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 He was initially banned from ever racing in the principality ever again, but this was eventually repealed.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

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).