Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Missing the flipping point on Pastor

Regular readers of this blog (hello to both of you) may be aware by now that I'm bit of a regular defender of Pastor Maldonado. Or at least more of a regular defender than most.

It's a task that isn't always an easy one as you can imagine, particularly as false dawns are plentiful. Pastor it seems has an uncanny ability, just at the point you feel that you can venture cautiously that he's learning his lessons thus allowing him to make good on his undoubted pace, to do something that ranks alongside his most egregious antics of before, and which sends everyone's view of him back immediately to base camp.

Pastor Maldonado was in the wars
yet again in Bahrain
Photo: Octane Photography
And - as we all know - so it was in the Bahrain race. Not long before that incident I recall looking at the live timing and noticing that Maldonado had got his recalcitrant Lotus E22 up to P9, and thinking that he must have done one heck on a job to get the car up there.

But before anyone could commend him it was all spoiled; he pitted, and then upon emerging managed to spear into the side of Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber at turn one, sending his opponent cartwheeling (literally) out of the race in a spectacular smash that the Mexican was lucky to escape unharmed.

The first thing to say here is that I am not disputing that Pastor was the one at fault here. He could claim in mitigation (and indeed has) that he was on cold tyres; he's also said that he thought Gutierrez had missed his braking point. But still, Pastor was the one in the position to see what was going on, so should have been more cautious rather than plunge into the apex like he did. And more broadly the accumulative impact of his misdemeanours cannot be ignored.

There was an inevitable, perhaps predictable, outpouring of vitriol in response to this (which despite Pastor not often doing himself favours, I do find the lynch mob element of it all rather unpalatable). But one thing did intrigue me; most of the condemnation focussed in on Pastor 'flipping an opponent', and his detractors cited this part most often seemingly as the reason to throw the book at him.

But is that factor relevant? Or, to rephrase it, should it not be the driving act, rather than the outcome (in this case that Gutierrez's car rolled), that we're troubling ourselves with?

In some senses of course it's unsurprising that the outcome is focussed on. F1 is a results business so in that regard the outcome was the important part. In this instance it was also highly spectacular (a shot of an upside-down Gutierrez made the front of at least one newspaper that I saw on the Monday morning). And it was the outcome - fact that he was flipped through the air - that threatened Gutierrez's life and limb.

It's unsurprising too in that F1's powers-that-be have a previous for referring to an outcome rather than the driving act itself when handing out its punishment. When banning Romain Grosjean from a race in 2012 the stewards then did just this, taking the matter to a logical (or should that be, illogical) conclusion by seeing fit to mention that the accident at Spa that he triggered 'eliminated leading championship contenders from the race' when confirming that Grosjean would be stood down for a round.

But the main problem with using the outcome of an incident as a reason to condemn, or to punish more than you would otherwise, as it often is a highly disproportionate measure of how bad the act itself was. To put it another way, sometimes really bad driving doesn't create much carnage; sometime innocuous driving does.

When two cars collide it's pretty much in the lap of the Gods as to what happens next. Indeed, in the last round in Malaysia in the qualifying session Daniil Kvyat and Fernando Alonso had a collision that wasn't too dissimilar in terms of its angles, velocity etc to that we saw in Bahrain, but in that case there were no cars barrelling through the air, nor even a spin; both were able to keep going (albeit with car damage). Even in the case of the Maldonado-Gutierrez scrape it could just as easily have resulted in only a spin, or only a puncture, or a lost front wing. And would that have made Pastor's driving in this instance any better or worse? Of course it wouldn't. But equally I find it hard to believe that the condemnation would have been quite as acute.

And do we really want something written into the regulations saying that pitching another car into a barrel roll results in a penalty of X? If we do, just wait until the first time a driver that doesn't do a lot wrong in an incident wherein another car flips is given the draconian punishment. We've had enough of that sort of this with Daniel Ricciardo in the last couple of rounds.

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