Why wasn’t Maldonado banned for Gutierrez flip?

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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 He was initially banned from ever racing in the principality ever again, but this was eventually repealed.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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.