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The incident occurred after a fast-starting Vettel entered Turn 1 three-wide with Rosberg and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The Ferrari driver had squeezed up the inside of Verstappen to snatch third, but in doing so locked up and tagged Rosberg into a spin - sustaining race-ending suspension damage in the process.
The stewards announced immediately that they would investigate the incident after the race, and ultimately concluded Vettel was to blame - issuing the four-time world champion with a grid penalty and two penalty points on his licence.
“Having thoroughly reviewed the video and having spoken to the driver concerned, the Stewards determined that although the cars involved in the incident were all moving at relatively similar speeds, the driver of Car 5 [Vettel] made a small error entering to the inside of Turn 1 that led to the contact with Car 6 [Rosberg],” read a statement.
“As a consequence, Car 6 was caused to spin from second place and lose multiple positions, which the stewards determined was predominantly the fault of the driver of Car 5.”
Speaking after his retirement, and having been informed that Verstappen had referred to his move as ‘crazy’ over team radio, Vettel indicated that he thought the Dutchman was to blame for what had happened.
“If anything I was braking at the same point as him [Verstappen],” Vettel said. “I was side by side, he squeezed me. I think it was racing. Nico was ahead and on a different line, and didn’t have to worry about us.
“Two things are wrong: first Nico, with no blame, gets turned around; and second, I am standing here. Racing him [Verstappen] he’s moving around, I think everyone knows by now. If you get squeezed to the inside the angle doesn’t get any better for T1. It was quite bad the angle, I was trying to do everything to turn and get the corner and I do get the corner but Nico tries to cut back, I guess to fight Lewis, and at that point we make contact.”
Verstappen however maintained his stance after the race.
“I haven’t changed my opinion,” he said. “He just dived up the inside, too late, T-boned Nico and I had to avoid the crash. And that compromised my race. I saw him in my mirrors, I braked a bit late. It’s such a tight radius, so to try and brake that late and turn, of course you will lock up….”
Rosberg too suggested Vettel had been to blame, saying: “I got T-boned by a four-time World Champion out of control...”
Fine for Haas
The stewards in Malaysia also investigated Haas after Esteban Gutierrez’s car lost a wheel before retiring – the result, they say, of the failure of the rim blowing the wheel past the retention devices. They absolved the Mexican of knowingly driving a car in an unsafe condition, but fined his team 5000 euros after saying that “some function of the design, part failure or fitting allowed the wheel to come loose on the track, which is considered a serious safety issue. The stewards determined that this led to the car being released in an unsafe condition.”