Gutierrez leads Maldonado mid-race. Photo (c) Sauber Motorsport AG
Pastor Maldonado heads to the Chinese Grand Prix with a five place grid penalty and three points on his racing license as a result of a crash with Esteban Gutierrez during today’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
My first reaction to the news was to complain about the stewards on Twitter for their complete inconsistency (inconsistent stewards, what’s new there?). Think about it though: In Malaysia, Daniel Ricciardo was released from his pit box without a wheel properly attached to his car. Besides the one lap he lost while the team recovered the car and properly attached the wheel, he was then given a ten second stop/go penalty, as decided by the new regulations brought in to ensure a team doesn’t skimp on safety in the rush to get the car going again and cause an incident like Mark Webber’s wheel striking an FOM cameraman in Germany last year. Ricciardo was subsequently handed a ten place grid penalty for Bahrain. He was severely punished for something he had no control over.
Then today we saw a driver drive straight into the side of another driver and cause that driver to do two complete sideways flips before being hospitalised for precautionary checks, and yet the guilty party only gets a stop/go penalty (in a race where he was far from points anyways) and a mere five-place grid penalty. When I saw the crash, and the camera zoomed in on Gutierrez, he was motionless inside the car for at least seven or eight seconds. I’m not trying to over emphasise things when I say that I really thought Gutierrez was in serious trouble. The last time I thought that was when Fernando Alonso stayed, also motionless, in his car after the huge shunt at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix. That time, the Lotus driver at fault was given a race ban. Luckily this time, as with Alonso in 2012, Gutierrez was merely catching his breath and probably trying to figure out what had just happened, before climbing out of the car and being taken to the medical centre. As I already mentioned, he was then shipped to a local hospital for further checks.
Although I tweeted that Maldonado should be given a race ban, I’ve calmed down and thought about it from the stewards point of view. I know that people reading this may disagree, but I half support the stewards on this one (I know, way to sit on the fence, Ben). Hear me out.
Ignoring Pastor Maldonado’s pretty bad track record (excuse the pun), look at the incident. It’s not like Maldonado aimed his car at Gutierrez, with a red mist descending over his eyes, muttering, in Venezuelan, ‘lets see how many times I can flip this guy over’. The fact of the matter is, it was a very unfortunate incident, for both drivers. Maldonado was coming out of the pitlane and would have been running on a very cold set of tyres – meaning his braking would be affected due to lack of grip. So Maldonado went into the corner racing the Sauber, as I’m sure any driver would do, but was caught out by the lack of grip. On top of that, Gutierrez probably closed the door on Maldonado, or failed to realise how close the Lotus actually was to him, and cut Maldonado off.
Another situation like this that springs to mind was the Schumacher/Senna crash in the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. In that race, Schumacher was coming out of the pits on fresh tyres and came up behind Senna into T1. Senna weaved and Schumacher presumed he was letting him through, as Bruno was yet to pit and was suffering on old tyres, but Senna moved back to take the corner and the two collided in spectacular fashion. Schumi was given the blame and awarded a – wait for it – five place grid penalty for the next race. Quite similar, aren’t they? And, ironically, Maldonado won that race.
Think about how you’d view the incident if it wasn’t Maldonado involved. Let’s say that Ricciardo, for example, had caused the crash with Gutierrez. Would you be calling for a race ban? I don’t think so. Meanwhile, Maldonado caused the crash with Gutierrez and there was a universal cry for a race ban. Between the people who tweeted me today and commented on my Facebook page, everyone seems to agree that he deserved a race ban for the incident. Like I said, I did too until I sat down and thought about it.
Of course, his track record stands against him. Lets not forget how Maldonado maliciously rammed Perez into the barriers in Monaco during FP3 – causing damage that caused him to crash a few corners later, and causing hidden damage that contributed to Perez’s horrible crash during Qualifying where he hit the TecPro barriers outside the tunnel and needed to hospitalised. And later that season, how he did the same to Hamilton during Qualifying for the Belgian GP after Lewis pushed past him. On the next lap, Maldonado pulled alongside the Briton before darting across Hamilton and damaging the front of his car.
Now, this is where my indecision is. Although I think a race ban would be a bit too extreme, I think the stewards should have looked to his record and given him something a bit more serious – maybe a ten place grid penalty and six penalty points. But, like I said, I wholeheartedly believe that the crash was down to a slightly over-ambitious overtaking manoeuvre, rather than a malevolent intention. Of course, if Maldonado does something similar this season then a race ban should be considered. He should learn from this experience.
I think the Pastor Maldonado that we have now has matured since 2012 and, to be fair, he had a very clean record in 2013. A lot like how his new team-mate Romain Grosjean, who was the cause of the 2012 Belgian GP crash and the recipient of the first race ban since 1994 for causing that crash, has matured. Underneath the bad reputation is a talented racer who is trying to help his team recover from their poor start this season.
That’s my two cents on the matter. Please feel free to give me yours – comment below or send me a tweet @BenSweeneyF1.