Pastor Maldonado was found guilty of causing an avoidable collision in Free Practice 3 at the Monaco Grand Prix last weekend. Maldonado cut across the front of Sergio Perez’s car, colliding with the front left side of the Sauber, in what looked like a deliberate side-swipe. The stewards examined the incident, determined that it was avoidable, and gave Maldonado a 10-place grid penalty.
But was that enough?
Look back to 1997, when Michael Schumacher turned in on Jacques Villeneuve in a desperate attempt to take the Canadian out of the race and thereby win the championship. Schumacher was punished by being excluded from the results of the 1997 championship, which is possibly the most severe punishment handed out in Formula One history. The reason was simple. Formula One cars are dangerous, and when they make contact, there is the possiblity of tyres touching, which can cause one or both of the cars to roll and have a catastrophic accident. Deliberate contact cannot be tolerated.
The circumstances are different in the case of Maldonado and Perez. The incident occured in a practice session, where Perez was just trying to get out of the way. There was no championship pressure present, they were not even racing at all. The incident with Schumacher and Villeneuve can be understood if not condoned. The stakes were high. In the case of Maldonado and Perez, there were no stakes. If the contact was deliberate from Maldonado’s side, it’s bizarre. It shows a blatant disregard for safety on the track, and contempt for his fellow competitors.
It’s not the first time such an incident has taken place with Maldonado. At the end of the second session of qualifying for the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix, Maldonado appeared to deliberately drive into the side of Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren. At that point, the session was already over. There was no need to be aggressive on the track.
Racing is dangerous enough under the best of circumstances. When a driver starts to use his car as a weapon, as Maldonado appears to have done twice now, there can be no excuses, and zero tolerance. If the stewards really did think that the contact was deliberate, the 10-place grid penalty was woefully inadequate. He should have been prevented from racing at Monaco, or perhaps even had his licence suspended. The punishment does not fit the crime. If the rule-book allows him to get away with the incident with only a 10-place grid penalty, then the rule-book needs to be rewritten.
Caterham had their best result of the season in Monaco, where Heikki Kovalainen finished 13th. The team appears to be making progress. Read my analysis at:
At Monaco on Sunday, Sebastian Vettel started the race on the prime tyres, when the rest of the top 10 were on the option tyres. The prime tyre is more durable, which meant that Vettel could pit quite a bit later than those who started ahead of him.
When the front-runners pitted, Vettel found himself inheriting the lead, and he duly extended it, pulling away from fellow Red Bull driver Mark Webber with ease. It was at that point that the speculation started: was Webber backing the pack up to help Vettel?
Webber himself has dismissed claims that he was assisting Vettel, but the denial is not really necessary. If Red Bull were trying to push Vettel forward, they could have gone for a one-two, rather than fourth place.
The likely implementation of team orders would have been to have Webber hold the field up enough to get Vettel out in the lead after his pitstop, and then have the Red Bull drivers switch places on the track, creating a one-two and giving the win to the more dominant driver on the weekend. Team orders are legal, so the strategy would have been allowed. It would also have been a public declaration of dominance by the World Champions.
Red Bull didn’t do it like that, and the reason is simple: They know, as everyone else in racing knows, that wins are precious. You don’t mess around with the race lead, unless your drivers are already running in genuine, dominant, first and second places. Vettel was out of position, having not pitted, and Webber was already under pressure from those behind him. Any attempt to over-manipulate the race would likely have ended badly.
Webber himself said of the rumours of assistance: “The problem with trying to do that would be that you’re exposing yourself to even more pressure from the guys behind – Nico and Fernando in this case. And then the boys in the pits might mess up Seb’s stop and it would all be for nothing. You always get bitten on the bum when you get fancy. So you just don’t try.”
The rumours have distracted attention from what was, in the end, a very clever strategy by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Vettel started ninth and finished fourth, all because he didn’t run in Q3 and could therefore start on the prime tyres. Red Bull should be applauded for putting together a very successful race weekend.
Nico Rosberg has long been highly regarded as a Formula One driver. He just hasn’t had the car to challenge for wins and championships. In 2012 Mercedes have given him just that, and he is making the most of it.
Rosberg finally topped the podium in China this year, a day after taking his first pole position in dominant fashion. It showed his ability to win races, but didn’t yet single him out as championship challenger. A couple of mediocre races followed, in which Mercedes struggled to match the pace of the front-runners, presumably due to difficulty with the 2012 Pirelli tyres.
At Monaco everything seemed to come right again for Rosberg. Third in qualifying became second on the grid due to team-mate Schumacher’s five place grid penalty from the Spanish Grand Prix. Second on the grid was converted into second in the race, after a mature and measured drive tucked up behind winner Mark Webber.
Rosberg has been seen as a driver with enormous potential for his entire career. This season, he is converting that potential into results. After Monaco, he lies fifth in the championship, only 17 points behind leader Fernando Alonso. With 14 races left in the season nothing is decided yet, but Rosberg has positioned himself to mount a title challenge.
Felipe Massa has been under more pressure than perhaps any other driver in Formula One this season. The Brazilian driver has not won a race since 2008 and has not stood on the podium since 2010. Prior to Monaco, Massa had scored only two points this season, while team mate Fernando Alonso was joint championship leader on 61 points. Massa had a point to prove.
And prove it he did. He didn’t win, stand on the podium, start on pole or even finish ahead of Alonso, but Massa put together a weekend that was more worthy of a Ferrari drive than anything we’ve seen from him all season.
He qualified seventh, just a tenth of a second behind Alonso, to set himself up for a strong race day. And in the race, Massa showed he has the pace to compete at the front of the field. He put Alonso under pressure in the early phase of the race, and after Alonso passed Hamilton in the pitstops, Massa pressured the McLaren driver to the finish.
At the end of the race, Massa was sixth, just 6.195 seconds behind the victorious Mark Webber and over 35 seconds clear of seventh placed Paul di Resta. And there was nothing fortunate about his result. He was on the pace from the start, and harrying those in front of him throughout the race.
Is the competitive Felipe Massa back? It’s difficult to judge from Monaco, due to the unique nature of the twisty street circuit. The Canadian Grand Prix in just under two weeks’ time will be a better indication of his form. Hopefully for Massa, Ferrari and Formula One, the progress will continue.