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Title fight continues apace while Vettel melts down at Ferrari

FORMULA ONE: “It’s okay to be second,” Nico Rosberg said relievedly on the Mexican Grand Prix podium. “Lewis has been too fast this weekend, so I just have to accept second place.”


Michael Lamonato

Tuesday 1 November 2016, 10:13AM


Scuderia Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel speeds during the Formula One Mexico Grand Prix. Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP
Scuderia Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel speeds during the Formula One Mexico Grand Prix. Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP

For Rosberg the equation is simple: finish second for the rest of the season and collect the championship at the end of November.

Indeed his championship lead is sufficiently significant in these dying days of the season that had eventual race winner Lewis Hamilton finished an unlikely tenth, a Rosberg victory would have sealed the deal on the spot.

Unfortunately for the 135,026 Mexican who had piled into the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez the slow cruise to the championship crunch continued apace, with Hamilton’s struggle to overturn the deficit guaranteeing at least one more battle between the Mercedes teammates.

The Mexico City race was serene for the silver arrows at the front, but behind the championship-winning team the sport’s supporting cast of racers was at war.

In the closing laps of the grand prix Max Verstappen was defending against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo for the final place on Mexico’s spectacular podium.

On lap 68 of 71 Vettel made a lunge at the first turn, but Verstappen, hell-bent on maintaining his place, hit the brakes late and cut the corner, rejoining ahead of his rival.

The Dutchman’s evasive action was so obviously out of order that his team instructed him to hand the position to Vettel, but Verstappen opted against remedy.

It was too much for Vettel to handle.

“Move! Move, for f**k sake!” he wailed on his team radio, hoping race control would hear him and take action – but when none was forthcoming, he went into meltdown.

“You know what, here is a message for Charlie [Whiting, race director]: f**k off! Honestly, f**k off!” he shouted, to the sharp intake of breath of the paddock.

As is the case in any sport, dissent against an independent adjudicator is of grave significance. Out of the car at the end of the race – at which point the stewards finally penalised Verstappen for refusing to hand over third place – Vettel apologised to the FIA’s highest-ranked representative.

“At the end he’s just a very frustrated guy at the moment,” teenager Verstappen told TV reporters.

“He is shouting, and I don’t know how many times he is using very bad language. I think he has to go back to school.”

Ricciardo also had reason to feel aggrieved, the Australian frustrated that Vettel employed dangerous defensive manoeuvres in their fight for fourth place.

The stewards later penalised Vettel for the driving faux pas of moving in the braking zone, but by then Ricciardo had already joined the psychological stacks on.

“He's obviously a bit frustrated with how the season's gone,” the Australian told reporters. “He probably thought that maybe they had a chance to fight Mercedes, but it hasn't worked like that.”

It isn’t the first time the emotional Vettel has been jabbed by his rivals. After Friday practice, during which the German had called McLaren’s Fernando Alonso as ‘idiot’ for getting in his way on track, the Spaniard and ex-Ferrari man took his turn.

“I don't make an issue out of it,” he said. “He's living a very frustrating period, for himself and for Ferrari, so we have to forgive him.”

With the 2016 world championship all but decided and with teams and drivers left with nothing but 2017 to focus on, the increasingly fractured Ferrari bodes poorly for the already fading likelihood of an Italian title tilt next season.

 

 

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