Bob McMurray: Vettel’s rashness mars Malaysian build-up
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As you read this I am at the Sepang circuit outside Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix.
This state-of-the-art track, built especially for Formula 1, has never attracted a large crowd and since the advent of the more glamorous Singapore night race, just 350km to the south, the crowds have dwindled even further.
Sadly it is scheduled to be the last Formula 1 Grand Prix at this track, the first being in October 1999.
It was one of the first Formula 1 tracks to be designed by the much maligned, sometimes deservedly so, Hermann Tilke, a man who went on to design many more tracks for Grand Prix racing.
A fast, challenging track with the tropical heat and humidity testing the reliability of the engines on the long straight, as well as the drivers and indeed the non-local tourists, Sepang has never been an easy track to master.
Nor has the weather, with unpredictable heavy rainstorms a regular feature. The main drivers’ championship protagonists have had mixed results in Sepang, Lewis Hamilton winning only once and Sebastian Vettel winning the race four times with both the Ferrari and Red Bull teams.
We go into the race weekend with Vettel now 28 points behind Hamilton in the championship.
That deficit is due, in the main, to his own rash misjudgment at the beginning of the race in Singapore.
In the official words,: “The stewards consider that no driver was found to have been wholly or predominantly to blame for the incident and will therefore take no further action.”
Those stewards are out of step with the rest of the watching world (with the exception of Ferrari and its Tifosi) who are clearly of the opinion the collision was wholly the fault of Vettel.
But no penalty was issued, and it looks as though Vettel, once again, is living a charmed life when it comes to penalties.
Outbursts, vitriolic and expletive-laden, aimed at the officials — with Race Director Charlie Whiting being the bull’s-eye — have been forgiven after Vettel offered a humble and well-drafted (by the team?) apology.
Deliberately and dangerously colliding with Hamilton in Baku earlier this season earned him a comparatively slight slap on the wrist.
Bad sportsmanship with his driving at the Mexican GP, a collision with Rosberg at Sepang, and having been adjudged to have driven Massa off the road, all in 2016, left Vettel at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ pyramid of penalty points.
We were almost in the situation where one more points penalty-inducing situation would have resulted in him sitting on the naughty chair for a time out for one Grand Prix.
But it’s difficult to see the stewards swinging down the axe on that with a competitive Ferrari in the battle for the championship going on isn’t it?
Drivers have been penalised for far less than the actions of Vettel in Singapore, which robbed the spectators of a potentially thrilling race and ruined it for at least three other drivers.
I guess if there is some justice in the situation it is in the loss of points to Vettel and Hamilton’s victory, which has seriously damaged any championship hopes for Vettel and Ferrari.
Vettel is a brilliant driver but seems to have serious flaws in his determination to win, which were evident even back in the Red Bull days with teammate Mark Weber.
If he were a mere mortal driving on the public roads and had racked up a similar list of “offences”, he would be classed a potential danger to other road users.
Patently he is far from that, as he is a highly skilled and talented hard driver in a highly competitive environment, but there has to come a point where the stewards recognise his driving sometimes sits on the wrong side of acceptable — and that occurred in Singapore.
The accident at the beginning of the race was down to him, and regardless of repercussions on the championship it should have been dealt with as such.
He has much work to do to get back in the title chase so let’s hope he can start that work in earnest at this Malaysian Grand Prix.
● I travelled to the 2017 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix with the Global Sports and Events company.