As well as writing for MotorSportsTalk, I also have the pleasure of running the @F1onNBCSports feed throughout a race weekend, which means that I get to see what you – the fans – are saying first-hand. One of most controversial incidents during yesterday’s Bahrain Grand Prix was Pastor Maldonado’s lunge on Esteban Gutierrez that resulted in the Mexican driver being flipped into a barrel roll. Luckily, he landed on his wheels and walked away unharmed, but it certainly riled a few of you (and, to be fair, me too!).
Maldonado’s reputation in Formula 1 certainly isn’t a glowing one following a number of crashes throughout the 2012 season. In 2013, he appeared to calm down a bit, only to then accuse his own team of sabotage in Austin. Throughout his entire career, the Venezuelan has been repeatedly involved in accidents, one of which saw him hit a marshal at Monaco. He was initially banned from ever racing in the principality ever again, but this was eventually repealed.
The shocking part about Gutierrez’s accident was the severity with which he flipped, and is the largest crash that we have seen since the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix. Here, Romain Grosjean caused a multiple-car pile up that resulted in his car flipped across the front of Fernando Alonso’s. Although all parties walked away unharmed, the Frenchman was handed a one race ban that he accepted with grace. It also spurned this hilarious spoof video set to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”
So why hasn’t Maldonado been given a similar penalty?
Firstly, simple math gives us the answer: only two cars were involved. Although it was a huge crash, less drivers were affected. Gutierrez was the only driver to retire as a result. It might not retract from the severity of the incident, but it was certainly less disruptive than Grosjean’s misdemeanor.
Maldonado made quite an interesting comment after the race, pointing the finger at Gutierrez and claiming that the Sauber driver left him “nowhere to go.” Although the Lotus driver is clearly still in the wrong, he does have a semi-point. Let’s look at the on-track action.
As Maldonado exits the pits, Gutierrez is clearly ahead. The Mexican driver does indeed misjudge just how much of an on-track lead he has over the Lotus, and therefore takes the ‘qualifying line’. This is the optimum and quickest line that a driver can take through a corner, ordinarily used during qualifying when there are no other drivers to drive around. The opening complex at Bahrain is such that the best line sees drivers swing wide at turn one before turning in and clipping the apex. This then gives the drivers a natural path through turn two before straightening up into three.
And so, unaware that there was a driver close by, this is exactly what Gutierrez did. You can clearly see on the video how he takes this line – only for a Lotus driver to get in the way.
Perhaps Pastor is right, then?
Well, no. It’s still definitely his fault.
As the trailing driver, Maldonado should have been a little more considerate. Frankly, it was a bold move to try and hold position on pit exit ahead of Gutierrez, especially as the Sauber was a) on fresher tires, b) going a damn sight faster and c) ahead on track. Maldonado’s aggression was by no means surprising, but it wasn’t at all clever.
Did the nose play a part in flipping Gutierrez, though? Judging by the video, it did not directly cause the Sauber to spear into the air, so we cannot lay blame with the Lotus’ twin-tusked nose. Had it been any other nose design, the same impact would have taken place.
Finally, the big comparison that has been drawn is to Daniel Ricciardo’s 10 place grid penalty. How come that Ricciardo – who was not at fault – received double the penalty of Maldonado?
Following the incident at the 2013 German Grand Prix that saw an FOM cameraman get hit by an errant wheel, there has been a zero tolerance approach taken to unsafe releases. The precedent has been set of a 10 place penalty, so that came as no surprise. It’s unfair to compare the two penalties in this way, as crashes such as the one we saw today are more case-specific.
Maldonado has certainly got off lightly, though, and one can only hope that he hasn’t gone back to his troublemaking ways of 2012.
And of course, the main point: Gutierrez is okay. A little shaken, but perfectly fine. Safety standards in Formula 1 are as brilliant as always.