Pastor Maldonado has been handed a ten-place grid penalty for today’s Brazilian Grand Prix after receiving his third reprimand of the season from the stewards. The reprimand was issued after Maldonado missed a call to the weigh bridge as he entered the pits during yesterday’s qualifying session.
The weigh bridge is there to ensure legality of the cars during the competitive sessions. An underweight car would be a huge advantage, particularly in qualifying where the cars are already running as light as possible. The officials conduct random checks on cars during Q1 and Q2, and all cars taking part in Q3 are weighed after the end of the session. The procedure for calling a driver to the weigh bridge during a session involves a red light at the pit lane entrance and an official indicating which way the car should go. If the driver does not see the light or official – bear in mind that the driver is approaching the pitlane at considerable speed, not always in a straight line, and sometimes (as in Brazil) while cresting a hill – he will receive a reprimand. Three reprimands during the season earn the driver a ten-place grid penalty.
The problem with calling a driver to the weigh bridge during qualifying is that it costs time, which puts that driver at a disadvantage compared to his competitors. In the case of Maldonado, he was 13th in the session with only seven minutes remaining in Q2. He would have been acutely aware of the need to get back to his pit garage, put some new tyres on, let the team make any changes or add fuel if necessary, and get on with the business of delivering a quick lap. A delay at the weigh bridge would have cost him valuable time, particularly if the team needed to make any minor changes to the car.
While the weigh bridge serves an important purpose, the way it is currently used results in random drivers being disadvantaged in the name of scrutineering. There is also an obvious communication problem, which clearly needs to be resolved. A simple call to the team to inform their driver over the radio that he must report to the weigh bridge seems quite logical and could completely avoid the need for petty penalties.
Nonetheless, the rules are clear, even if the mode of communication is not. Maldonado missed the weigh bridge, earning him a third reprimand, and resulting therefore in a ten-place grid-penalty. He will now start the race 16th, after qualifying an impressive sixth.