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

SPIELBERG, Austria — Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was given a suspended fine of 25,000 euros after storming out of a drivers meeting ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

Vettel left the meeting “without permission” on Friday evening during a heated discussion between drivers and FIA officials over growing frustrations around decision-making this year.

The stewards’ verdict said: “Drivers are not free to leave when they want, this being a breach of the requirement to attend.

“Drivers at this level are role models for every driver around the world and in the opinion of the stewards Sebastian Vettel failed to live up to that standard in this case.”

The stewards said Vettel apologized “without reservation” and then had a constructive conversation on the topics in question with this weekend’s race director, Niels Wittich.

The relationship between F1’s drivers and officials this year has grown increasingly strained, mainly around inconsistent decision-making.

Wittich and Eduardo Freitas replaced ousted race director Michael Masi at the start of the year but the new system has received a mixed reception at best within the paddock.

Wittich and Freitas alternate race-directing duties, meaning the latter oversaw last weekend’s British Grand Prix.

George Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, said this format needed changing.

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

“We need to have a bit more consistency with the stewarding. We come to the following event and often the steward in the previous event is not there. So there’s no accountability, no explanations of decisions.

“We ask questions, and it’s difficult to get a straightforward answer because almost a bit of blame is being put onto somebody else who isn’t there.

“So it’s tricky. Everybody’s got their own interpretations.”

Fernando Alonso has been an outspoken critic of the FIA’s decision-making this year and was forced to apologize to the governing body’s president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, for critical comments he made ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Alonso had suggested the FIA ​​race stewards lack the racing knowledge needed to do their job.

At the Miami Grand Prix he had been upset at a penalty he received for cutting a chicane during the race, despite what he felt was a significant lift of the throttle afterwards in an attempt to give back any advantage gained.

Alonso was confused that Sergio Perez escaped without a penalty at the British Grand Prix last week after coming off track during his battles with Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.

The Spaniard said on Thursday he would be seeking clarification at the Friday meeting.

“I left the track in Miami on one corner and I gain an advantage for them [the FIA]but they have to imagine that I gained an advantage, because I give back all the advantage,” the Spaniard said.

“[Silverstone] was a clear gaining of advantage, because you can fight on the next corner on the inside or outside. So it’s clear. And it was no penalty. So I’m very confused.”

He added: “At the beginning of the year, leaving the track was not allowed. It was very clear, black-and-white.

“Now, leaving the track and keeping flat out on the run-off area and keeping fighting on the following corner, is allowed. So that’s a completely different direction with what we have seen so far. So it will be very, very interesting to clear this up.”

After Friday practice in Austria, Grand Prix Drivers Association director George Russell said all the drivers are asking for is consistency.

Ahead of the Miami Grand Prix drivers were also critical of the FIA’s push to enforce an old rule around the jewelery and underpants that can be worn in the car, which led to a multiple-race standoff with Lewis Hamilton over his nose piercing.

Hamilton’s fellow drivers were widely in agreement with the seven-time world champion that the rule was draconian and that the governing body had more important things to be dealing with.

Vettel memorably poked fun at this FIA directive by wearing his underwear on the outside of his race suit when he walked to his car ahead of a practice session in Miami.

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