Thursday, June 29, 2017

F1 Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was one of the most entertaining races of the year. We usually reserve that honor for the Canadian Grand Prix but the drama in this one give it the nod. Unless something else comes along. This races was famous for more fractured relationships than make ups.

The juiciest chain of events was the Vettel Hamilton row. At the beginning of the season it was almost a drag to hear each of them talk about how it was an honor to be able to fight each other fairly for a title. They were more like karate students in the same dojo than the vicious ninjas in feuding clans they really are.

The Vettel Hamilton relationship before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was what the Rosberg Hamilton relationship should have been. Lewis Hamilton prefers fighting someone from an opposing team because he believes it will lead his team to favor him more rather than if he was fighting a teammate.

Drivers such as Kimi raikkonen, Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, and Felipe Massa, lost out on what could have been productive races. Despite finishing above all of them the biggest loser in the race was actually Lewis Hamilton who finished 5th. He qualified first, he had a flawless and faultless race. Well Sebastian Vettel would not quite agree that it was faultless, but it was certainly flawless racing.

Despite all those good things from Hamilton, the person who sought to rile him ended up finishing ahead of him. Sebastian Vettel bumped into Lewis Hamilton while behind the safety car, and damaged his own front wing. Vettel believed Hamilton had brake checked him. To show his frustration he pulled up alongside Lewis and bumped into him sideways. Imagine you are Lewis Hamilton doing your best to have a good race and win and in less than a 10 second period you are bumped twice by the same person.

Vettel eventually got a 10 second stop and go penalty. In normal circumstances that delay should have given Hamilton an advantage over Vettel and allowed him to really close up the point deficit in the championship. But the decision to have Vettel serve the  penalty was given after Lewis Hamilton himself was ordered to stop to fix a headrest that was coming loose. This is part of the vehicle's crash protection structure, so a very serious malfunction.

So why wasn't Vettel's penalty more substantial, and why was it called after Hamilton's headrest issue even though it happened earlier. This is where the entertainment nature of the sport took over. The stewards clearly knew they had to penalize Vettel, but they did not want to be the ones to impact the nature of the championship, because this 1-2 was what everyone - including the stewards themselves - wanted to watch. Vettel was deliberately penalized just enough to allow him to still be able to battle Hamilton. Yet the 10-second stop and go was less than what it took for Mercedes to change Lewis' headrest. Hamilton came out behind Vettel.

In the grand scheme of things the stewards actually helped Vettel. For wanting to keep the fans glued to the race they allowed him to actually leave the race with a bigger championship lead than he arrived with. Penalties should not take into account the nature of the driver being penalized. Perhaps another non-championship contending driver would have had a much harsher penalty.

The FIA has realized the stewards' mistake in Baku and made a statement on Wednesday that the incident will be reviewed on Monday. Is there really a reason why they had to announce they would review the incident before reviewing it? And why wait till Monday. They could have made a decision on the incident and simply announced their decision today or tomorrow without having to announce a review date.

As most F1 connoisseurs know, the FIA president Jean Todt was Ferrari's principal for a number of years. There could be dynamics still at play there. Not only that but the stewards are again considering the ramifications of their decisions on the championship battle.

A weak decision could give Sebastian Vettel the confidence to romp his way through races knowing that he is a protected commodity valued by the higher ups. A strong decision could shackle Vettel and arm Lewis Hamilton to run unchallenged to the title. With Valtteri so far not quite Lewis' match the stake holders are weary of having an unchallenged championship run. Adversity is the spice of good sports entertainment, and so far only Vettel has the fire power to match Hamilton.