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F1 Austrian GP: Are You Not Entertained?!

July 7, 2017 10:25 AM
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F1 Austrian GP: Are You Not Entertained?!

If the last two weeks have proven anything, it's that Formula 1 still thrives off drama and rivalries.

The seven-race run of peace from the end of the hostility between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and the resumption of tension between the Briton and Sebastian Vettel was, in some ways, quite nice.

After all, relaxed, cordial rivalries between drivers are so rare, it makes seeing them quite refreshing. “Good job, old sport!” “You got me this time you scallywag but I'll be back!”

Well... it's nice for a little bit. But then it gets tiresome. Any gladiatorial battle needs blood to be spilled. In Baku, we got F1's best equivalent as Hamilton and Vettel came to blows and finally broke the niceties.

The week-and-a-half that followed Baku saw debate ignite about the incident itself and the FIA's handling of it in the media and through F1's sizeable community on Twitter, with no single view emerging as the most obvious; people were divided.

The one certainty that did come out of the whole incident was the wonders it did for F1's profile and reach - something that Liberty has been craving since its takeover. The back pages of the British newspapers were plastered with headlines about the clash, defending Britain's great F1 hero against the unfair Vettel.

Not wishing to kill the momentum, it came as little surprise that the FIA picked Hamilton and Vettel to go head-to-head in Thursday's FIA press conference, with Haas' Kevin Magnussen joining them (more on him later).

The press conference room at the Red Bull Ring was packed - a rarity when it comes to the Thursday presser - and even Hamilton was impressed by the turnout, taking a short video of the sold-out seats to put on his Instagram page.

The crowd was gathered, the TV audience was tuned in. Vettel versus Hamilton. The showdown.

There were no snide comments. There was no refusal of a handshake or an apology. There was hardly any tension between them. The only spiky moments came when Vettel was barraged with questions about his actions and his response, but the German driver didn't bite back, instead stressing his desire to move on after apologising and expressing his regret for the clash.

Hamilton acted with a maturity that has grown considerably as his F1 career has moved on. While he was happy to move on and stressed he still had the “utmost respect” for Vettel, he did not take back his comments in the immediate aftermath of the race in Baku when he called his rival a “disgrace”. He stuck to his guns, for it is how he felt at the time; that did not change. He had, however, calmed down. To him, the matter was dealt with.

The fashion in which it was dealt was something Hamilton was less accepting of. “With all due respect, Jean [Todt] should be sitting next to us,” he said. “They didn't change anything on the Monday, so the message that was sent still remains the same.” To him, the “dangerous precedent” he spoke about after the race by the lack of severe penalty remained in place.

The press conference seemed to go around in circles at points, with the answers all getting more or less the same. “I said everything I had to say…” “I don't think we need to drag it out any longer…” “I just left it at the last race…” “Trying to keep my head down…” Yawn.

But if you thought the reality of the press conference would be any different, you were kidding yourself.

Vettel and Hamilton are two of the all-time greats in F1. As elite sportsmen, they both know how to handle rivalries. They know how to best deal with tension. In both cases, moving on was the right way to do it. Failure to do so arguably cost Nico Rosberg the title back in 2014, his stewing over Hungary causing him to cross the line in Spa and sending his form southwards for the remainder of the season.

There was never going to be blood. At no point were we going to get the war of words that would leave Magnussen, sitting in the crossfire, asking the baying crowd: “Are you not entertained!?” as he channeled his inner Russell Crowe.

K-Mag's presence was limited not far beyond the standard pair of questions asked to all three drivers to kick off proceedings. He shied away from picking a world champion for 2017, likely to have sat either on his right or left, and didn't wade into the debate on the FIA's handling of the clash.

Thankfully, he gave us the scoop that everyone in the press conference was there for, revealing he did not hold grudges against either Lewis or Sebastian. What a nice chap.

Joking aside, the matter has now almost been put to bed by all parties. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and Ferrari F1 chief Maurizio Arrivabene will both be in Friday's team principals press conference (alongside Sauber's “TBA”, which is a whole 'nother story), and will most probably get quizzed on it.

But the message will be the same: it happened, it shouldn't have, it was dealt with, move on.

But while that may be the party line, be rest assured that neither Vettel nor Hamilton will be forgetting this affair in a hurry.

The rivalry has been turned up a notch - and will now be that much easier to ignite.


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