In The Driver's Seat

Pattern of mid-race expletives turns Vettel into an also-rant

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg seemed to be getting on pretty well in Mexico, with Rosberg giving his winning team-mate all credit for simply being faster than him.

But behind them?

Sebastian Vettel was cursing anyone while the Red Bull drivers, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, criticised him and said that Hamilton should have been penalised for going off the track at the first corner of the opening lap.

So what's with Vettel right now? He's been slagging people off all year, notably an innocent Daniil Kvyat in China and then Max Verstappen in Belgium, where he was actually the one at fault.

This weekend, he called Fernando Alonso an idiot just because the Spaniard had the temerity to be going as quickly as his McLaren would allow him to - in front of his Ferrari. He had a go at soon-to-retire Felipe Massa too.

So what's the deal with Vettel right now? He's been slagging people off all year, notably an innocent Daniil Kvyat in China and then Max Verstappen in Belgium, when he was actually the one at fault.

After a poor start, Vettel worked himself into the lead by the 17th lap as Rosberg and Hamilton stopped for tyres. Against expectations, he went 15 laps farther than the world champion on the same soft-compound rubber.

After his own pit stop dropped him to sixth, he was attacking hard. But that's when he started his usual complaints about back-markers and blue flags.

Things really came undone when he tried to pass Verstappen on the 68th lap, and the Dutchman ran wide, stayed ahead and refused to surrender the place. Vettel ignited.

First he abused Verstappen over the radio to his crew: "He has to let me go. He's just a ****!"

Then he attacked veteran race director Charlie Whiting, who said the Verstappen issue would be investigated and that he didn't need to hand the place back. "Here's a message for Charlie - F*** off! Honestly, f*** off!"

"Okay, stay calm," advised a crew member, who must surely be used to such outbursts by now.

Then there was the incident with Ricciardo on the 70th lap going into Turn 4, where Vettel moved under braking and they collided.

"He just kept closing the door under braking. I've locked the brakes to try to avoid contact, but he kept closing so, in the end, I had nowhere to go," Ricciardo said.

"Don't get me wrong, I love racing hard. I love seeing locking brakes, even a bit of contact is fine, but this whole moving under braking - if you're going to defend, you commit early and that's it.

"You make your bed. You don't move once you've already been outfoxed."

Vettel was all smiles when Verstappen was penalised off the podium, and he had some patronising comments about Ricciardo's judgment in overtaking situations.

Then the stewards gave him a 10-second penalty for driving in a potentially dangerous manner: making an abnormal change of direction and causing another driver to take evasive action. That dropped him from third to fifth.

"I don't know how many times he is using very bad language in general," Verstappen said of him.

"He has to go back to school or something. I will speak to him because this is just ridiculous, the way he is handling it.

"He's always so frustrated, the whole weekend, he's shouting on the radio... he's just a very frustrated guy at the moment."

It's hard not to agree with that assessment.

Vettel is under huge pressure to deliver at Ferrari, has a team-mate who is at times quicker than he expected him to be, and is beginning to realise he probably made a mistake leaving the Red Bull for the mess that is the famed Scuderia.

And when the Red Bulls asked why Hamilton hadn't been penalised on the first lap, the world champion explained that a problem with his right front brake caused it to lock as he braked for Turn 1, sending him momentarily off the road.

"I had a completely flat-spotted tyre so that definitely wasn't an advantage," he responded, "but I was still in the lead going in and I was in the lead coming out, so I don't believe I received one."

It was all a bit academic, really. Had he received a five-second penalty like Verstappen, he would still have won by 3.5 seconds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2016, with the headline 'Pattern of mid-race expletives turns Vettel into an also-rant'. Print Edition | Subscribe