Sebastian Vettel handed suspended fine for storming out of F1 driver meeting

SPIELBERG, Austria — Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has been handed a suspended fine of €25,000 after he stormed out of a drivers’ briefing ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

Vettel left Friday night’s meeting “without permission” during a heated discussion between drivers and FIA officials over growing frustrations with decision-making this year.

The stewards’ verdict read: “Drivers are not free to drive when they choose as this is a violation of attendance requirements.

“Drivers at this level are role models for every driver around the world and in the opinion of the stewards, Sebastian Vettel has not lived up to that claim in this case.”

The stewards said Vettel issued an “unreserved” apology and then had a constructive discussion on the issues in question with this weekend’s race director, Niels Wittich.

The relationship between F1 drivers and officials has become increasingly strained this year, largely due to inconsistent decision-making.

Wittich and Eduardo Freitas replaced the fallen race director Michael Masi earlier this year, but the new system has had a mixed reception in the paddock at best.

Wittich and Freitas take turns in charge of the race, meaning the latter oversaw last weekend’s British Grand Prix.

George Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, said this format needs to change.

“Yes, I agree that we have to stick to a race director,” he said after Saturday’s sprint race in Austria.

“We have to be a bit more consistent with stewarding. We come to the next event and often the steward of the previous event is not there. So there is no accountability, no explanations for decisions.

“We ask questions and it’s difficult to get a straight answer because almost a little bit of blaming someone else who isn’t there.

“So it’s difficult. Everyone has their own interpretations.”

Fernando Alonso has been an outspoken critic of the FIA’s decision-making this year and has had to apologize to Governing Body President Mohammed ben Sulyem for critical comments he made ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Alonso had hinted that FIA race stewards lack the racing knowledge needed to do their job.

At the Miami Grand Prix, he was upset about a penalty he received for cutting a chicane during the race, although he felt he eased off the accelerator significantly afterwards to reflect an advantage gained.

Alonso was puzzled that Sergio Perez escaped unpunished at last week’s British Grand Prix after going off the track during his battles with Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.

The Spaniard said Thursday he would seek clarification at Friday’s meeting.

“I went off the track on a corner in Miami and I gave them an advantage [the FIA]but you have to imagine that I’ve gained an advantage because I’m giving back all the advantage,” said the Spaniard.

“[Silverstone] was a clear advantage because you can fight for the next corner on the inside or outside. So it’s clear. And it wasn’t a penalty. So I’m very confused.”

He added: “Earlier this year, leaving the track was not allowed. It was clearly black and white.

“Now you are allowed to leave the track and go full throttle in the run-off zone and keep fighting in the following corner. So that’s a very different direction than what we’ve seen so far. So it’s going to be very, very interesting. Get that sorted out.”

After Friday’s practice in Austria, Grand Prix Drivers Association director George Russell said all drivers ask for is consistency.

Ahead of the Miami Grand Prix, drivers also criticized the FIA’s push to enforce an old rule regarding jewelry and underpants that can be worn in cars, leading to a multi-race altercation with Lewis Hamilton over his nose piercing.

Hamilton’s fellow drivers largely agreed with the seven-time world champion that the rule was draconian and the governing body had more important things to do.

Vettel memorably poked fun at this FIA policy by wearing his underwear on the outside of his racing suit as he walked to his car before a practice session in Miami. Sebastian Vettel handed suspended fine for storming out of F1 driver meeting

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