DRS, Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel have one thing in common: In the past few days, they’ve all been criticised by Jacques Villeneuve. The 1997 World Champion clearly has no problem with speaking his mind and is, in that respect, a breath of fresh air in the PR-centric world of Formula One.
DRS, the system that allows a chasing driver to reduce drag and therefore increase straight-line performance, was introduced in 2010 to make overtaking easier. But critics of the system believe that DRS makes overtaking too easy and, in Villeneuve’s words, “It destroys every good battle.” Villeneuve’s comment is fair enough, as DRS makes defending practically impossible on most circuits. It cannot however be denied that DRS has dramatically increased on-track action, and it is therefore not likely to disappear any time soon.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Villeneuve has taken aim at Mercedes for not retaining Michael Schumacher. Villeneuve beat Schumacher to the 1997 World Championship after an incident in the final race of the season where Schumacher deliberately drove into Villeneuve’s Williams. Villeneuve suggested that Schumacher should have stayed with the Silver Arrows to partner Lewis Hamilton and was quoted by yallaf1.com as saying, “I don’t understand. Hamilton-Schumacher would be much better than what they do have for next year.” There were rumours of a possible Hamilton-Schumacher pairing for 2013, but that was before Schumacher announced his retirement from the sport.
Most recently, Villeneuve has criticised Sebastian Vettel, saying the current World Champion “reacts like a child” when under pressure and is only able to win from the front of the grid. While the accusation of winning only from the front has followed Vettel for a while, he has produced a a few superb drives through the field, including at the last race in Abu Dhabi where he finished third after starting from the pitlane. Villeneuve, however, cited incidents in the Abu Dhabi race where Vettel showed a lack of maturity, including contact with Bruno Senna early in the race and a crash into a trackside sign-board during the first safety car period.
While Villeneuve’s opinions can be debated, that does not diminish their value. Formula One needs prominent figures to be outspoken in order to push the sport forward. Villeneuve, as a former World Champion, knows what he is talking about when it comes to Formula One, and is thankfully prepared to speak his mind.
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.