After a close fought Monaco grand prix in which the top six cars were covered by just six seconds, we had our sixth winner in the opening six rounds of the 2012 Formula 1 season as Mark Webber took the chequered flag for Red Bull, making the 2011 constructors champions the first team to win two races this season. As good as Webber’s performance over the course of the weekend was – he also started on pole following Michael Schumacher’s five place grid penalty for running into Bruno Senna in Barcelona – the focus of this article is not on the race winner, or, indeed, any of the top six finishers. This article is all about a driver who didn’t even complete the first lap in Monaco, a driver who started on the back row, after qualifying ninth, the same driver that took an outstanding first career F1 victory in Spain a fortnight ago: Pastor Maldonado.
After the Barcelona race, Williams driver Maldonado was rightly praised for great performances in qualifying and the race. He had started the race in pole after Lewis Hamilton’s exclusion for a fuel irregularity, and drove a brilliantly controlled race to beat Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso to the chequered flag. I was among those that praised Maldonado, highlighting what seemed to be a new found maturity from the Venezuelan. After the events of Monaco, however, it seems that I, and many others, might have been too quick to herald the turning of a new leaf for the Williams driver. The Spanish grand prix winner had a dire Monaco grand prix weekend during which he demonstrated immaturity, overly aggressive driving and extreme hot headedness.
Let’s start with the final free practice session on Saturday morning. Maldonado was involved in an incident with Sauber’s Sergio Perez towards the end of the session in which the Williams driver appeared to deliberately drive into the Mexican as the latter slowed to let him pass at Portier, the right hander before the famous Monaco tunnel. Perez was quickly on his team radio claiming “Maldonado is crazy”. The stewards seemed to agree with this assessment, handing Maldonado a 10 place grid penalty for a breach of Article 16.1 of the FIA’s Sporting Code for causing a collision with another driver. Maldonado claimed afterwards that the clash had been accidental, and was quoted by Autosport as saying “I was trying overtake him and I lost the car…Maybe I was too optimistic on the throttle on cold tyres, because it was my first lap with a new option and I was trying to recover the car, it got too much grip and I touched his front left wheel. That’s it”. That certainly was not how the situation looked from the outside, with the clash looking like a deliberate piece of aggression on Maldonado’s part.
Let’s not forget that Maldonado has past form for aggressive driving of this type. He received a five place grid penalty at the 2011 Belgian grand prix at Spa following a clash with Lewis Hamilton during the second part of qualifying which saw Maldonado penalised for deliberately driving in to the Englishman after the La Source hairpin as the cars were approaching Eau Rouge. This came after Hamilton had passed the Venezuelan the previous lap, barging his way through after Maldonado had been held up by slower cars. If Maldonado’s incident with Perez was indeed as deliberate as it appeared, it seems that, contrary to what we saw in Spain, Maldonado still has a propensity for hot headed, petulant driving which has no place at the pinnacle of motorsport.
Maldonado’s move on Perez in FP3 was bad enough, but he followed it up on the very next lap with a further display of over aggressiveness as he took far too much kerb going through Casino Square before spearing into the barrier on the opposite side of the track, losing his left rear wheel in the process and causing the session to be red flagged. So, that’s two incidents from Maldonado before qualifying had even started. Two incidents for which he was clearly at fault.
After the events of free practice three, qualifying itself was fairly tame in comparison. Maldonado qualified ninth having made it through to the third part of qualifying, but even though the was no big incident involving Maldonado in qualifying itself I believe the manner in which he qualified ninth can be used to demonstrate a further lack of maturity on the Venezuelan’s part. Don’t forget that going in to qualifying, Maldonado knew that he had a 10 place grid penalty from the stewards, so was fully aware that he would start no higher than 11th place, making a good result extremely tough. Instead of trying to conserve tyres, though, Maldonado decided to fight for the highest starting position possible in Q3. You could argue that this showed some admirable fighting spirit but, with hindsight, it looked a little silly and desperate. Maldonado, despite using up his tyres, only qualified ninth, which meant a 19th place start, which soon became a 23rd place start after Williams elected to change his gearbox resulting in a further five place grid penalty. He was only saved from starting last because Perez crashed out in the first part of qualifying and then also changed his gearbox.
While Perez drove a creditable race, which would have seen him score points but for a drive through penalty for a late pit lane entry, eventually finishing 11th, Maldonado’s race was over on lap one. Instead of hanging back a little and being cautious into the bottle neck of Sainte Devote, Maldonado went careering into the back of HRT’s Pedro de la Rosa putting both drivers out of the race. As Perez’s performance showed, Maldonado could have salvaged more valuable points for Williams if he had kept a cooler head.
It’s clear from his performances so far this season, though, that Maldonado does have pace and ability, but that with that pace and ability comes hot headedness and inconsistency. There can be no clearer illustration of this than the last two grand prix: a brilliant result in Spain, followed by a dismal performance at Monaco. Which Maldonado will show up in two weeks time at the next grand prix in Canada?
Home page image © Williams F1 Team, LAT Photographic