BAKU (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton turned talk of road rage into respect on Thursday when asked on his return to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix about last year’s headline-grabbing clash with Formula One rival Sebastian Vettel.
The Mercedes driver, a four-times world champion like his Ferrari opponent, called the German a “disgrace” last June for his behaviour while both were following the safety car in first and second places.
Vettel, who hit the back of Hamilton’s car before pulling alongside and banging wheels, had accused the Briton of “brake-testing” him but apologised later.
Reflecting on the incident 10 months later, Hamilton sounded a positive tone.
“It’s good to see fire within the people that you’re competing with, it’s also good to see that they’re not perfect because I guess nobody’s perfect,” he told reporters.
“We all make mistakes but it’s more how people handle it and how they progress (that) is what you can really learn from. He’s continued to progress as the champion that he is,” Hamilton added.
“How he presents himself, how he speaks, he continues to grow and the words that he uses today. The respect has grown, actually, a considerable amount since then. I’m sure it will continue.”
Vettel won the first two races of the season and leads Hamilton, the reigning champion who has not had a victory since last year, by nine points heading into the fourth round of 21 grands prix.
The German notably stepped in to defend Hamilton in Bahrain this month when the Briton was quizzed about bad language used in the cooling down room in relation to Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.
“We’ve all been in that situation, we fight someone, we go sometimes wheel-to-wheel, it’s close and you have a lot of adrenalin going. It’s a human reaction,” Vettel said at the time.
Asked whether what happened last year would be good motivation for him this weekend, the Ferrari driver poured cold water on the suggestion.
“I know it might sound like a good story but not really,” he told reporters.
“I think you always learn something from every race and some races you learn different things to others and Baku last year was very different to other races.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond