SPIELBERG, Austria, Jul 6 – Sebastian Vettel will face another trial of his integrity and temperament this weekend when he arrives at the Red Bull Ring circuit for the Austrian Grand Prix.
Just three days after celebrating his 30th birthday on Monday by escaping any further punishment for his ‘road rage’ attack on Lewis Hamilton at last month’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the four-time world champion will need a cool head.
The German is sure to be put under scrutiny by the travelling international media corps in a paddock that will keep him under close observation, and he will likely be given an even more intense on-track examination when he and Hamilton restart their scrap for the drivers’ world title.
A tight fight between Vettel’s Ferrari team and three-time champion Hamilton’s Mercedes outfit is in prospect in the Styrian Alps in the 30th running of the Austrian event.
Thanks to escaping without serious sanction in Baku, where Hamilton was deprived of a near-certain race victory because his head-rest worked loose, Vettel holds a 14-point lead over the Briton, whose silence this week has spoken volumes.
One minor gesture, by ‘liking’ a reaction on Instagram, appears to be all Hamilton wished to say following the decision of the International Motoring Federation (FIA) to take no further action against Vettel for his deliberate wheel-banging.
Vettel, who has a history of bad-tempered outbursts when events conspire against him, had to accept full responsibility for his actions, apologise to Hamilton and pledge to improve his future behaviour.
If he slips up again in Austria, he may be banned if points are added to those already on his licence.
Many may believe that he escaped lightly, but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has made clear he believes it is now time to put the controversy to bed and forget it.
“Every great season is marked by a great rivalry,” he said. “Last year it was our internal battle between Lewis and Nico and this year it seems that the fight is on between Ferrari and Mercedes and Lewis and Sebastian.
“As calm as it started, it was only a matter of time until the rivalry would eventually become more fierce and controversial. That moment happened in Baku and we saw the results of that tension on track.
“We have moved past that moment now and it is a closed chapter.”
Whatever Hamilton says in public to retain a calm approach to a key contest, he is sure to be determined to claw back his lost points and cut into Vettel’s advantage on the sweeping circuit, where some of the fastest laps of recent times are expected this weekend.
Improvements to the circuit, including re-surfacing, allied to this year’s ‘fatter and faster’ cars, may see lap times cut to some of the lowest in 25 years.
Hamilton won last year’s race after a clash with Rosberg and also set the fastest qualifying lap ever at the track in one minute and 6.228 seconds.
That time is likely to be lowered and may be inside Briton Nigel Mansell’s 1:4.402 set at the 1990 French Grand Prix.
Hamilton, on a run of stunning pole positions, will be revved up for that and a payback victory, but will be aware too that Ferrari will be vigorous rivals and that Red Bull, at their ‘home’ circuit, will want to see a repeat of Australian Daniel Ricciardo’s shock triumph in Baku.