Vettel’s fightback from his penalty saw him finish fourth and extend his championship lead to 14 points over Hamilton, who was left to settle for fifth place.

Esteban Ocon took sixth for Force India – a good result given his clash with Perez and damage – while Kevin Magnussen took seventh for Haas ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

Fernando Alonso was another driver to benefit from the race of attrition, crossing the line ninth to take McLaren’s first points of the season and end its point-less run. Pascal Wehrlein rounded out the points for Sauber in P10.

Formula 1 returns in two weeks’ time with the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg.