Mercedes and Ferrari traded insults and accusations after Sebastian Vettel beat Lewis Hamilton to win the British Grand Prix on Sunday.
The controversy centred on an incident in the opening lap when Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen collided with Hamilton’s Mercedes at Turn Three.
As a result, the Englishman, who had started from pole position, dropped to the back of the field. The accident followed a first-lap collision at the French Grand Prix, when the other Ferrari, driven by Vettel, drove into the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.
In France, Vettel was handed a five seconds penalty and on Sunday, Raikkonen took a 10-seconds penalty, but Mercedes felt these punishments were not sufficient.
Hamilton, his Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and the team’s non-executive chairman Nikki Lauda all suggested that Ferrari’s crashes with their team’s cars might be more than just unlucky “racing incidents.”
Vettel, who increased his narrow lead in the driver standings, responded by dismissing the talk as “quite silly.”
On Sunday, Hamilton drove a heroic race to finish second while Raikkonen, went on to secure the final podium place.
After the race, the Mercedes driver struggled to hide his disappointment. He avoided a post-race interview and his body language as he kept away from Raikkonen in the pre-podium room and during the champagne spraying told its own story.
When he was eventually interviewed on the podium after the two Ferrari men had departed, Hamilton took a swipe at his rivals: “Interesting tactics, I would say, from their side, but we’ll do what we can to fight them.”
Hamilton later expanded on his comments. “It’s now two races one of the Ferraris has taken out one of the Mercedes,” he said. “There’s a lot of points there that Valtteri and I have lost.
“We’ve just got to try to position ourselves better so we are not exposed to the red cars because who knows whether that’s going to happen again.
“We’ve got to work hard as a team to try to lock out the front row and make sure we’re fully ahead of these guys.”
Wolff quoted his team’s Technical Director, James Allison, as he raised the possibility of foul play.
“It is a lot of constructors’ points. In James Allison’s words ‘do you think it is deliberate or incompetence?’ So, this leaves us with a judgement.”
Lauda, who won two of his three championships with Ferrari, said: “The accident was unfair basically because it’s the second time a Ferrari hits us in the first corner and it’s not funny, but that’s the way it is...
“First of all, it was wrong when they gave Vettel five seconds. At least, now, they gave Kimi 10 seconds. The stewards realised what’s going on here...”
Vettel now leads the title race with 171 points, eight ahead of Hamilton on 163 while Raikkonen is third on 116.
Nothing deliberate about it
Vettel shrugged off the accusations.
“Why? Things can happen,” the German said. “It’s quite silly to think that anything that happened was deliberate. I, at least, would struggle to be that precise and take somebody out.
“In France, I lost my wing, so I screwed my race. I think it’s easy to attack and have a great move and easy to have an incident.
“I only saw it briefly, but I don’t think there was any intention and I find it a bit unnecessary even to go there.”
Hamilton was on pole on Sunday and made a poor start before his brush with Raikkonen who apologised and accepted the blame.
“He spun and it was my bad, but that is how it goes sometimes,” said Raikkonen. “It was not a straightforward race. It was my mistake so that was fine. That is how it goes. Without the mistakes and the penalty it would have been better, but I tried.”
Later, responding to the comments from Mercedes, Raikkonen said: “That’s how it goes sometimes. It’s easy to say after the last couple of races, but we’ve been hit plenty of times in the past.”