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F1 : Vettel and Palmer show that Karma is alive and well in Asia

Bryan Edwards

Sebastian Vettel, F1's spoiled brat, had tears in his eyes as he got a hug from Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene. For his part, Arrivabene, already subject to some kind of gagging order from his bosses, has some explaining to do and he'd better come up with something better than his last excuse: a third party delivered sub-standard components and the team didn't notice before they failed. But it might be that the real reason that things are going tits up for the German driver are more intangible than the latest official reason of a failing spark plug. Renault and Torro Rosso are being taught a lesson, too. Welcome to the mystical East.

Sebastian Vettel has never done anything to make himself popular :he's insulted crowds, demonstrated brutality and arrogance and, more than once, he's lied to try to get another driver into trouble.

The latest example was after he drove into Lance Stroll in the slow-down lap in Malaysia - he likes records and now he's got one that will last a long time: the last driver to cause a collision in the Malaysia F1 Grand Prix (the race had ended but the event, and the jurisdiction of the stewards, had not). It was clear that Vettel caused the crash, but he immediately cried out that Stroll had driven into him, influencing the stewards, who made a decision in the absence of all the evidence and, once more, Vettel escaped without any form of penalty for what video from Stroll's car proved was, indeed, Vettel's fault. It is clear that he should have suffered a grid penalty, at the very least, for the action which, once more, involved him turning left into another car as he passed it.

In Singapore, he made a good start, then turned hard left across the nose of Verstaapen, taking both the Dutchman and his own Ferrari Team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen out of the race, along with McLaren's Fernando Alonso while he sailed on as if nothing had happened. But Karna's a witch and five corners later something broke and his Ferrari started biting chunks out of the wall. Despite taking three cars out (although Alonso despite serious damage kept running for several laps before his car surrendered to its injuries) the Stewards decided it was a racing incident in an action-packed first corner.

In Malaysia, he had suffered a near Karmic component failure (blamed by his team on a third party manufacturer) which had pushed him to the back of the field. He drove a race that was immaculate: no bullying, no cheating and came up from last to fourth. There were no whoops, no expletives: this was a completely likeable Vettel, worthy of respect. Then he reverted to type and, passing Stroll on the slowing down lap, turned hard left and into the Williams. Literally the wheels came off the Ferrari. He lied, saying that Stroll had turned into him. He broke the rules by refusing to refit the steering wheel to his damaged car and then hitched a ride back on a Sauber, a move that is popular with the fans but is outlawed on very good safety reasons.

The stewards, again, said of the crash that it was a racing incident and decided against any penalty for the rule breaking.

A week later, the circus is in Japan, at Sazuka, Honda's home track. Vettel's car works well in qualifying and he's in P2. The big question of the day is whether, as he's on the left side and the first corner is a right-hander, he'll turn right and try to take out pole sitter Hamilton who is now an surprise 28 points ahead in the Drivers' Championship. The lights go out and Vettel moves hard across the track but Hamilton gets off first and with his pole position one-car's length advantage, Vettel's aggression hits empty air. For the first 500 metres or so, he's got his foot down hard: then karma bites him in the arse.

Sitting on the grid, engineers had identified a problem with the engine but Ferrari doesn't have engine problems: even customer teams don't mention engine problems but instead talk about hydraulics, sensors, etc, anything to separate a fault from the brand. The engineers said there was a problem with a spark plug but whatever the data was showing, the fact is that Vettel's engine did not sound lumpy it just lost power. Lost lots of power. By the end of the first lap he was pretty much pointless and falling back, being subdued in radio messages that were giving him instructions on changing settings, as it came to light that he had, in breach of the rules, been given instructions as to settings on the grid (he argued that he needed them for safety but there was ample time for the field to go round again and reform on the grid with him having been pushed off. As the first lap turned into hopelessness, his team called him into the pits, the car was wheeled away and the lap chart showed him as retired. But he sat in the car while engineers pored over the engine but didn't, so far as was obvious, take off the bits that would grant access to the spark plugs.

It is not nice to gloat but it couldn't happen to a nastier person. When Karma comes out to play, it does so with a vengeance.

Down the pit lane, Jolyon Palmer got half-way through the weekend then was told that he would not be driving for the rest of the season and Sainz was being moved in time for Austin. Apparently, Palmer's water-tight contract either had a leak or his father negotiated a chunk of change which, when it comes to getting a new drive, might be a good investment. But Renault, already in hot water for recruiting, Marcin Budkowski, the keeper of secrets at the FIA who was on a surprisingly short-notice contract with the FIA, which they had tried to keep secret for several weeks, did a deal to take Carlos Sainz on loan from Torro Rosso for a year. The decided to boot out Palmer despite the fact that his record this season has been heavily constrained by technical failures and other people crashing into him - although he has had his own share of crashes, albeit mostly minor and mostly in practice or qualifying. Renault poured vinegar into the wound by waiting until after Qualy in Japan to tell Palmer that this would be his last race: then they announced an engine change so that he suffered the associated penalty and Sainz, in the absence of other problems, gets a fully functioning package for Austin in two weeks. But the irony is that despite the penalty, Palmer finished just outside the points. Using his "old" engine, one that has not let him down unlike so many others this year, he finished in the points in Malaysia. Give him the tools and he delivers.

Sainz on the other hand destroyed his Torro Rosso in Malaysia and then crashed out in the very early stages in Japan. He apologised to the team for going out on such a low. The team thanked him for all his hard work over the years. Sainz is a really nice man from a really nice family, as is Palmer: Palmer's father and manager, Jonathan, did not show any sign of satisfaction at when Sainz went out on the first lap following driver error. . The ire of the Gods (if Karma can be regarded as a God) is at Renault and Torro Rosso.