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Maldonado vs Hamilton – Who to blame?

On lap 56 of 57 in the European Grand Prix, Pastor Maldonado and Lewis Hamilton collided, putting Hamilton into the wall and out of the race, and taking the front wing off Maldonado’s car. But who is to blame?

Arguably, both drivers acted wrongly.

Maldonado pulled alongside Hamilton on the outside under braking for the right-hand turn 12. Hamilton maintained the inside line, but drifted towards the outside on the exit, forcing Maldonado off the track. Maldonado did not yield, and kept attacking, despite being off the track. As he rejoined the track, the front of his car made contact with the left side of Hamilton’s McLaren. The left side of Hamilton’s car was lifted off the track, and the car bounced sideways into the wall on the outside of turn 13. Maldonado lost his front wing in the process, but was able to continue and ultimately finished tenth.

Maldonado was penalised for “failing to rejoin the track in a safe manner”. He had all four tyres outside the white line that demarcates the track limits. His return to the track resulted in a collision. The stewards added 20 seconds to Maldonado’s race time, which dropped him from 10th to 12th in the final results.

Hamilton is arguably also guilty – of forcing the Williams driver off the track. Maldonado was alongside going into the corner, and therefore Hamilton was required to allow him space. Hamilton did not do that, and therefore could have been penalised. His race ended in the incident, which nullified the need for a penalty.

This is one of those crashes that could almost be considered a “racing incident”. Accidents happen in racing, and it is not always necessary to apportion blame. However, the rulebook requires that Maldonado be penalised – because his car left the track completely before the crash –  and so a penalty has been imposed.

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Valencia Preview Quotes – Williams

Mark Gillan, Chief Operations Engineer: “Following the last two sets of race results we are keen to continue to demonstrate our team’s improvement and ensure both cars come home in the points. Valencia proves a difficult track for both driver and car and with the expected large track evolution throughout the weekend tyre management will once more be crucial. Pirelli bring the medium and soft compounds to this race, a pairing that was last used in Bahrain. The track layout places a lot of stress on the braking system and the high ambient temperatures, coupled with a lower than average mean speed, forces one to open up the cooling package.”

Pastor Maldonado: “Valencia is a challenge for the drivers because it combines a street circuit that’s used by regular road cars throughout the year with sections of regular race track so it can be tricky to achieve the ideal set up. The layout is quite quick with some long straights but there are also some slow corners so finding the right balance will be crucial to doing well. We’re constantly developing the car and it is showing good long run consistency at the moment and hopefully we can improve on the last couple races and pick up some good points.”

Bruno Senna: “Street circuits are always challenging for a driver and Valencia is certainly no different, requiring decent straight line speed combined with an efficient braking system to cope with the heavy braking areas. Our pace in Canada was not really reflective of the cars potential, but we’ve been working hard to understand the reasons why and hopefully we can put that behind us and gain a stronger result here.”

Rémi Taffin, Head of Renault Sport F1 Track Operations: “It’s actually a big challenge to get the engine mapping right for Valencia as the corners are so similar. Ten corners are taken in first, second or third gear, and if you get one corner wrong then you will be at a disadvantage for the rest of the lap. Typically delivering this driveability at low torque and mid revs is one of the strengths of the Renault engine as our engineers are adept at tuning drive maps to deliver torque smoothly to help the driver control slip ratio and tyre wear.”

Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director: “For Valencia we’re bringing the P Zero White medium tyre and the P Zero Yellow soft tyre. We normally experience hot weather there and Valencia contains more corners than any other circuit on the Formula One calendar, with reasonably high average speeds, so we need harder compounds than we have had at the last two street circuits: Monaco and Canada. Last year, the frontrunners all adopted a three-stop strategy, with three stints on the soft tyre followed by a final stint on the medium tyre. It will be interesting to see what they opt for this year, with the cars so closely matched. As there are limited overtaking opportunities, qualifying well to gain track position at the start will be crucial, just as it is in Monaco.”

Maldonado’s penalty not harsh enough

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.

Canadian Grand Prix – Williams preview quotes

Pastor Maldonado: “We have been working very hard to improve the performance of the car and I can feel it getting better all the time. I am therefore hoping for a strong finish in Canada, a circuit which I really enjoy. It has a nice combination of corners with very high speed straights followed by slow speed chicanes, and the feeling of speed is increased by the closeness of the walls. There is a big DRS effect on the straights as well so we should see some overtaking this week.”

Bruno Senna: “Canada is one of the most challenging tracks of the season. It is a combination of a street circuit and a normal fixed circuit with a mixture of very fast, long straights and tight slow corners with heavy braking. It is also important to have as much track time as possible before the weekend to learn the track surface because it can evolve quickly. Our car is looking competitive at this stage of the season so hopefully we can show good pace here.”

Mark Gillan, Chief Operations Engineer: “On the back of a mixed weekend in Monaco the whole team is looking to demonstrate further improvement in Montreal, with the aim of getting both cars home in the points. Montreal is a great race and usually full of drama with a very low pit lane loss which pushes the strategy towards having more stops. The high likelihood of a safety car deployment adds to this drama. The track layout is very hard on brakes and one must also ensure that the aerodynamic package has an appropriately high efficiency target. Pirelli bring to Montreal the same tyre compounds used in Monaco, namely the soft and super soft tyres. Weather wise we are expecting ambient temperatures into the high 20Cs with corresponding track temperatures in the high 30Cs, although there is a chance of rain throughout running.”

Rémi Taffin, Head of Renault Sport F1 Track Operations:” Canada is a completely different track to Monaco and also unique in itself. The long straights demand good top end power but the heavy braking zones of the hairpin and chicane need effective engine braking and good pick up on the exit, so it’s rightly called an ‘engine breaker’ because the engine doesn’t get any respite at all. The challenge is to find the right balance between delivering maximum performance and maintaining 100% reliability, just like at Spa and Monza where the risks have to justify the gains.”

Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director: “Montreal is a great place and a fantastic race track, which has thrown up more than its fair share of unpredictability and excitement in the past. We have the same nomination as for Monaco – P Zero Red supersoft and P Zero Yellow soft – but they will be used in a very different way, as Montreal is much faster and gives greater tyre degradation. So there will definitely be scope for a lot of strategy, with teams having the possibility to be quite inventive in their approach. The rear tyres in particular have plenty of work to do in Montreal, due to the heavy traction demands, so looking after those will be crucial.”

Maldonado stays calm to win in Spain

Pastor Maldonado has won the Spanish Grand Prix, converting his career first pole position into his maiden victory. Fernando Alonso came second in front of his home fans, and Kimi Raikkonen finished third for his second consecutive podium.

Alonso, starting second on the grid, surged off the line to take the lead into turn one, and gave his home fans some brief hope by pulling away from Maldonado for a few laps. But it was not to last. Maldonado reeled the Ferrari in and eventually passed Alonso during the second round of pitstops, holding on to the lead to take an impressive first Grand Prix victory.

Kimi Raikkonen impressed again, in what is shaping up to be a competitive comeback season. The Finn beat his team-mate Grosjean off the line and, although he lacked pace to challenge for the lead in the early stages of the race, reeled in Alonso at the end to finish only seven tenths behind the Ferrari driver.

Perhaps the most impressive drive of all came from Lewis Hamilton. After being stripped of his pole position yesterday, the McLaren driver started from the back of the grid, storming through the field to run as high as fourth when others were pitting. A two-stop strategy and some thrilling passing moves gave him an eighth place finish.

Kamui Kobayashi showed that Sauber have pace by finishing fifth, providing some entertainment along the way with some daring passing moves, including on Nico Rosberg in the latter stages of the race. Championship leader Sebastian Vettel had a mixed day, making some surprising passes into turn nine, but also being penalised with a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags. Vettel recovered to sixth by the end of the race, which makes one wonder what he could have done if he’d only lifted off a little more under yellows.

The major on-track incident of the race came when Michael Schumacher ran into the back of Bruno Senna under braking for turn one. Schumacher had just pitted for new tyres, while Senna was still running on worn tyres, and the German was keen to find a way past the Williams without losing too much time. Senna appeared to move towards the inside to defend his position, and then back to the outside under braking. Schumacher, who had gone to the outside in response to Senna’s initial move, tried to avoid the Williams by going back inside Senna when the latter drifted to the outside. Unfortunately for the Mercedes driver, there was simply not enough space left to pull off the move and he clattered into the back of Senna’s car. The misjudgement cost him a probable decent haul of points, and the Stewards added to his woes by handing the seven-time World Champion a five-place grid penalty for the next race in Monaco.

Just when it looked like Felipe Massa was recovering some form at the last race in Bahrain, he rediscovered his 2011 slump in emphatic style. After starting 16th on the grid (team-mate Alonso was on the front row), Massa was found to have ignored yellow flags and handed a drive-through penalty, which destroyed any chance he might have had of scoring points. The penalty notwithstanding, he will undoubtedly not have enjoyed being lapped by Alonso a few laps from the end.

Mercedes had a generally disappointing day. Seventh was the best that Nico Rosberg could achieve, tyre management again proving challenging for the team from Brackley. Schumacher’s pace had looked decent before his collision with Senna, but after another non-finish, the frustration is beginning to show. The car is better than the 2 points Schumacher has taken from the first five races, and he knows it.

The Formula One circus moves to Monaco in two weeks time, where it’s anyone’s guess what the order will be. So far there have been five different winners in five races in 2012. If another winner emerges in Monaco, this will become statistically the most open season in the history of the Formula One World Championship.

Spain – Qualifying – Maldonado on pole, Hamilton penalised

A dramatic qualifying session for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix has resulted in Pastor Maldonado taking his first pole position. It is the first pole for the Williams team since Brazil 2010, and the first for the Williams-Renault partnership since 1997.

The surprises started in Q1 when Bruno Senna spun off while trying to progress to Q2. The Brazilian will be ruing his poor performance after team-mate Maldonado showed what the car can do.

Q2 saw the unexpected elimination of Jenson Button and Mark Webber. Button has struggled with the set-up of his McLaren all weekend, complaining of understeer throughout the practice sessions. Neither Red Bull seemed to have the pace to challenge at the front, and although Vettel managed to squeak into Q3, Webber was not so lucky, despite being only a tenth slower than his team-mate in Q2. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa seemed to re-discover his poor form, languishing down in 17th, while Alonso easily progressed to Q3. Maldonado topped the session, confirming indications from earlier in the weekend that the Williams FW34 works well around the Circuit de Catalunya.

The final session started with Sebastian Vettel going out on hard tyres for a very slow run, returning to the pits without completing a flying lap. The motivation for this strange tactic became clear when Vettel did not set a time in the session. He had simply been ensuring that he could save a new set of soft tyres for the race and also start first of the drivers who chose not to set a time in Q3. Michael Schumacher also chose not to set a time in Q3 in order to save a new set of soft tyres, and Kamui Kobayashi did not participate in the session, a hydraulics issue having forced him to stop on track at the end of Q2.

At the end of the session, Hamilton put in a last-minute stellar lap to beat Maldonado to pole by just over half a second. Fernando Alonso outperformed his car to qualify third, followed by the Lotus pair of Grosjean and Raikkonen, with Perez and Rosberg sixth and seventh respectively. And then the drama started.

On his in lap after taking pole, Hamilton was told by his team to stop the car on track. The immediate impression was that he must have been low on fuel. His car certainly wasn’t displaying any technical issues, having just set the fastest lap of the weekend. After the session was concluded, there was an announcement that Hamilton was under investigation by the stewards.

Article 6.6.2 of the Technical Regulations states:

“Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the Event.

“Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”

The stewards found that Hamilton’s car had been under-fuelled due to an error by a member of the pit crew. There was no acceptable proof of force majeure, and so Hamilton was excluded from qualifying and will start the race 24th. That rather dramatic turn of events gives Maldonado his first pole position, the first in history for a Venezuelan driver. Hamilton’s penalty also means that Fernando Alonso will start second on the grid in front of his home crowd.

While Hamilton will be bitterly disappointed to start last after such a stunning performance in qualifying, his loss is the viewers’ gain, as we now get to watch him work his way up through the field. At the sharp end of the grid, it remains to be seen whether Maldonado can stay in front for an historic win, or if he will be beaten by a resurgent Alonso, or if a Lotus will top the podium for the first time this season. With both Red Bulls and both Mercedes cars a little further back than expected, there is likely to be a lot of action on the track. A thrilling race beckons.

The provisional starting grid is:

  1. Maldonado –  Williams
  2. Alonso – Ferrari
  3. Grosjean – Lotus
  4. Raikkonen – Lotus
  5. Perez – Sauber
  6. Rosberg – Mercedes
  7. Vettel – Red  Bull
  8. Schumacher – Mercedes
  9. Kobayashi – Sauber
  10. Button – McLaren
  11. Webber – Red Bull
  12. di Resta – Force India
  13. Hulkenberg – Force India
  14. Vergne – Toro Rosso
  15. Ricciardo – Toro Rosso
  16. Massa – Ferrari
  17. Senna – Williams
  18. Petrov – Caterham
  19. Kovalainen – Caterham
  20. Pic – Marussia
  21. Glock – Marussia
  22. de la Rosa – HRT
  23. Karthikeyan – HRT
  24. Hamilton – McLaren

Williams driver schedule for Barcelona

Williams have announced their driver schedule for the two tests in Barcelona. The second pre-season test runs from 21 to 24 February and the third test takes place from 1-4 March.

Williams test and reserve driver Valtteri Bottas will haves his first taste of the FW34 on Wednesday. The rest of the testing will be completed by regular race drivers Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado.

The Williams schedule is as follows:

Pre-season test 2 – Barcelona – 21-24 February 2012:

Tuesday 21 February: Bruno Senna
Wednesday 22 February: Valtteri Bottas
Thursday 23 February: Pastor Maldonado
Friday 24 February: Pastor Maldonado

Pre-season test 3 – Barcelona – 1-4 March 2012:

Thursday 1 March: Pastor Maldonado
Friday 2 March: Bruno Senna / Pastor Maldonado
Saturday 3 March: Pastor Maldonado / Bruno Senna
Sunday 4 March: Bruno Senna

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