At last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel lost his temper and dangerously banged wheels with Lewis Hamilton. The incident came after Vettel believed Hamilton had “brake-tested” him while running behind the safety car. Vettel was handed a stop-and-go penalty which almost certainly cost him the race win.

By Graham Duxbury

This, and many other incidents involving drivers’ aggressive on-track behaviour, highlights not only a disregard for safety but, more significantly, a lack of respect among competitors for one another.

According to Jacques Villeneuve, the 1967 Formula One World Champion, the current culture of disrespect was initiated by Michael Schumacher. In a recent media interview, Villeneuve accused the seven-time champion of “a total lack of respect for other drivers and what racing is all about”.

F1 fans will remember the 1997 European Grand Prix in Spain, when Schumacher tried to thwart Villeneuve’s bid to win the race and the world championship by deliberately crashing into him in their battle for the lead. Michael was forced to retire, while Jacques struggled home in third place – still good enough to claim the title.

The blame for the incident was attributed to Schumacher and he was stripped of all his championship points for the season. He would have finished second.

Fast forward to the final qualifying session for the 2006 Monaco GP. Schumacher dangerously “parked” his Ferrari on the track in the dying seconds thereby denying Fernando Alonso the opportunity to complete his qualifying lap – which may well have been the fastest. Schumacher was censured and relegated from provisional pole position to the back of the grid.

Has F1’s relentless drive for improved safety been a catalyst for the growth of a culture of disrespect in the sport?

Back in the day, a racing accident was almost certain to be serious and often tragic. Today, thanks to improved track safety and significantly stronger chassis, even severe accidents are invariably shrugged off by drivers as “mistakes”.

The spectre of death is no longer present at races. While this must be applauded, it has deprived GP racing of some of its primeval essence.

In F1’s early years the realisation that a fellow competitor could easily be lost in the event of an accident bred a tradition of respect and honourable actions among drivers not found in the modern world thanks to changing priorities and professional pressures.

A good illustration of the ethos of this by-gone era can be found in reports of the 1956 Italian GP. Ferrari teammates Peter Collins and Juan Manuel Fangio were fighting for the championship. With 20 laps to go, Fangio’s car failed and he was out of the race.

All Collins had to do was finish to claim the title, but amazingly, he pulled into the pits and handed his car – and the championship – to Fangio. (The sharing of cars and the points that accrued was permitted by the regulations in those days.)

Why did Collins do it? “I would not have been proud of beating Fangio through his bad luck. I am only 25 and have plenty of time to win the championship,” he reportedly said. Sadly, he never had the chance. An accident at the 1958 German GP claimed his life.

At the 1958 Portuguese GP, the battle to become the first British world champion raged between Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn. Moss took pole position in his Vanwall with Hawthorn’s Ferrari alongside. The scene was set for an epic race.

Moss soon established a lead which grew to almost a lap ahead of second-placed Hawthorn, who had a spin in the closing stages of the race but managed to quickly restart and retain his position.

However, reports soon surfaced that Hawthorn had restarted while travelling on track in the opposite direction to the race – an offense resulting in disqualification, according to the rules of the day.

Moss, being almost a lap in front of Hawthorn – and thus behind him on the road – was ideally placed to witness the incident and came forward to point out that his rival’s restart took place on the footpath next to the street circuit and thus was within the rules. Hawthorn kept his second place and six points (plus another for fastest lap).

Two races later, Moss would lose the ‘58 World Championship to Hawthorn by a single point.