Suppose Sebastian Vettel had retired from the Mexican Grand Prix and, for whatever reason, punched a marshal while being helped away from the car.
Quite rightly, there would be outrage. There would be apologies, and charges sporting and possibly even criminal - justifiably so for an act of violence. Vettel certainly wouldn't be lauded for what he did.
That's not to diminish what he did do in Mexico - hurling abuse at what might be termed 'the referee' is an offence in any sport, and he was fortunate to escape without censure. That he didn't largely seems to be down to apologising to Charlie Whiting after the race, combined with the pleasantly retro means of sending a letter of apology to FIA president Jean Todt.