The FIA decided not take further action against Sebastian Vettel after investigating the incident in which he drove into Lewis Hamilton at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver appeared at a meeting on Monday and offered a complete apology for his actions, which was accepted by the FIA, alongside a commitment from the Ferrari driver to undertake educational activities across a variety of racing championships over the next 12 months.
The German admitted full accountability and apologized to Hamilton in a statement published on his website, the first time he has done so since the incident.
“During the restart lap I got surprised by Lewis and ran into the back of his car,” he said. “With hindsight I don’t believe he had any bad intentions. In the heat of the action I then overreacted and therefore I want to apologize to Lewis directly, as well as to all the people who were watching the race. I realize that I was not setting a good example.”
Vettel had been punished by the stewards with a 10-second stop-go penalty during the race but the FIA chose to investigate the incident further, concerned by the consequences of the incident, particularly in the impression it gave to young fans and drivers. They could have imposed a race ban, grid penalty or fine, but at the end have accepted Vettel’s admission of responsibility and declared the case closed.
Vettel hit the back of his championship rival Hamilton’s Mercedes while the pair were behind the safety car in Baku. Believing the British driver had brake-tested him he pulled alongside and, while gesturing furiously, turned into Hamilton’s car, causing them to bang wheels. Data examined by the stewards proved Hamilton had not braked but at the time Vettel remained unapologetic and insisted both drivers should have received penalties.
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The statement from the FIA says: “Following detailed discussion and further examination of video and data evidence related to the incident, Sebastian Vettel admitted full responsibility.”
Vettel has agreed to undertake educational activities at the Formula 2 and Formula 3 European Championship, the Formula 4 Championship and at the FIA Stewards’ seminar, which had been a factor in the decision.
Hamilton had described the incident as “disgraceful” and deliberately told the race director, Charlie Whiting, on team radio that he did not believe the punishment was enough during the race. “A 10-second penalty for driving like that is not enough, you know that, Charlie,” he said. He had also highlighted the bad impression it made after the race as an issue. “Imagine all the young kids that are watching Formula One today and see that kind of behavior from a four-time world champion,” he said.
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To have the four-time world champion do educational activities has some precedent. In 1997 Michael Schumacher was given a retrospective punishment after driving into Jacques Villeneuve at the title decider in Jerez. He was stripped of his position as runner-up and his points, although the German could keep his race wins. He was also ordered to contribute in a seven-day road safety campaign organized by the FIA and the European Commission the following year. More recently, French driver Charles Pic was required to take part in one day of community service, demanding the driver and his race engineer to take part in the FIA’s road safety campaign after surpassing another car under a red flag during practice at the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix.
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