BAKU • Lewis Hamilton believes Sebastian Vettel's angry reaction after deliberately driving into him at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday is evidence the German driver is psychologically weak.
The Mercedes driver has already described Vettel's actions at the Formula One race in Baku as a "disgrace" and demanded that, if they are to clash, they should do so like "men" outside the car. Vettel, however, has said he wants to clear the air with the Briton.
Toto Wolff, the executive director at Mercedes, reacted to the incident by saying he was glad the gloves were finally off between the two drivers and welcomed a "war" between them.
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo won the race in Baku but all the attention was focused on the two title rivals. They came together with Hamilton leading the race at turn 15 while behind the safety car.
Vettel hit Hamilton from behind and, believing the British driver had brake-tested him, pulled alongside and swerved to the right into the side of Hamilton's car.
The stewards adjudged it to have been driving dangerously and gave Vettel a 10-second stop-go penalty. However, when Hamilton was forced to pit again to secure a loose headrest, it cost him the win and he finished fifth, one place behind Vettel.
THE HEAT IS ON
We have put Ferrari under a lot of pressure. He is obviously under pressure... that shows that pressure can get to even some of the best of us.
LEWIS HAMILTON, Mercedes driver, feels he has the psychological edge over Ferrari arch-rival Sebastian Vettel after his red mist at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
FUSE HAS BEEN LIT
Nobody wanted to see the schmoozing anyways, so now the gloves are off. The sport needs the rivalry.
TOTO WOLFF, Mercedes team boss, believes that the buddy-buddy relationship between Hamilton and Vettel is over following the German's actions in Baku.
When Hamilton was asked if Vettel's actions proved he was not as mentally strong as had previously been thought, the Briton was unequivocal, maintaining that the German's move was a result of the pressure he and his Ferrari team have been placed under by Mercedes.
"It's been obvious for some time," he said. "Look at last year. Some of the things he said on the radio. We know how he can be.
"I would never have thought that would have happened on Sunday. We as a team know that can be a positive for us."
Hamilton was referring to the angry behaviour Vettel exhibited last season when frustrated by his underperforming Ferrari. It came to a head at the Mexican Grand Prix when he repeatedly swore over the team radio, ending with a personal attack on the race director, Charlie Whiting.
The German (153 points) still leads the drivers' championship by 14 points from Hamilton, and while Mercedes (250 points) lead the constructors' championship by 24 points, it has been equally tight, with both teams having taken the lead repeatedly this season.
"We have put Ferrari under a lot of pressure," Hamilton said. "He is obviously under pressure and that's not a bad thing. That shows that pressure can get to even some of the best of us."
Hamilton has previously said he does not want to enter into a psychological battle with Vettel, but it has clearly begun.
Noticeably after the race, he did not refer to the German by name at all, which he had been doing repeatedly while the pair were friendly and sharing mutual admiration in the opening races.
Hamilton showed similar detachment when his relationship with former team-mate Nico Rosberg became increasingly acrimonious.
"Sunday was a different Sebastian to what we have seen in the previous eight races," Hamilton said. "I like to think that I remain respectful and I will continue to do so. I will do my talking on the track and I want to win this championship the right way."
Vettel, who was forthright in defence of his actions after the race, is now more conciliatory.
"I don't have a problem with him," he said. "I respect him a lot for the driver he is. Now is not the right time to talk. I'll do that just with him.
"Maybe I'm not clever enough but I'm not complicated. I'm willing to sort it out with him. I don't think there's much to sort out."
The pair might yet be reconciled, but an end to what had been a cordial relationship was welcomed by Wolff. "Nobody wanted to see the schmoozing anyways, so now the gloves are off," he said.
"The sport needs the rivalry."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS