The five-second penalty awarded to Vettel for the way he rejoined the circuit after an off while trying to stay ahead Lewis Hamilton has proved intensely controversial, incensing the German and evoking a strong reaction from his fellow racers on social media.
For Villeneuve, the key distinction in the incident was that Vettel’s transgression was not an intentional move made during wheel-to-wheel battle, and the Canadian instead reckoned the stewards should’ve considered the way Ricciardo defended against Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas earlier in the race.
“I wasn’t surprised by Vettel’s penalty, because it’s often the opposite of what happens,” Villeneuve told Motorsport.com. “Ricciardo deserved a penalty for the way he drove in a straight line, and he didn’t get one. It’s often been like that.
“It’s bad for F1 anyway. It ruined the race because it was a bad call, not because,
‘Oh, it should have been a different winner.’ If Vettel had done something dirty or bad, like Ricciardo did on the straight, that would have deserved a penalty, and that would have been fine, even though it would have been another Lewis win.”
Bottas himself described Ricciardo’s defending as “sometimes on the limit” yet ultimately called it “a good fight”.
Villeneuve argued Hamilton “managed to impose a penalty on Vettel”, but didn’t feel the incident warranted any such verdict.
“That’s not racing,” he argued. “There should be a difference between intentional and when you go through a corner and get back on the track sideways.
“And mostly because the driver behind knows what’s happening, Lewis knew where Vettel was going. He could have come across the track much more aggressively, and he didn’t.
“It’s not a question of letting them race, because ‘let them race’ means people do dirty, stupid stuff. You should never do anything intentional that forces another driver to back off or put him in danger, that’s one thing.
“But you go across a chicane, you get back on the gas as hard as you can, even if it might be risking other drivers, because the guys behind know ‘this guy is in the grass, he’ll probably get sideways, the chances are I’ll be squished… OK, I’ll go for the inside.’ You know it.
“Lewis did the right thing, he managed to impose a penalty on Vettel. He’s very good at that!”