The Williams team has announced today that Pastor Maldonado will be partnered by Valtteri Bottas in 2013. It has long been speculated that Bottas would replace Bruno Senna, and today’s announcement confirms that Senna is without a drive for next season.
Bottas has been the Williams team’s test driver since 2010, and in 2012 participated in 15 Friday practice sessions as part of his development. The 23 year old Finnish driver has been successful in Formula Renault, Formula 3 and GP3 on his path to Formula One, winning the GP3 title at his first attempt in 2011. In 2012, Bottas focused solely on his role as Williams test driver, and after impressing the team during Friday practice has been promoted to a full-time race seat from 2013.
Bruno Senna is now without a drive for 2013. His Formula One career has been unsettled, with stints at three different teams – HRT, Renault (now Lotus) and Williams. Unfortunately for the nephew of Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna, he has been comfortably out-driven by team-mate Maldonado in 2012, which has surely contributed to his exit from Williams.
Senna’s options for remaining in Formula One are dwindling as teams continue to announce their driver line-ups. Seats are still available at Lotus (where Romain Grosjean is expected to be retained), Force India, Caterham, Marussia and HRT, although HRT are currently not expected to make the 2013 grid. Senna does have the advantage of bringing sponsorship to his team, which will make him an attractive option for the teams with smaller budgets. Speculation has linked him with a possible move to Caterham, although nothing has yet been confirmed.
Williams have retained Pastor Maldonado for a third season. The Venezuelan had a very mixed 2012, with a dominant win in Spain and the unfortunate record of being the season’s most penalised driver. While he has been accused of driving recklessly, there is no doubting Maldonado’s speed, and if he can tame his aggression he could turn into a very successful driver.
Bottas and Maldonado will be on track as team-mates for the first time when pre-season testing begins on 5 February 2013.
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.
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.
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.
The G-forces involved in driving an F1 car are far beyond anything an average person will ever experience. Under braking, drivers can be subjected to as much as 5G. Lateral forces in high-speed corners commonly exceed 3G. As a way of translating these numbers, the maximum braking force of a road car is around 1G. So if you’ve been braking as hard as possible on a good surface on a warm day with tyres in good shape and ABS fitted to your car, you might have felt about a fifth (at most) of the braking force of a Formula One car. If you brake as hard as possible in an F1 car, your lungs will be pressed up against your ribs by the G-forces, and the tears will be pulled out of your eyes.
If an average person were to drive a Formula One car – assuming the necessary skill, which is unlikely – the G-forces involved would probably overcome the body’s ability to cope within no more than a few laps. The toll on neck, shoulders, arms, etc. would make turning the steering wheel impossible. The forces involved in accelerating and braking would literally hinder breathing. It doesn’t look physically taxing on TV, but it’s just about the most demanding exercise possible, short of flying a fighter jet or a space-craft.
So Formula One drivers keep fit. And not just reasonably fit. They all spend a good part of each day in the gym, doing exercises that make it possible to withstand enormous G-forces for extended periods of time. Grand prix regulations specify a maximum race time of 2 hours. A practice session is no more than 90 minutes. So you might expect drivers to train to be able to drive for up to 2 hours, which really does sound long enough.
Today, Kamui Kobayashi drove his Sauber C31 for 145 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain during testing for the 2012 season. Each lap of the track is 4.655km. That’s a total of approximately 675km. If he had driven that far from Barcelona on the road, instead of the race track, he could have ended up in Lausanne, Switzerland. Starting in Cape Town, South Africa, he could have made it to within 100km of the Namibian border. In a Formula One car. A grand prix distance is approximately 305km. Kobayashi did that twice, and another 65km, in one day. The fitness required to do such a thing is almost beyond imagination.
Kobayashi is not the only driver able to cover such distances. Nico Rosberg of Mercedes covered 139 laps today. Pastor Maldonado of Williams drove for 134 laps. Three other drivers were on track for more than 100 laps. At the age of 43, Michael Schumacher drove his Mercedes yesterday for 127 laps. Any one of the 24 drivers contracted to race in 2012 would do the same mileage again tomorrow if required.
It often looks on television like driving an F1 car is easy, boring even. The casual viewer sees speed, glamour, wealth and fame, but often misses the gruelling and constant physical assault a Formula One car unleashes on a racing driver. They may seem like rich playboys who like to mess around on a race track on Sunday afternoons, but F1 drivers are probably the fittest sportsmen on Earth.