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Why wasn’t Maldonado banned for Gutierrez flip?

Apr 7, 2014, 9:40 AM EST

F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Race Getty Images

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 He was initially banned from ever racing in the principality ever again, but this was eventually repealed.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

  1. testover6370 - Apr 7, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    The unsafe pit release penalties are absurd. Zero-tolerance policies never go well. Penalizing a driver whose team gave him a loose wheel and stopped him before he went far and long before the wheel actually came off doesn’t deserve a 10 spot grid penalty plus a stop-and-hold penalty on top of that. It makes as much sense as expelling a kindergarten student for accidentally bringing an action figure’s miniature plastic toy gun to school for violating a zero-tolerance policy on weapons.

    • indycarseries500 - Apr 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM

      It’s a team sport.

    • Joe Papp - Apr 7, 2014 at 2:48 PM

      Strongly disagree with your very inappropriate analogy.

      The only danger from a kindergartener who brings an action figure’s tiny toy gun to school is that he’ll swallow it (or get tased/shot by a fascist thug cop), whereas an unsafe release that results in…oh, idk, say – a wheel falling off and hurtling down pit lane – puts people at risk of grievous bodily harm or death!

      Penalizing the driver for a profoundly serious and dangerous mistake made by his team is a necessary enforcement measure to ensure the penalty is sufficient to condition future behavior and act as a more effective deterrent.

      • testover6370 - Apr 7, 2014 at 4:20 PM

        Under a zero-tolerance policy, the incentives are not proportional to the risk, so they perversely encourage risky behavior in marginal cases. Imagine a situation where a team thinks something may be unsafe with the car when it is released from the pits, but they’re not sure. It could hold up, or it could break. If they stop and pull it back as a precaution, they alert officials to a possible problem and they’re hit with every available penalty until they’re out of the race, then they’re hit with more penalties waiting in the next race. If they let it go and it does break, then they’re no worse off than if they pulled it back, but if they let it go and it doesn’t break, then they get away clean.

        So being cautious in a marginal case results in a guaranteed killer penalty, whereas taking the risk presents the possibility of getting away with it. In a marginal case you’ll take the risk every time. If the penalties are reduced if you catch your mistake and make good on it before it hurts someone, then you’ll make the decision in that direction.

      • Joe Papp - Apr 8, 2014 at 4:29 PM

        @testover6370 said: Under a zero-tolerance policy, the incentives are not proportional to the risk, so they perversely encourage risky behavior in marginal cases. Imagine a situation where a team thinks something may be unsafe with the car when it is released from the pits, but they’re not sure. It could hold up, or it could break. If they stop and pull it back as a precaution, they alert officials to a possible problem and they’re hit with every available penalty until they’re out of the race, then they’re hit with more penalties waiting in the next race.

        Thanks for the reply, @testover6370. I understand what you’re saying and why you’re objecting. Is it a logically-sound objection, however?

        B/c if the team releases the car and thinks something’s wrong, stops the driver 30m away and pushes car back into the box but finds there was no failure that could make it unsafe and so releases their man, as long as they don’t release him (in either first or second instance) into the path of another car, I don’t believe they could be penalized for unsafe release.

        After all, nothing would be falling off the car, they wouldn’t have impeded or otherwise almost crashed anyone else in the pits, and so – like you correctly allude to – it would cause a perverse incentivization to take greater risks if the team was penalized when there was nothing actually wrong w/ the car and they (Assumedly) pushed it back safely.

        The zero-tolerance policy only applies to conditions of actual unsafe release – meaning into the path of another car or w/ parts falling off (or a fuel hose dragging back in the day), or something similar, no? I have NOT looked at FIA sporting regs. before this reply to you, but I would be shocked to find out that stewards could penalize team and driver in the absence of actual conditions of unsafe release, just b/c the team wanted to confirm such conditions didn’t exist.

        I would have to think that in such a scenario, enlightened stewards would realize that the team’s decision to (safely) stop the car in the pits and push it back to box and review it before re-releasing would cause time-loss sufficient to be a penalty, and that, like you said, to penalize them further would incentivize the very risk-taking that it’s in all’s interest to moderate.

        Can you look into this and report back? It’s a serious issue and you’ve raised a good point that we deserve to know the answer to.

    • Joe Papp - Apr 8, 2014 at 4:57 PM

      @testover6370, here are the FIA 2014 F1 sporting regs re. unsafe release, and as I suspected, the scenario you suggest doesn’t seem plausible given the specific requirement for the release to have been deemed “unsafe” before ANY penalties can be dished out. So pushing the car back into the box, as long as done w/o impeding others, wouldn’t seem to qualify if nothing was falling off the car or toherwise making it “unsafe” when initially released. Anyway, here you go:

      2014 FORMULA ONE SPORTING REGULATIONS

      23) PIT ENTRY, PIT LANE AND PIT EXIT

      23.12 a) It is the responsibility of the competitor to release his car from his garage or pit stop
      position only when it is safe to do so. The competitor must also provide a means of
      clearly establishing, when being viewed from the front of the car, when that car was
      released.

      b) If a car is deemed to have been released in an unsafe condition during any practice
      session, the stewards may drop the driver such number of grid positions as they
      consider appropriate.

      c) If a car is deemed to have been released in an unsafe condition during a race the driver
      concerned will receive a ten grid place penalty at the driver’s next Event. However, if
      any car released in an unsafe condition is able to resume the race a penalty under
      Article 16.3(c) will also be imposed on the driver concerned.

      23.13 Under exceptional circumstances the race director may ask for the pit entry to be closed
      during the race for safety reasons. At such times drivers may only enter the pit lane in order
      for essential and entirely evident repairs to be carried out to the car

      OK, admittedly FIA doesn’t specifically define what “unsafe” is. That’s up to stewards’ discretion. But yes, Unsafe Release, if observed, incurs automatic grid-drop at next race, with mandated penalty from 16.3(c) if the car can continue (this is the harsh “bonus” penalty you object to as well, no?).

      16) INCIDENTS…

      16.3 “The stewards may impose any one of the penalties below on any driver involved in an
      Incident:

      a) A five second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop at his pit for at least
      five seconds and then re-join the race. The relevant driver may however elect not to
      stop, provided he carries out no further pit stop before the end of the race. In such
      cases five seconds will be added to the elapsed race time of the driver concerned.

      b) A drive-through penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane and re-join the race without
      stopping.

      c) A ten second time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop at his pit for at least
      ten seconds and then re-join the race.

      If either of the three penalties above are imposed during the last three laps, or after the end
      of a race, Article 16.4b) below will not apply and five seconds will be added to the elapsed
      race time of the driver concerned in the case of a) above, 20 seconds in the case of b) and 30
      seconds in the case of c)…”

      • testover6370 - Apr 8, 2014 at 5:18 PM

        Thanks for the info. Yes, that is the “Harsh” bonus penalty I object to. Per these regulations the stewards did exactly as the regulations specify, so in that sense it is fair. They stuck to the rulebook and should not have done anything else. I do not fault them. And I think unsafe pit procedures do need to be treated more severely than other incidents due to the proximity of multiple people not protected by carbon fiber tubs. However, I see a difference between this incident and the incident where the tire actually hit the camera man. Catching the mistake ought to be worth something. I say there should be a smaller universal penalty for an unsafe release, plus additional penalties if the unsafe release then results in further harm.

    • Joe Papp - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      This is in reply to @testover6370’s last comment in the subthread below, which there’s no “button”/option to reply to…

      Thanks for the info. Yes, that is the “Harsh” bonus penalty I object to. Per these regulations the stewards did exactly as the regulations specify, so in that sense it is fair. They stuck to the rulebook and should not have done anything else. I do not fault them. And I think unsafe pit procedures do need to be treated more severely than other incidents due to the proximity of multiple people not protected by carbon fiber tubs. However, I see a difference between this incident and the incident where the tire actually hit the camera man. Catching the mistake ought to be worth something. I say there should be a smaller universal penalty for an unsafe release, plus additional penalties if the unsafe release then results in further harm.

      You’re welcome. And thanks to you for providing the motivation to examine the actual regulations and discuss them in a civil and, frankly, enjoyable manner. Very happy to exchange views on this w/o any vitriol or drama.

      Even though, like you said, it seems the stewards followed the rule book exactly in the Ricciardo penalty, I think FIA should employ a traveling team of the same “professional” race stewards who work each Grand Prix, to ensure maximum consistency in their interpretations of the rules and applications of sanctions. I can only think that would be a good thing for a variety of reasons.

      Anyway, thanks again for the pleasant discussion. Take care.

  2. warman31337 - Apr 7, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    I’m not sure what Maldonado expected. Even if Gutierrez gives Maldonado room, it looks like Maldonado would’ve under-steered into the corner and plowed into him anyway. He’s on cold tires, he’s trying to navigate the corner from the inside on the entirely wrong line, and it doesn’t look like he slows down enough at all. Just a really bad decision all around for Maldonado.

  3. Joe Papp - Apr 7, 2014 at 2:43 PM

    “Throughout his entire career, the Venezuelan has been repeatedly involved in accidents…”

    One could say the same thing about Lewis Hamilton…

    English-speaking fans pick-on Maldonado b/c 1) he’s outspoken Latino (specifically from Venezuela, which was ruled by a political enemy of US & UK govts at time of Maldonado’s ascension to F1) with the richest “personal” sponsorship of any driver; 2) his English has been heavily-accented (which feeds into the subtle racism of many English-speaking F1 “fans”); 3) he’s got a menacing unibrow and looks “evil”; and 4) he crashes as much as anyone, but has an almost-pathological belief in his faultlessness…and yet none of this is very fair.

    The Haters™ completely discount Maldonado’s skill and natural speed and they denigrate the quality of his driving. They also seek to devalue determined GP-win, something that only two other drivers competing in F1 today have managed to do (win an F1 GP) w/o also winning the WDC!

    Reading comments on some of the more “popular” F1 “fanatic” fansites (especially in UK), and the anti-Crashtor™ hysteria borders on pathological and chauvinistic. There were even posts (in English, presumably by Brits) claiming that “all of Venezuela must be embarassed” by Maldonado. Yeah, right! sheesh.

    Maldonado is a national sporting hero in Venezuela – and why shouldn’t he be?

    • Joe Papp - Apr 8, 2014 at 4:34 PM

      #21 ‘thumbs-down’ just confirms that there is a heavy anti-Maldonado bias amongst English-speaking fans of F1 who follow the sport online and read through to article comments discussing controversial incidents…

    • redrock81 - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:36 AM

      Maldonado doesn’t belong in F1. Period. He is reckless and prone to accidents. A few drivers have brought this up. Even Alonso, has brought up the issue of certain “drivers with GP2 mentality” as being potentially dangerous to the rest of the field. It has nothing to do with bias.

      • Joe Papp - Apr 10, 2014 at 3:04 PM

        Meh.

        Maldonado won an F1 GP on merit…tough to say he doesn’t belong in F1. And Alonso was one of the two guys hoisting Pastor up into the air in celebration on the podium.

        I guess a lot can change in a few years.

        I don’t believe Maldonado is as evil as he’s portrayed by the media, who absolutely love and want an F1 villain – and PM fits that role to a “T”! Hence the lack of any subtlety in how he’s portrayed vis-a-vis other drivers who were no less aggressive and no more conciliatory.

        Accusing his team of sabotaging the car in a moment of poorly-considered red-mist fury in Austin last year didn’t help his cause though…

        Anyway, cheers.

    • tatalarata - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:19 PM

      Please allow me to give you my stance: Im Venezuelan, and I can asure you hes not a hero here, more of a joke. Its too long a story to tell but you can read it online if you want. I obv dont like Maldonado, as I think he is a disgrace to the sport & to Venezuela and yes he is a dangerous driver to have around. But, in this specific accident, I think hes less responsible than Gutierrez. He had almost 0 milliseconds to respond to Gutierrez steep curve line. In order to avoid crashing into him, PM woulda had to brake almost completely AND preemptively. tl;dr: Gutierrez could have easily avoided the accident by taking a less steep curve, while Maldonado options werent so simple

      • tatalarata - Apr 13, 2014 at 7:26 PM

        Alos, about him being hated/racism/chauvinism maybe,maybe not, who cares? thats not the point, it doesnt matter, either way you cant deny he drives too dangerously for him and others. In this specific accident though, I agree hes “kinda” innocent

  4. imagoie - Apr 7, 2014 at 3:48 PM

    How many of you think Senna was a driving god? A legend in his own right, see this interview on the exact same subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdCWDSpwv9U. Very telling and relevant. Why does a single person have to be at fault? Maldonado has had his fair share of brain farts, but……Gutierrez needs to be aware of his surroundings as well. If there’s a gap, I would take it too. If you aren’t paying attention or playing chicken, don’t be surprised at the outcome. Just like Maldonado, Senna was perceived as “mayhem on wheels” too! Don’t get me wrong Maldonado is not Senna, but the sentiment then and now is striking – racism or not in the case of Senna.

    • imagoie - Apr 7, 2014 at 4:17 PM

      It’s peculiar. I didn’t condone, defend, or criticize either diver and was simply pointing out the similarities in perception between Maldonado and Senna – and my own proclivities Yet, my post gets a thumbs down. This proves either that some folks are biased against Maldonado or that some people just simply have no reading comprehension.

    • worknman24hours - Apr 7, 2014 at 10:30 PM

      Ding Ding Ding-we have a winner!

      If you are going to block Maldonado you do that immediately as he exits the pits.

      You show Maldo you are going to fight for the spot regardless and close off that inside line.

      You don’t slow to a crawl ,leave a barn door open on the inside and drive across the apex like you are looking for spot in a Walmart parking lot.

  5. techmeister1 - Apr 7, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    While I don’t believe a race ban was in order, Maldonado got off way too easily for this very serious infraction that could have been fatal when he had no chance in the world of passing on the inside.

    • worknman24hours - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:53 PM

      In the entire world of possibilities, does ANYONE think that such a slow speed impact would cause a F1 car to flip like that?

      This is racing and the speed of this impact was no where near what these guys usually run at .

      I wonder what will happen if this happens in a top speed sweeper.

      • testover6370 - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:03 PM

        Dario’s wreck at the Indycar race in Houston is a good starting point for what that would look like. It wasn’t one car turning into another but one car climbing over an unexpectedly slowing car, but it was a high speed sweeper.

  6. barrylibby - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:56 PM

    After all the talk a look at film clearly shows they touched wheels
    left front Renault to R rear Sauber !

    Maldanado clearly should have given way IMO.

  7. kitnamania13 - Apr 9, 2014 at 10:03 PM

    I’m sure MAL and GUT will have plenty of other opportunities to settle the score as they battle over 17th place all around the world.

    • Joe Papp - Apr 10, 2014 at 3:05 PM

      lol

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