Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Maldonado baiting hits a new low

Forgive me for returning to a familiar subject of mine, that of Pastor Maldonado.

But I feel compelled as in Monaco last weekend he achieved something new, that surpassed even what had gone before. We know that by now Pastor gets no benefit of the doubt and is assumed to be at fault for every incident he's involved in. Well in Monaco we found out that Pastor gets no benefit of the doubt and is assumed to be at fault for incidents he's not involved in too. He doesn't even need to be anywhere near the incident in question it seems.

Sounds strange I know. But, stay with me, it happened.

On lap one of the Monaco race Felipe Massa reported car damage on his team radio (and this was relayed to us watching on via the world TV feed) and he indeed pitted at the end of that tour with a right-front puncture. The incident that caused this was never shown but somehow word got to the media that it was the result of a first corner collision with...Pastor Maldonado. David Croft in his Sky commentary said this for one, as did other media outlets.
And of course with this 'news' some didn't need additional encouragement to dust down their trusty jibes.
The trouble is that in their eagerness to take aim at their favoured target they hadn't thought to gauge just how likely it was that Pastor had actually been the culprit. That he had qualified four places ahead of Massa might have raised the odd alarm bell, and indeed Pastor completed lap one still in the eighth place that he started in meaning that for Felipe to have reached him by turn one the Brazilian would have required a demon start and somehow weaved past three opponents in the narrow barrier-lined run to St Devote. Something not especially likely.

They also disregarded the evidence of the TV replay of the start and first turn shown not long later that indeed demonstrated that Massa's white Williams and Maldonado's black Lotus were nowhere near each other. Somehow they missed all of this. Well, nearly everyone did.
The Williams team's Twitter account some time later posted an image of turn one just before Massa's contact that seemed to make it near-impossible that Maldonado could have collided with him, as he was conspicuous by his complete absence. It instead was Nico Hulkenberg that was alongside the Williams on the side which the puncture was sustained.
Eventually after the race it was confirmed that it was indeed Hulkenberg, not Maldonado, who had made contact with Massa. Not that for plenty that would allow the truth to overtake the lie you suspect. As for how it was that Maldonado got the initial blame, well we can only speculate. Perhaps though we shouldn't be surprised that we got here, as it seems a natural conclusion of how plenty of F1 observers are determined to treat the Venezuelan.

I gave my view on Pastor Maldonado and more pointedly on the extent that he is maligned recently in an article for Grand Prix Times, which you can have a read of here.

I won't do a detailed reiteration of that but to summarise a pertinent broad point from it I find that despite everything how Maldonado is spoken of is often distasteful. This is mainly as whatever his faults (and I admit there are a good few) much of the criticism he gets is excessive and about as commonly unfair, giving examples and statistics that either are so far removed from their context so as to become meaningless and misleading, or that are plain ill-checked and wrong.

Pastor Maldonado again had no luck in Monaco
 (Felipe Massa not pictured)
Photo: Octane Photography
Before the Monaco weekend we had but our latest example of this with the Top Gear website perhaps with time on its hands creating a Pastor Maldonado bingo game (filed possibly under that most egregious of categories of 'banter') and which trotted out the usual dubious lines against the Venezuelan. Among other things it crowed that he hadn't finished in the previous four Monaco Grands Prix. They managed to miss that of these only one of the DNFs was his fault (and don't take my word for it, in the 2011 and 2013 when his races were ended by accidents the stewards felt the other guy was to blame too).

As stated at the outset the benefit of the doubt Maldonado gets these days is near zero. Furthermore as last Sunday seemed to betray a good few are determined to think he is at fault no matter what.

It's curious in a more broad sense too given there are many examples of his errors which you could use to criticise him legitimately. In other words there's no need to stretch the truth, let alone beyond breaking point. That instead the over the top, tenuous and incorrect are used instead may lead us to suspect that many of those who snipe are not motivated entirely by genuine concern for safety or for upholding driving standards but also at some level by the basest of unpleasant human instincts - those of wishing to gang up on isolated prey; to bully; to denigrate in order to feel better about themselves.

And whatever else you think of Pastor he hasn't been getting much luck this season either. Yes he has erred on occasion, most obviously on getting his pit entry wrong in China. But if you are minded to cite his lack of results in 2015 in the spirit of fairness you should factor in too that in Australia his race was ended by someone else's accident at the first turn, in Malaysia again at turn one Valtteri Bottas drove into the back of him, puncturing one of his tyres, then later his brakes failed, in China he was cleaned out by Jenson Button, in Bahrain his qualifying was ruined by an ERS problem while in Spain we witnessed the curious detachment of his rear wing end plate, which likely was related to bumping wheels with his team mate Romain Grosjean on the way past but I have never before seen that sort of contact result in that sort of failure, and at Monaco his brake-by-wire failed, possibly due to a hydraulic leak. In other words not a single round has been unaffected by something - often maddeningly - beyond his control. Indeed Max Chilton on TV a few days after the Spanish round noted that Pastor seems to have a cursed existence: "it is bizarre that he seems to take two wheels off for the tiniest little mistakes" he observed.

Ben Anderson in his Monaco driver ratings for Autosport captured what really - rather than error - should be the biggest headline of Pastor's 2015 campaign so far, that "he just cannot catch a break at the moment".

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