Lewis Hamilton’s world championship duel with Sebastian Vettel erupted in Baku on Sunday when the Briton branded his German rival "a disgrace" for deliberately driving into him during a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Angry Hamilton accused Vettel of “dangerous driving” for the extraordinary manoeuvre and called out race director Charlie Whiting after the Ferrari driver escaped with just a 10-second penalty.
That was enough to see Vettel finish one place ahead of Hamilton in fifth, after the Mercedes racer lost his chances of victory when he was forced to pit for a replacement headrest. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took the chequered flag.
Vettel, who increased his lead over Hamilton in the drivers’ championship to 14 points, insisted their clash had been the Englishman’s fault for abruptly slowing down behind the safety car, prompting the German to shunt him and damage a front wing.
Former world champion Damon Hill, however, called it “a petulant move”, while Mercedes chief Niki Lauda called Vettel "crazy" – and Hamilton struggled to contain his disgust.
Hamilton said: "For him to pretty much get away with driving into another driver is a disgrace. I think he disgraced himself today. If he wants to prove he is a man we should do it out of the car, face-to-face.
"It is a misjudgement from him and some people don't like to own up to their own mistakes."
Hamilton railed to colleagues over the team radio during the race about Vettel’s lenient penalty, saying: “A 10-second penalty is not enough for driver behaviour like that. You know that, Charlie [Whiting].”
But Vettel defended himself and insisted Hamilton should also have been punished. “I don’t think I did anything wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t the right thing what he did. It wasn’t right that I got a penalty and he didn’t. He brake-checked me as well.”
Hamilton insisted: "The stewards looked at my data and the reason I didn't get a penalty is because I clearly did not brake test him. It could not be clearer. Ultimately what happened was disrespectful."
Vettel’s swerve into Hamilton happened at the end of the second of three safety car periods. The Briton, who led Vettel, backed off to let the safety car pull away and the German ran into his rear – to his fury.
Hill said: "That was a petulant move and something a four-time world champion should be able to control. It was a rush of blood to the head."
Lauda went further. "He freaked out in himself," he said. "When you hit somebody up the a*** it is your fault. No question. But to drive next to him and hit him on purpose, I have never seen anything like this.
"To do that I don't understand. Vettel is a decent guy, normally. This I don't understand. He is crazy.
"Lewis will hit him one day. Not with the car but with the fist. If I was Lewis, I would speak to Sebastian and ask him what is wrong."
The race was red-flagged and stopped for 15 minutes soon after, in order to remove debris from a collision between Force India team-mates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
Hamilton’s headrest problem arose just after the midway point of the race, and that and Vettel’s stop-and-go penalty allowed Ricciardo to claim his first win of the season.
The Australian was followed home by Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who pipped Canadian 18-year-old Lance Stroll of Williams on the line.