It was the moment the mutual admiration society crumbled, Sebastian Vettel swerving into Lewis Hamilton while following the safety car during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix – now the Mercedes driver reveals how he took issue with the move and warned the Ferrari driver never to disrespect him again.
The incident took place shortly before the restart, after a red flag period to clear debris from the Baku City Circuit, Vettel tapped the back of Hamilton’s slowing Mercedes as they prepared to step on the gas.
Vettel believes that Hamilton deliberately brake-checked him, upon which the German showed his anger by driving alongside the Briton and swerving into the silver car. Race stewards imposed a 10 second stop and go penalty on Vettel which cost him the race victory, as Hamilton was forced to make a pitstop to fix his headrest and thus relinquished the lead.
Speaking on the Flying Lap TV show, Hamilton revealed, “When I spoke to him later, I was like: that’s a sign of disrespect, so don’t ever disrespect me like that again otherwise then we will have problems.”
Vettel himself regards his red mist moment in Baku was unfortunate and wishing he had never reacted the way he did, “Ultimately I’m driving the car. Whatever I decided to do impacted on the result and that’s why I felt part of me let the team down. I think the reaction afterwards, especially for the team that was probably worse, that part of why I felt I let them down.”
Prior to that, the mutual respect between Hamilton and Vettel was of the highest order as they slugged it out for the championship. Baku changed that and since then the relationship has been frosty, indeed in the aftermath a bookie even suggested a boxing match between the two.
With regards to the incident Hamilton continued, “I’ve never done that to someone. I don’t even know what he was thinking to have done… I’ve never been in a position like that. I guess people react differently under certain pressures.”
Hamilton did not make a a big issue of the headline grabbing incident, rather keeping his feelings to himself, “I think there’s different ways in which you can handle things. I knew what I was there to do and I wasn’t going to let anything distract me from doing that.”
“I wasn’t going to let myself say something or react in a way that’s going to cause some negative swirl which is going to steer me off course from my ultimate goal. And naturally, with the experience you learn to just compartmentalise all those different things.”
At that point in the title battle Vettel was the man to beat and had led the championship since race one. However, after the summer break, his challenge crumbled while Hamilton found an extra gear and claimed the title. The pair now share four F1 world championship titles apiece.