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Gloves off between Hamilton and Vettel

Budding 'bromance' turning sour after the German drove into Hamilton's Merc

The gloves are off and the fight is on between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

Sunday's explosive Azerbaijan Grand Prix more than made up for last year's dull race in Baku, bursting the budding "bromance" and replacing it with something much more heavyweight.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said as much after a crazy afternoon that saw mutual respect and camaraderie tossed aside amid angry accusations.

"Nobody wanted to see the schmoozing anyway, so now the gloves are off," the Austrian told Sky Sports television, after Hamilton had dubbed the Ferrari driver a "disgrace" and suggested they sort things out "face to face".

"The sport needs the rivalry. What we have seen today is the ingredient of a great championship," said Wolff.

The most memorable seasons have been fuelled by controversy, passion and a fierce rivalry sometimes spilling into outright enmity.

Baku, with the championship favourites colliding and a podium of drivers who could scarcely believe their luck, provided enough drama to keep the championship bubbling away for months to come.

Just last month, Hamilton had spoken about how enjoyable it was to be battling a rival who was not a teammate - his main opponent for the past three seasons - and the admiration he felt for Vettel's speed and consistency.

The Briton had warned then, however, that it might not last. On Sunday, he was proven right.

The battle lines were drawn the moment Vettel went into the back of Hamilton's Mercedes during the second of three safety car periods, the German shaking his fists and pulling alongside to bang wheels in what looked a lot like "road rage".

The angry man of 2016, who raged at rivals and had to apologise to race director Charlie Whiting in Mexico last November after an expletive-laden radio rant, was back.

The stewards were clear in apportioning blame, imposing a 10-second stop-and-go penalty on the German for steering into Hamilton.

Deliberately driving into another driver and getting away pretty much scot-free... I think that's a disgrace. Lewis Hamilton on Vettel

The championship leader, now 14 points clear of Hamilton after finishing fourth to the Briton's fifth, was also given three penalty points which could prove significant.

They bring Vettel's penalty tally in the last 12 months to nine. This means another such sanction in Austria in two weeks' time would trigger an automatic race ban for the following round at Silverstone.

DISGRACE

There were some who felt such a penalty should have been applied already, even if the moment of madness ultimately cost Vettel a victory that would have fallen into his lap after Hamilton had to pit to fix a loose head rest.

Maybe I'm not clever enough, but I'm not complicated. I'm willing to sort it out with him. Sebastian Vettel 

Vettel's assertion that Hamilton had "brake-tested" him, by slowing so suddenly that the Ferrari ran into the back of the Mercedes, was also undermined by the evidence that Hamilton's car data showed he "maintained a consistent speed".

Hamilton added that he hopes to do his talking on the track.

Asked if Vettel's actions showed signs of mental weakness, Hamilton replied: "That's been kind of obvious for some time.

"You look at last year and some of the things he's come and said on the radio...


'Nobody wanted to see the schmoozing anyway, so now the gloves are off. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff

"We've put a lot of pressure on Ferrari... That shows that often pressure can get to even some of the best of us."

- WIRE SERVICES

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