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.