Canadian GP: Vettel penalty for racing incident was harsh

Vettel was penalised for ‘rejoining the track in a dangerous manner.’ But it was simply an instinctive reaction of a driver catching oversteer caused by the rear of his car bouncing when he rejoins the track.

Second placed Sebastian Vettel swaps the number boards at parc ferme after the Canadian Grand Prix.   -  Getty Images/AFP

The Canadian Grand Prix ended in very controversial circumstances with Sebastian Vettel being penalised for “rejoining the track in a dangerous manner” after going wide at turn three. This of course became the single biggest talking point of the season so far. Looking at social media, it does seem that there are some fans who think the penalty was justified, but by large most fans and people in the paddock seem to believe that it was too harsh.

Personally, I too believe it was unjustified. On the Sky Sports F1 coverage, Jenson Button and I were able to break it down frame by frame and analyse it and we both seemed to reach similar conclusions. It’s worth remembering that Sebastian was doing over a hundred miles per hour there and not looking at things frame by frame!

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Yes, Lewis Hamilton pressured Sebastian into a mistake, which to me is a key point. The Mercedes man seemed happier on the hard tyres at that phase of the race and he had closed right up behind Sebastian.

This wasn’t a situation where Seb intentionally came off the brakes and cut the chicane, like we see people do in places like Abu Dhabi. Believe me, no driver ever wants to find themselves on the grass outside turn three, with the wall that close!

When Seb bounced back onto the track, the rear of the car kicked sideways and he had a snap of oversteer. That wasn’t him steering into Lewis’s path or squeezing Lewis into the wall. It was simply an instinctive reaction of a driver catching the oversteer caused by the rear of his car bouncing when he rejoined the track.

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You can then see Sebastian put a lot of steering lock on to turn left and straighten the car, thereby giving Lewis space. If his intention was to squeeze Lewis, he would not have turned the steering wheel as much. From the moment he got full control of the car, he went straight – not right to squeeze Lewis.

Therefore, to me, this was an incident where a driver simply made an error, bounced back into the path of another car who – yes – had to take avoiding action, but that was always a gap that was going to close. That is simply the nature of racing on a street track where the walls are close – sometimes you have to take avoiding action when a car in front has an incident.

For example, let’s take a hypothetical scenario where Sebastian kisses the wall at turn four and bounces onto the track in front of Lewis. Lewis would have had to take avoiding action and maybe even brake. He would then have passed Sebastian because Seb had damage from touching the wall. Do you then penalise Sebastian for rejoining the track in a dangerous manner? I don’t think so.

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Ultimately, my underlying feeling was that a driver was being penalised for making an error that has anyway cost him lap time, and that’s harsh. This was quality driving from two great drivers, pushing their cars at a relentless pace for every corner of every lap and one of them made an error. That’s human and he shouldn’t have been penalised for it.


Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium as second placed Sebastian Vettel applauds after the Canadian GP.   -  Getty Images/AFP


I don’t blame Lewis and Mercedes for complaining to the FIA about Sebastian because that’s part of the game that all the teams play. I actually wonder if, at these moments, it’s better for the teams not to be able to communicate to race control because their incessant badgering will have an influence.

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If the boot was on the other foot, unquestionably Ferrari would have complained and Mercedes would have defended the case – that’s just the way things are in F1 nowadays, which in itself seems wrong, but that’s a whole other subject for another day.

Having said all that, I do sympathise with Emanuele Pirro, who was the driver steward this weekend. Emanuele is the nicest man in motor racing and I’m proud call him a good friend of mine. Unfortunately for him, because the other stewards don’t have the public profile that he does, he was the one who was personally targeted by several media, Internet trolls and Ferrari fans, which was unfair. He’s part of a panel that jointly made the decision, so it was wrong for anyone to single him out.

On the whole I thought that apart from that one mistake at turn three, Sebastian was brilliant this weekend. He was on the back foot after the first run in Q3, but delivered a superlative lap to take pole position. In the race, he and Ferrari made their strategy work, and despite the Mercedes looking like the quicker car, he managed to hold Lewis at bay. If you take away that five-second penalty, there’s no way that Lewis would have won. He himself admitted that he wouldn’t have passed Sebastian on track and really for the sake of the championship battle, it would have been good to see Seb take a win after such a long dry spell.

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The shenanigans at the front somewhat overshadowed some great drives further back, with the two Renaults delivering their best result of the season. I have to say well done to the engine department at Renault, who showed that they’re making steps forward by putting all four Renault-powered cars into the top 10 in qualifying on a power circuit. Daniel Ricciardo delivered a storming lap in qualifying, but I actually think that Nico Hulkenbereg had a better race before being told to hold position.

Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat also had good races to rack up points, while conversely Valtteri Bottas had a nightmare weekend where his championship aspirations took a big dent. Lewis is now 29 points ahead, which is crucially more than a race victory, and you get the feeling that the momentum is now falling away from the Finn.

At the time of writing this column, Ferrari may have filed their appeal against the decision in Montreal, so this could discussion could rumble on. So keep your eyes and ears open for more news!

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