Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has accused Scuderia Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel of failing to play by the rules when leading behind the safety car in Sunday’s chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver told reporters he would seek a clarification from race director Charlie Whiting ahead of the next race in Spain.
“The rules are that when the safety car goes [in], you’re not allowed to start and stop, start and stop. You’re not allowed to gas and then brake. You’re not allowed to fake the guy behind. Because naturally if there was not that rule, that’s what you’d do because eventually you’d catch them sleeping. You’re not allowed to do that. Every re-start I’ve done . . . I’ve abided by that,” the Briton told reporters. “In Australia, Sebastian accelerated and then braked and I nearly went up the back end of him. And today he did it like maybe four times.” – the Mercedes driver said.
Lewis Hamilton said he believed Charlie Whiting had passed the matter on to stewards for their consideration but they had decided not to take action because the other cars were doing it. The four-times world champion said that was because of a domino effect: “That now sets a precedent, so that means everyone leading a grand prix under a safety car can start and stop, start and stop. I need to get that rectified when I have the briefing next because clearly they don’t care about it, and if that’s the case then we will see more of that. And I will expect that from him next time I am racing with him.”
Sunday’s race had two safety car periods due to crashes, with drivers weaving to keep heat in their tyres in cold and gusty conditions. Sebastian Vettel was leading from pole position at the first re-start, with Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas at the head of the field for the second with the Ferrari behind and Hamilton third. The German overcooked an attempt to pass Bottas at the second re-start, with Hamilton and Scuderia Ferrari Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen going through as he went wide. Bottas retired with a puncture three laps from the end.
Charlie Whiting was adamant that Seb had done nothing out of the ordinary: “I think he controlled it very well. It’s up to the leading driver to say when we go, unlike some other series that have what they call an acceleration zone. Once it goes green, which we had, the safety car comes into the pits, all the light panels go green, then it’s up to the leader to decide when he’s going to go. This is a very tricky place, because they catch the safety car very quickly if they go too early – we saw that in F2 the year before last. There was a little bit of a complaint from Lewis that [Vettel] was not going at a constant rate, but if you look down the field, there are quite a few places where that happens. To expect them all to go at one speed just doesn’t seem to happen. So as long as no one does anything that’s obviously dangerous, then we’re happy with what happened and I think he did control it rather well.” concluded Charlie Whiting, who is the FIA Formula One Race Director and Safety Delegate.