LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One’s governing body got it wrong twice over with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at last weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, according to former race winner and television pundit Johnny Herbert.
Stewards promoted and demoted the German to and from the podium after he tangled with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, and then let him off for hurling abuse at race director Charlie Whiting over the radio.
Herbert told Reuters that, while he welcomed the airing of communications between driver and team as an insight into the stresses of racing, Vettel’s swearing at Whiting had gone too far.
“The worst thing was the stuff directly at Charlie. I thought that was out of order and something should have been done about that one. It’s a step too far,” said the Briton.
Herbert, who won three grands prix between 1989 and 2000 and was Michael Schumacher’s team mate at Benetton in 1994 and 1995, said a race ban would have been too hard but a grid penalty or fine could have been imposed.
The FIA said on Tuesday that its president Jean Todt had decided, “on an exceptional basis”, not to take disciplinary action against the four-times world champion after he apologised.
“You are hearing a frustrated Sebastian Vettel coming out with all this stuff and we want to hear it. But you know you’ve got to be sometimes careful with what you say and how you say it,” said Herbert.
“We heard it, it was directed at Charlie in a very rude manner which is unacceptable. He should have got something. He got off scot-free.”
Vettel finished fourth on the road in Mexico but was promoted to the podium after Verstappen was demoted to fifth for gaining an advantage by going off the track while defending against the Ferrari driver.
The Dutchman had refused to cede position to the German on the track, triggering the expletive-laden rant by Vettel who then clashed with Verstappen’s team mate Ricciardo.
After a stewards’ investigation, Vettel was then handed a penalty that demoted him to fifth for a dangerous move while defending his position, elevating Ricciardo to third and Verstappen to fourth.
Herbert felt that penalty was another wrong decision. “I’m surprised he (Vettel) got something for that. That’s what I want to see, was there anything wrong with it? It was a squeeze, there wasn’t anything wrong with it,” he said.
“I’m ‘let them race, let them get on with it’.”
Speaking at Blackwell’s Holborn bookshop in London, where he was promoting his autobiography ‘What Doesn’t Kill you...”, Herbert also said something had to be done to ensure drivers kept within the track limits.
“I remember when I was racing, I would try and take a little bit of the track if I knew I could get away with it,” he said.
“I’m still of the thinking that track limits are track limits. Full stop. Whatever the argument I keep hearing from people, there is always a gain (by going off the track).”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ian Chadband