Lewis Hamilton came out all guns blazing post-race in defence of his driving under safety car conditions, following a collision with championship leader Sebastian Vettel at low speed during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Hamilton faced a recovery drive to fifth position after an unscheduled stop for an incorrectly fastened headrest, which left him stuck behind Vettel despite the German’s stop-go penalty for colliding with him during the second safety car period.
Vettel had rear-ended the Mercedes driver at Turn 15, which led to the Ferrari driver seeing red. Pulling alongside, Vettel showed his displeasure by gesticulating wildly and then turning into the path of the Mercedes, leading to a 10 second stop-go penalty being leveid by the stewards.
Hamilton denied he had intentionally caused Vettel to run into the back of him, and that has speed and line were consistent with his other safety car restarts during the race.
“I definitely didn’t brake-test Sebastian,” he stated plainly. “I controlled the pace under the Safety Car and, just like with the other restarts, I slowed down in the same place on the entry to T15. At that point, it is up to me to control the pace and then I felt a bump from behind.
“But that wasn’t the issue for me – everybody saw clearly what happened after,” he continued, referring to Vettel hitting him again after pulling alongside. “All the young kids in other series look up to us, as champions, to set an example and that is not the behaviour you expect to see from a multiple champion.
“We know that when times get tough, true colours show, and we have managed to apply some good pressure in the last weeks.”
Fifth was a disappointing return from what had been a dominant showing in qualifying, beating his team-mate Valtteri Bottas by almost half a second on Saturday, and putting over a second on the Ferrari pair of Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen. Bottas managed to finish on the second step of the podium despite a puncture and broken front wing on the opening lap – sending him a lap down at the time – which put Hamilton’s own headrest misfortunes into perspective.
“It’s difficult to swallow a result like this after a strong weekend. I drove my heart out today right to the line – I gave it everything.
“I know the team will be devastated about the issue with the headrest, but what we have to take away from this weekend is the great performance we have shown. We all feel that pain, but it’s on me to gather my thoughts and try and lead the team through this adversity.
“We’ll pull together and move forwards. I’m proud of my performance and I hope we can take the speed we’ve shown this weekend forward.”
Hamilton finished his remarks with a parting shot at his title rival, suggesting he was more interested in resolving their quarrelling on the track than arguing about it off-track.
“Personally, I want to do my talking on the track and win this championship in the right way. More than ever after this weekend, I believe we can.”