It was Reginald Dwight, better known to all of us as Elton John, who once sang a ditty about sorry being the hardest word. Now for any of us, there are times when swallowing one’s pride and admitting you’re wrong can be a bitter pill to swallow. But there are also times when saying sorry is a means to an end, a way to circumvent the consequences of some pretty daft behaviour.
This, is where we find ourselves this morning.
Admittedly, I missed the Azerbaijan Grand Prix owing to a rather unfortunate incident. However once I was back in the land of normality, it quickly became apparent that some form of calamity had ensued. Admittedly, I figured that there was some kind of multiple car pile up by the castle and Jolyon Palmer would be at the thick of it (sorry Jolyon)… However upon watching the footage on catch-up and studying the various on boards and replays, I’m at a loss as to why two of the world’s best drivers – seven world drivers titles between them – would come together in such a way.
Folk smarter than I have debated and studied the data over and over again. Journalists (of which I am not) have written some great pieces on both drivers, both points of view and have speculated on the outcome of yesterday’s meeting – and why it was caused in the first place.
Did Hamilton brake check Vettel?
Did Vettel drive into Hamilton?
The stewards at the race certainly thought the latter warranted a penalty at the time of the race. Case closed we thought – but in the following days the heated passion of Formula One fans, pundits and Team officials resulted in the FIA calling a meeting with Ferrari and the birthday boy, Sebastian Vettel to put an end to the matter once and for all.
But have they?
From where I sit, they have set a rather dangerous precedent. For the second time in less than twelve months, Sebastian Vettel has been called out by his actions on track. Previously, he hurling abuse at Charlie Whiting over the radio, a rant that was not too far from being included in a 50 Cent album. The air was blue, Whitings face was as red as Sebastian’s Ferrari – but all was okay in the end because Sebastian said sorry.
Yesterday, with the eyes of the world upon him and journalists all over the world waiting to press ‘go’ on stories that Sebastian was going to be excluded from Azerbaijan (one actually did – oops) – or worse – we were left with all being okay again as Sebastian said sorry.
Across the road from my office there is a huge electronic billboard. Plastered across it all day, every day, are images of race drivers, celebrities and Mr Todt himself, all extolling the values of safe driving with massive FIA branding all over it. And yet, one of their stars of the highest profile motorsport categories in the world carries out what amounts to be a form of road rage in front of millions of viewers – and escapes penalty because he said sorry.
How is that a good message to fans and particularly children that follow the sport? The FIA are not endorsing the behaviour of Vettel and they have reprimanded him – and warned him not to behave in such a way again. But like Jo Frost (The Supernanny) does by placing children on the naughty chair until they say sorry – this, I feel, is exactly what the FIA have done, yet again.
Vettel is not a child. What he is, is an idol of millions of children.
Should the FIA have taken a tougher stance? In my opinion, yes. By Vettel issuing a public apology, the FIA have taken the path of least resistance – for any penalty imposed on Vettel may well have affected the outcome of the 2017 Formula One World Drivers Championship. But contender, back marker or driver in a junior category – you simply cannot go driving into your competitors on the track.
Had this been a clash between two drivers further down the field, they may well have acted by delivering a harsher sentence. However, this wasn’t a Sauber, a Renault – or (sadly) a McLaren – this was a Ferrari and it was driven by a four times World Champion.
You may well read this piece and not agree. You may even be angered by it. If so, well… sorry.
See, that makes it all better, right?
Here is the statement from the FIA following on from the meeting yesterday:
Following an incident at the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix involving a collision between Car 5 (Sebastian Vettel) and Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton), Sebastian Vettel was today invited to attend a meeting at the FIA’s Paris headquarters. He was accompanied by his Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene. He reviewed the incident together with a panel comprised of FIA Deputy President for Sport Graham Stoker, FIA General Secretary far Sport Peter Bayer, FIA Formula One World Championship Race Director Charlie Whiting and FIA Formula One World Championship Deputy Race Director and FIA Safety Director Laurent Mekies.
During the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, stewards officiating at the event issued a lO-second stop- and-go penalty to Sebastian Vettel, the most severe penalty immediately applicable before displaying a black flag notice to the driver. Sebastian Vettel also had three penalty points applied to his FIA Superlicence, taking his current total to nine.
However, while respecting the Stewards’ decision, the FIA remained deeply concerned by the wider implications of the incident, firstly through the impact such behaviour may have on fans and young competitors worldwide and secondly due to the damage such behaviour may cause to the FIA’s image and reputation of the sport.
Following detailed discussion and further examination of video and data evidence related to the incident, Sebastian Vettel admitted full responsibility.
Sebastian Vettel extended his sincere apologies to the FIA and the wider motor sport family. He additionally committed to devote personal time over the next 12 months to educational activities across a variety of FIA championships and events, including in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, at an FlA Formula 4 Championship to be defined and at the FIA Stewards’ seminar. Due to this incident, President Jean Todt instructed that no road safety activities should be endorsed by Sebastian Vettel until the end of this year.
The FIA notes this commitment, the personal apology made by Sebastian Vettel and his pledge to make that apology public. The FIA also notes that Scuderia Ferrari is aligned with the values and objectives of the FIA.
In light of these developments, FIA President Jean Todt decided that on this occasion the matter should be closed.
Nevertheless, in noting the severity of the offence and its potential negative consequences, FIA President Todt made it clear that should there be any repetition of such behaviour, the matter would immediately be referred to the FIA International Tribunal for further investigation.
Commenting on the outcome of today’s meeting, FIA President Jean Todt said: ‘Top level sport is an intense environment in which tempers can flare. However, it is the role of top sportsmen to deal with that pressure calmly and to conduct themselves in a manner that not only respects the regulations of the sport but which befits the elevated status they enjoy.
“Sportsmen must be cognisant of the impact their behaviour can have on those who look up to them. They are heroes and role models and to millions of fans worldwide and must conduct themselves accordingly.”