By Ollie BarstowFollow @OllieBarstowF1 on Twitter

Sebastian Vettel is likely to face some awkward questions when F1 returns to action with the Austrian Grand Prix in little more than a weeks' time as everyone gets their head around his 'road rage' incident against Lewis Hamilton during an ill-tempered Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Against the backdrop of a race most drivers pointedly termed as 'crazy', this particularly bonkers incident returned F1 to the front page of several Monday morning newspapers ... and not just for the clash of wheels under the safety car that triggered their war of words.

Indeed, it is Vettel's bizarre reluctance to acknowledge the deliberate contact - the incident for which he was penalised - that has raised eyebrows of his peers, the media and fans.

During his post-race interviews, though Vettel is constantly probed on why he felt the need to pull alongside Hamilton and drive into him, the German consistently attempts to circle it back round to the initial contact when Hamilton slowed and caught Vettel out as though it was the key - and only - moment worth discussing.

Unfortunately for Vettel, he has found few people in his corner defending his actions and though the implementing of a 10 secs stop-go penalty - one of the harsher penalties you can receive in F1 now - would suggest the matter is closed, there are rumblings the FIA may not be willing to let this go so easily.

We have, of course, seen flashes of Vettel's 'fiery' behaviour when the red mist descends and his back is up, notably during last year's expletive-ridden tirade against FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting and Max Verstappen at the end of the Mexican Grand Prix. Almost as alarming as the incident was, Vettel's nonplus acknowledgment for it afterwards, coupled to his irritation at being asked about it by the media, was also noted.

In the end, the FIA opted to give Vettel the benefit of the doubt by accepting his formal written apology on the premise that he wouldn't do it again. However, while there were no F*** You moments to keep the 'bleeper' on his toes this time, Vettel's equivalent behind the wheel leaves the FIA in another awkward position of precedent-setting originating from the same four-time title winning driver.

FIA Re-action for Road Safety?

As far as a rather sheepish Ferrari is concerned, the penalty renders the matter closed save for some internal discussions which are unlikely to ever be uttered in a public forum.

However, while Liberty Media might well enjoy the burst of publicity brought on by the incident and relish the notion of a bitter battle between two of the sport's finest drivers in two different teams, the FIA is unlikely to find appreciation for the same headlines.

After all, if the FIA chose not to set an example of Vettel being rude in Mexico, given its President Jean Todt's well-publicised modus operandi to revolutionise awareness of road safety and its practices, having halo drivers as Vettel driving into rivals, regardless of speed, is precisely the wrong message it is sending out.

Speaking of halos, intentionally making contact with another driver doesn't exactly sit well with Vettel's vociferous campaign for greater safety measures in F1.

Vettel could have been excluded... still could

It isn't clear whether the FIA has it in its power to levy further sanctions against Vettel once a penalty has already been served. Indeed, at a time when post-race penalties and time penalties are more common, the stop/go penalty - staple of the mid-90s era of F1 - was certainly an interesting throwback decision by the stewards. Only an exclusion would have been harsher.

According to Auto Motor und Sport's Michael Schmidt, the stewards did genuinely consider the dreaded black flag but were reportedly conscious it didn't want to go too serious with a decision it needed to make quickly. Nor did it want to take responsibility for influencing the title battle.

However, he also suggests the decision was a mere deferral for a harsher penalty that could be levied post-race, though it is unclear as to what form this could take. This harsher line could well come from the very top of the tree if Todt gets involved... or it could simply be Vettel is forced to become the literal poster boy for road safety in some admittedly amusing example setting.

Troublingly for Vettel, the focus of his anger - Hamilton - is unlikely to be as forgiving and forgetting (or as silent) as Whiting was, with the Briton already declaring he doesn't want to hear any apologies or excuses. Whilst this doesn't mean we are likely to see Hamilton exacting a similar revenge any time soon, you can imagine it will be a topic of conversation for the rest of the year at least - in other words, Vettel, Ferrari nor the fans or media will be allowed to forget this one so easily.

To his credit, Hamilton was fairly composed in the way he shamed Vettel post-race, refusing to get vitriolic whilst at the same time appearing visibly deflated by his own loss of respect for a driver he has shared a good-natured rivalry with to this stage.

Naturally, we can expect to see both in the press conference come Austria... and we are hopeful F1 will be brave enough to make it a simple two-man presser too.

Bad for the sport... or good for the sport?

In the meantime, Ferrari will likely close ranks and protect its driver and Mercedes will try and avoid stoking the fire further, but there is a side eye on whether the FIA will need to make its position clearer and publicly humble a driver that many feel shouldn't be allowed to escape attention this time.

As Vettel put it in his media session, he won't approach Hamilton while 'you lot' (the media) are around. However, many feel that is exactly what he should be made to do.

Then again, perhaps we are looking at this all wrong and we should be thanking Vettel for being petulant (again).

Maybe we should be celebrating the fact this erstwhile fluffy friendly rivalry has turned deliciously bitter... and this time we will have no ambiguous 'Rules of Engagement' to pore over.

Keep it clean(ish) but game on!


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