Meltdowns and Mishaps in Mexico

By Alex Griffin

Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article.

Pre-Halloween battles and bloodshed

In a breathless last few laps in Mexico, Sebastian Vettel turned the rarified air blue as he became embroiled in a three-way fight for third at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. In a race laden with controversy at both the start and the finish, Formula 1 fans were treated to a frantic and chaotic series of events at the high-altitude circuit.

Whether the weekend’s result left you elated or deflated, one thing is certain: there is plenty to dissect and digest following Sunday’s race. Social Media has been saturated with observation and opinion as fans the world over scrutinise every centimetre of track and grass covered by their heroes.

Folly at the first corner

Tremendous amounts have been written about the various incidents from race day from the moment the fall of the chequered flag kept Lewis Hamilton’s title hopes alive until Interlagos at least.

As Hamilton made his way down to turn one in the lead, his scores of fans would have relaxed into their seats a little as his team-mate and the Red Bull duo remained behind. What took place in the next couple of seconds would serve as one of the talking points in a race full of them.

Hamilton’s lock-up at turn 1 proved to be one of a few first lap dramas. Source: F1 Fanatic

Hamilton’s lock-up at turn 1 proved to be one of a few first lap dramas. Source: F1 Fanatic

As the Briton locked up his right-front tyre, subsequently cutting across the grass and rejoining at turn three, his team-mate was nicked by Verstappen’s charging bull in an incident that could have been much worse for both men and the German’s healthy championship lead.

Further down the grid, the wheel-banging began in earnest and within a few corners Bernd Marylander was making his way on to the track to lead the procession as the stricken Manor of Pascal Wehrlein was extracted from the sidelines.

Race Director Charlie Whiting and the stewards took a lenient view on Hamilton’s corner-cutting as it had occurred at the start of the race, he gained no positions and the safety car neutralised any advantage he had obtained from it.

Same old, same old…

Perez struggled behind Massa all race and was unable to pull off a successful overtake all race. Source: Motorsport.com

Perez struggled behind Massa all race and was unable to pull off a successful overtake all race. Source: Motorsport.com

As the race played out, it became clear that as a result of the strategy choices made by some (Ricciardo and Raikkonen were of note), most of the action would occur at the tail end of the race, and so it did. For the most part, the on-track exchanges epitomised modern-day F1 and nowhere was this truer than in the battle between Force India’s Sergio Perez and the Williams of Felipe Massa. The Mexican was seemingly unable to follow closely enough through the tighter parts of the circuit and with the silver car too fast in a straight line,  he was limited to a couple of nearly moments including the obligatory Mexican Grand Prix first corner lock-up.

The race was to come alive in the latter stages as the differing strategies came to fruition, and it was in the last remaining laps that most of Sunday’s action took place.

As Sebastian Vettel approached a Max Verstappen on not so fresh boots after an unsuccessful passing manoeuvre on the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, it seemed almost inevitable that something of note was to occur. As the two approached turn 1, Verstappen locked up and took to the grass in similar fashion to that of Hamilton. An incensed Vettel made his frustrations clear to see over team radio, and his mood will have not improved in the hours after the race as he was stripped of his podium and demoted to fifth after pulling a “Verstappen” on Daniel Ricciardo.

The similarity between this excursion and that of Lewis Hamilton served as the source of much of the post-race discussion, and the microscope was trained further onto the Stewards as they handed a time penalty to the Dutchman’s time leading to an unceremonious removal from the cool-down room. The post-race mutterings were that first-lap incidents are treated differently to others, but again this probably raises more questions than it provides solutions.

Cornerstone Shaving

Is it fair that Whiting and the stewards take a more lenient view to incidents occurring on the first lap as opposed to those later on in the race? Should Hamilton have had a time penalty?

Sebastian Vettel’s foul-mouthed tirade has served as the perfect post-race distraction from what could be a momentous weekend in Sao Paulo for Nico Rosberg, and even Vettel himself has reached out to those in command of the sport in order to (probably) escape any further reprimands.

The sport’s governing body has come to the conclusion that, as the German has shown remorse for his actions in the hours and days following events in Mexico, he should avoid any further punishment for his crimes.

Borne out of this episode are some very pertinent question, however.

Should Sebastian Vettel have been punished for his verbal diarrhoea? Should the race stewards, with all the information they have, make decisions during the race therefore minimising the chance of any further podium fiascos?

What many will no doubt be asking in the days to come is should someone revered by millions around the globe, an ambassador for his sport and those affiliated with it, be made accountable for his actions? There is of course, the argument that he was caught up in the moment, and that in such a pressured environment, tempers are likely to spill over on occasion with all things considered.

Whatever your stance, one thing is crystal clear to all: Sebastian Vettel is a high-profile sportsman that bears responsibility for his actions, and he is a role model for young people the world over.

The FIA Sebastian Vettel statement. 1st November 2016. Source: FIA

The FIA Sebastian Vettel statement. 1st November 2016. Source: FIA

Vettel’s frustrations have appeared to have been growing as the season has progressed, and the FIA seems to have ignored the German’s previous if lower-profile tantrums and treated Mexico as a separate incident.

The future in Brawn’s hands

At the time of writing, there is growing speculation that one of the sport’s non-driving legends, Ross Brawn, is to return to the fray in a sporting director role. If you are reading this, there is little doubt that you have spent many a Sunday afternoon craving something untoward happening just to shake up what would otherwise be a dull affair.

The sport’s major ailment and fundamental weakness is that there is limited wheel-to-wheel racing. From the outside, it is inconceivable that this could be the case in the highest level of motorsport. For the fans, however, it has been the case for too long and it is time for change.

Salvation, perhaps, is afoot in the form of former Benetton/Ferrari technical guru and Brawn GP/Mercedes boss Ross Brawn. The man’s influence is almost biblical in Formula 1 terms and he needs no introduction to those in the know.

Could he finally be the instrumental middle-man between the three-way bureaucratic triangle of the teams, the FIA and FOM? Brawn no doubt has the best interests of the sport at heart, but it will take something very special for him to wrangle F1 to where it needs to be.

Rumours have been circulating that Ross Brawn could either take over Bernie Ecclestone or partner his replacement. Source: Motorsport.com

Rumours have been circulating that Ross Brawn could either take over Bernie Ecclestone or partner his replacement. Source: Motorsport.com

He has been touted as a potential heir to MR. E, but surely the sport would benefit from moving away from its individualised monopoly and installing a commercial head to work alongside Brawn who would take care of the sporting issues.

My final questions for you to mull over are these: Is Ross Brawn the answer to F1’s sporting woes and, if not him,  who should inherit the commercial burden?

Brazil bound but it’s not over yet…

As the Formula 1 circus flies further South to the infamous Interlaces circuit, it is clear that Nico Rosberg is in the driving seat (sorry) for this year’s world championship. If any race has cautionary tales that the German should heed, though, it is the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Not only has his team-mate won one of his three championships in dramatic fashion there, he is also in blistering form heading into this race. Something tells me that Brazil has something to say in this year’s fight for first, and I am not ruling anything out.

Headline image source: Motorsport.com

Mexico