LONDON, (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel’s temperament is under the spotlight again after the Ferrari driver’s hopes of seizing back the Formula One lead disappeared in a few seconds of mayhem at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday.
The German, his fast-starting team mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen crashed out as they raced to the first corner.
Stewards summoned all three drivers after the race but decided none was wholly or predominantly to blame.
The view was not shared by others who either pointed the finger at Verstappen, in his last race as a teenager, or accused Vettel of needless aggression at a key point in the championship.
Long before Hamilton had stretched his lead to 28 points with six races remaining, Ferrari’s official Twitter feed stated that “VER (Verstappen) took #Kimi7 out and then he went to #Seb5.”
“What we tweeted was a factual description of events. No need to speculate on this,” it added later as reaction on social media flared.
Television footage and in-car cameras showed Raikkonen making a storming getaway from fourth on the grid and around Verstappen on the outside.
Vettel, on pole, was slower off the line and steered left to squeeze Verstappen, who kept his car straight and was pincered by the Ferraris.
The Dutch teenager and Raikkonen tangled wheels, with the Finn’s car slewing sideways and into Vettel’s before again careering into the Red Bull and also collecting Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.
“I think initially Sebastian saw I was a little bit better off the line than him so he wanted to close me. So he drove to the left,” said Verstappen.
“Maybe he didn’t see Kimi on the left but what do you expect, I cannot just move out of the way… I think it was just not very clever.”
Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, was disappointed to see Vettel “pretty much blow his and Ferrari’s championships into smithereens.”
“Nice one Seb. You’re better than that. Need to watch that short fuse,” said the Briton in a blog post.
Vettel made a public apology in July after he banged into Hamilton’s Mercedes in a moment of ‘road rage’ at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix while both were following the safety car.
Former Williams, McLaren and Red Bull racer David Coulthard told Britain’s Channel 4 viewers that the crash was “instigated by Seb.”
Retired Australian driver turned pundit Mark Webber, who had a few clashes with Vettel as Red Bull team mates, defended Verstappen.
“If you were pushed for someone to blame then it looks like Seb because he’s the one doing the biggest movement,” he said in the Times newspaper.
“But in the end he wasn’t the one who crashed into Max. It was Kimi who crashed into Max. Max was innocent in this.”
Retired triple world champion Niki Lauda, now the Mercedes team’s non-executive chairman, said it was an incident Vettel could have avoided.
“If he (Vettel) would not have moved (across) he could have won the race, there’s no question about it. They were unlucky really, in a big way,” said the Austrian.