Sebastian Vettel managed to take fourth place at the Baku City Circuit, despite having been given a ten-second stop-go penalty for having “steered into car 44” – the car of title rival Lewis Hamilton.
Starting fourth, Vettel maintained position behind Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Kimi Räikkönen into the first corner, but was up to second by turn three, with Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas colliding. Vettel then chased down Hamilton until the safety car came out to clear Daniil Kvyat‘s car, which was parked at the side of the track after a mechanical failure.
Having pitted under the safety car Vettel lost out at the restart, and remained behind Hamilton until the safety car came out again – this time to clear debris.
Following the first safety car release where Vettel saw Hamilton extend his advantage, the Ferrari man seemed determined to stay with the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team driver. This was achieved, albeit accidentally, when Vettel drove into the back of Hamilton under the safety car in what the German driver described as a “brake check”. Incensed by the contact, Vettel pulled alongside Hamilton, gesticulated, then drove into the Mercedes.
“The stewards examined video evidence which showed that car 5 drove alongside and then steered into car 44” an FIA release said. Deeming the manoeuvre as “potentially dangerous”, Vettel was handed a ten second stop and go penalty. This would have spelled championship disaster for the Ferrari driver, were it not for a bizarre incident with Hamilton’s car.
An unsecured headrest on the Mercedes saw Hamilton forced to make a pit stop on safety grounds. This stop took 9.3 seconds – less than a second shy of Vettel’s penalty – and with Hamilton coming out in traffic, Vettel was able to jump ahead.
The remainder of the race saw the two battle through the slower cars to make up positions. Vettel was able to hold off Hamilton to the end, taking fourth place and extending his Championship lead by two points.
Vettel remained unrepentant after the race, even suggesting Hamilton should have been penalised as well: “It’s disappointing, because it could have been a better result. I don’t have a problem with Lewis but I just think that what he did on the track was not ok. By now the decision is done but, in an episode like this one, I still think that if you give out a penalty, then it should be to both drivers.”