Maldonado proving a liability on the F1 track
The Thursday afternoon Formula 1 press conference is usually about as exciting as cream wallpaper. Six of the world’s best drivers are ushered in front of the waiting media to be asked largely mundane questions regarding the weekend ahead.
It’s unusual then for the media to be hanging out for the FIA, Formula 1’s governing body, to release the press conference schedule, yet somehow that’s what I find myself doing.
There will be three names hungry journalists will want to see: Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado.
Maldonado has had a season filled with highs and lows. In Spain the Williams driver secured his first win. It was a supreme performance, withstanding incredible pressure from double world champion Fernando Alonso. On that day Maldonado came of age, we wrote, breaking free from the ‘pay driver’ label.
Then came Monaco and in a moment of madness the Venezuelan largely undid his good work. During Saturday morning practice his lost his head when caught up behind Sergio Perez.
While most drivers gesticulate wildly at their rivals Maldonado opted to drive in to Perez, a move for which he was punished with a grid penalty. It ultimately proved to be a significantly contributing factor to his first corner retirement that weekend.
Maldonado aside Perez’s weekend was also compromised. In qualifying Perez suffered a steering failure on the same wheel with which Maldonado so ruthlessly collided. A moment of hot-headedness Maldonado ruined not only his own race but impacted on the fortunes of Perez, and for this he was given a comparatively soft grid-penalty.
He was lucky to have had the book thrown at him, he certainly deserved it.
Fast forward to the European Grand Prix. As the race began drawing to a close Maldonado closed on a struggling Lewis Hamilton. His tyres shot, the McLaren was a sitting duck and would have been easy prey for Maldonado if only the Williams pilot had been patient.
Instead Maldonado dived down the outside under brakes. Hamilton, as is his right as the driver on the inside, used the entire track as they rounded the right hander. Maldonado was crowded off of the circuit, as was always going to happen, however the Venezuelan kept his foot in. He should have lifted, ceded the battle in order to win the war.
Instead, from outside the limits of the circuit, he re-joined dangerously. For that he was given a twenty-second penalty, going unpunished for torpedoing Hamilton and punting him out of the race. The 2008 world champion was furious, though kept his anger under wraps when speaking with the media.
Hamilton and Maldonado have history, stretching back to last year’s Monaco Grand Prix, though in that instance it was Hamilton’s exuberance that triggered events.
At the British Grand Prix Maldonado was caught short once more.
Side by side with Perez, Maldonado punted the Mexican out of the race. Perez was attacking around the outside of Brooklands, a quick left hander that tightens at the apex, when Maldonado lost grip and slid into his Sauber.
Perhaps Perez could have backed out and lived to fight another day, and given Maldonado’s history in hindsight it seems the smartest move. However, Perez had made the same move on Jenson Button and scampered through without incident.
The corner that followed was a long right handed, the racing line not generally using the full width of the circuit. Perez, unlike Maldonado in Valencia, was not driving in to a space that was going to disappear, and can rightly feel hard done by.
Having vacated his stranded Sauber and returned to the pits Perez was fuming. Rarely in modern Formula One do drivers openly lambast one another, Hamilton and Massa’s public spat in Singapore the closest we’ve seen in recent years, so to hear Perez so openly lay in to his rival was unusual – though not unwarranted.
Maldonado has a track record of driving which can only be described as dangerous. His motor racing career almost came to a grinding halt in Monaco a few years prior to his Formula 1 debut when he was involved in a hideous incident.
Organisers threatened to ban him from driving on the circuit again, thereby curtailing his ambitions to race in Formula 1 – no team would hire a driver who cannot race around the streets of the Principality.
One way or another that problem was resolved, Maldonado finding his way in to Formula 1 where he has proved himself to be both fast and unpredictable. Some things never change.
Maldonado’s Spanish Grand Prix victory was sublime, a fine drive the like of which Alonso could be proud. However, incidents elsewhere are cause for concern, and the growing concern from a number of other drivers is beginning to mount a damning argument.
Maldonado should be held to account, and the worlds media is not generally known to take prisoners.
Therefore, I look forward to the FIA press conference on Thursday week, hoping Maldonado, Hamilton and Perez are among its attendees. It could prove to be one of the more exciting press conferences of the year.
I for one am salivating at the thought of asking the sort of questions which will make the Venezuelan squirm.
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