As we discussed on last week's podcast, the FIA sat down this week to decide if a 10 second stop go penalty was a suitable punishment for unsportsmanlike behavior. After just a single meeting with Sebastian Vettel the FIA decided that no further action was required - because Seb apologized in the meeting...
After remaining adamant during and after the race that he was justified in his behavior while refusing to acknowledge that his actions were wrong in any way, once Sebastian was called to in front of a disciplinary body, that was when he decided to apologize.
Now to be fair, according to the FIA the meeting that was held wasn't a quick gathering, they tell us that there was a detailed review of the events that occurred in Baku and that it was after that review Seb admitted that he was at fault and apologize. But let's remember why this meeting was called in the first place, from the FIA themselves:
During the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, stewards officiating at the event issued a 10-second stop-and-go penalty to Sebastian Vettel, the most severe penalty immediately applicable before displaying a black flag notice to the driver. Sebastian Vettel also had three penalty points applied to his FIA Superlicence, taking his current total to nine.
However, while respecting the Stewards’ decision, the FIA remained deeply concerned by the wider implications of the incident, firstly through the impact such behaviour may have on fans and young competitors worldwide and secondly due to the damage such behaviour may cause to the FIA’s image and reputation of the sport.
So the FIA felt that the behavior on display in Baku was serious enough that it merited revisiting, but not so serious enough that they felt that there was a need for any real action. How could they have been? Sebastian's heat of the moment decision to deliberately drive into Lewis Hamilton was about as unsportsmanlike as it could be in F1. We want drivers to have personalities, as fans we love to see a driver react, and for Seb to have expressed his angry by coming alongside Lewis and gesturing is the kind of thing that fans love to see. But when Seb deliberately drove into Lewis - the line was crossed. Much like in Mexico City, Sebastian went to far.
We've seen Sebastian express anger and frustration many times, but in this is the second time in the last year that he's let his temper get the better of him, and that is what is the most disturbing about this latest incident and how the FIA has handled it. Sebastian was warned after Mexico City that a similar event would lead to penalties, and yet after an event even more serious than his mouthing off over the radio, the sport's governing body has decided to let him off with a "punishment" that is extremely unsatisfying to most fans and arguably to some drivers as well.
It's not that wasn't necessary, or isn't enough. If Sebastian had backed down, if he had apologized before the FIA announced they were meeting, an apology probably would have felt appropriate for the fans. Sebastian also released an apology to his fans - which also rings hollow especially given the time of it's release:
Concerning the incidents of Baku I’d like to explain myself: During the re-start lap, I got surprised by Lewis and ran into the back of his car. With hindsight, I don't believe he had any bad intentions. In the heat of the action I then overreacted, and therefore I want to apologise to Lewis directly, as well as to all the people who were watching the race. I realize that I was not setting a good example.
I had no intention at anytime to put Lewis in danger, but I understand that I caused a dangerous situation.
Therefore, I would like to apologise to the FIA. I accept and respect the decisions that were taken at today’s meeting in Paris, as well as the penalty imposed by the Stewards in Baku.
I love this sport and I am determined to represent it in a way that can be an example for future generations.
Now even if the FIA decided that further action needed to be taken, nothing would have happened before the this weekend's race in Austria or even before Silverstone. The process could have dragged out as far as the summer break, with the main story for the coming weeks being the investigation and sanction process and not the action on the tracks. But given that the FIA was convinced not to take action because of an apology that seems to have happened only because the FIA considered getting involved the fans and some drivers are left to question again the FIA's oversight of the sport.
Regardless of the FIA's action or lack thereof after Baku, over the last half of 2013 Sebastian endured boos from the fans during every podium ceremony. It's likely that when Sebastian appears on a podium for the remainder of the season that he will hear the boos again, but unlike in 2013 fans will arguably be justified in booing him.