By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - To boo or not to boo? That was the question facing Formula One fans after Sebastian Vettel's runaway Singapore Grand Prix victory was greeted with jeers as well as cheers.
For the third race weekend in a row, Red Bull's triple champion heard rejection as well as acclaim as he stood sweaty and triumphant on the podium ready to spray the winner's champagne.
Why the fans were booing, and whether they should be condoned or condemned for doing so, triggered debate after the race but paddock insiders agreed the German was not being given his dues.
Singapore showed the world a champion and a team at their most dominant, working as one and to the best of their abilities in a sport that has always mixed fierce rivalry with mutual respect.
Former grand prix racer Martin Brundle, who carried out the post-race podium interviews and turned to the crowd to quieten them when he heard the booing, felt Vettel had suffered an injustice.
"I was really amazed to hear some of that booing going on, it has become the default (setting) and it's wrong because the guy has just put in a stunning sporting performance," the Briton told Sky Sports television.
Mercedes's Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion who has suffered boos and racist abuse in the past, agreed: "He's on his way to his fourth world championship and he needs all the credit he deserves", he told reporters.
Vettel and team principal Christian Horner blamed Ferrari fans who had also booed the driver on the Monza podium two weeks earlier and had wanted to see the Italian team's Fernando Alonso in first place.
That may have been the case but there were other explanations.
SCHUMACHER MARK TWO
"Different people have got different issues but the feedback I'm getting is they don't like seeing one driver dominating. They see Michael Schumacher II going on," said Brundle.
"But what can you do? He's just absolutely in a groove, in a class of his own. We should be celebrating that brilliance and hoping somebody else can start to match it.
"It's about excellence and delivering something of the highest level in sport. That's why people travel across the world to come and see this race...they're looking for excellence and he's giving that to us. What he's not getting is any competition," added Brundle.
Vettel has won the last three world championships and, still only 26 years old, looks certain to become the youngest driver to win four - probably as early as next month.
His dominance, in a car that is the pick of the field, has been crushing since the end of the European summer break and he has now won seven of the 13 races.
For some it is too much, a return to the days when seven- times champion Schumacher set record after record and racked up five titles in a row for Ferrari between 2000 and 2004.
German Schumacher was also subjected to booing during his career, most notably in Austria in 2002 and Indianapolis in 2005, but on both those occasions the fans felt cheated of a real race thanks to team orders or a mass boycott.
There may be those who cannot forgive Vettel for ignoring team orders in Malaysia and depriving Australian team mate Mark Webber of what might well have been his last F1 victory.
It could equally be that, at new destinations lacking an established motor racing culture, Formula One is drawing a crowd more familiar with football and its tribal allegiances.
Ferrari, the most glamorous and successful team down the decades, inevitably draw a strong support - particularly in cultures where red is the color of good luck.
But Formula One, a sport where drivers risk their lives even if there has not been a fatality among their number since 1994, prides itself on having a more sophisticated audience.
"These people don't understand what this sport is about. You have to have respect for what he is doing," was the reaction of Austria's triple champion Niki Lauda, now non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team.
"It is quite wrong to jeer an athlete for winning unless it has been proven that he or she is cheating. The other teams have to do better," said ex-Williams chairman Adam Parr on Twitter.
Horner also criticized the crowd and said it was particularly unfair on a driver who had led from start to finish.
"Of course he (Vettel) says it doesn't affect him and he doesn't feel it but he is a human being at the end of the day," he told reporters. "When you have driven your heart out and got that reaction up there, to me it is not fair.
"To me it is not sporting. I don't think it is deserved in any way. He has got a broad set of shoulders but like anyone he has feelings and I don't think it is right."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)