The ninth round of the 2012 Formula 1 season proved to be something of a slow burner. It looked to all the world that Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso would cruise to a third win of the season, and consolidate his lead in the world drivers’ championship, until his final stint of the race on the soft tyres. Unusually, the harder of the two Pirelli tyre compounds proved to be the quicker of the two tyre choices and in the last stint Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber, on the hard tyres, closed in on Alonso eroding the Spaniard’s four second lead and brilliantly passing him around the outside of Brooklands just a few laps from the end of the race. It was Webber’s second win of the season, matching the feat that Alonso achieved in Valencia. The top two in the world drivers’ championship are the only two drivers to have one more than once in 2012.
As brilliant as Webber’s victory was, though, it is not the Australian that I’m going to focus on in this article. Readers of last week’s article about the competitors that I thought had room for improvement in the remaining races of the season will probably remember that I singled out two drivers for particular attention: Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado. These two drivers had dramatically contrasting fortunes in the race at Silverstone, with one of the two drivers driving a great race to finish fourth, while the other crashed out after a clash with Sauber’s Sergio Perez. You can guess by the title of this article which driver was which. Let’s take a look at the contrasting results of Massa and Maldonado.
I’ll start off with Felipe Massa. As I’ve mentioned before, Massa has really struggled this season. Prior to the British grand prix Massa had managed just three top 10 finishes in the opening eight rounds of the season, with a best result of sixth at Monaco. His qualifying form had been even worse, with just two top 10 grid slots, with a best starting position of sixth in round seven in Canada. Although, the Brazilian was still unable to match the pace of his double world championship winning team-mate, who qualified on pole and finished second, he had a dramatic upturn in form at Silverstone. With a fifth place grid slot, albeit 1.3 seconds slower than Alonso, Massa achieved his best qualifying result of the season, qualifying ahead of both McLaren’s, both Lotus cars and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes. Some might point out that qualifying was run in changeable conditions on a drying track and that Massa’s grid slot was down, in part, to an element of luck. That would be very unfair, though, and the Brazilian’s pace in the race proved that not to be the case.
I’ve been fairly critical of Massa over the last couple of seasons, but at Silverstone he drove a great race and achieved a solid race result. A race result that actually compares pretty favourably with the result of his team-mate if you analyse the situation. Massa finished fourth at Silverstone, and can consider himself slightly unfortunate not to have made the top three. Indeed, a podium finish would have been a fitting reward for Massa, who proved that the 1.3 second gap to his team-mate in qualifying was not representative of his true pace. Massa finished the race a mere 6.5 seconds behind Alonso; an impressive result, especially when you consider that Alonso would have been running in clear air throughout the vast majority of the race while Massa had other cars to contend with and was held up behind the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher during much of the opening stint of the race.
Indeed, while Alonso dropped a place in the race, Massa had actually moved forward one place from his starting position at the chequered flag. Alonso will, of course, get all of the attention, and deservedly so given that he’s won two races this season and leads the championship, but Massa deserves a lot of praise for his performance. While one result does not a season make, the Brazilian’s performance at Silverstone bodes well for the rest of the season. His upturn in form has, though, probably come too late to save his driver with Ferrari who, in my view, will replace him when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Let’s move on now to look at Williams driver Pastor Maldonado’s weekend. The Venezuelan qualified well, achieving his fourth top 10 grid position of the season with a seventh place grid slot. Qualifying, though, hasn’t really been the issue for Maldonado this season. Despite his victory at the Spanish grand prix in Barcelona it has been Maldonado’s inconsistent and erratic performances in races, coupled with his tendency to crash with other drivers, that have been his biggest problems. We saw in the last race in the European grand prix at Valencia an excellent example of this as Maldonado speared into Lewis Hamilton while battling for third position on the penultimate lap, pushing the McLaren into retirement and receiving a 20 second post race penalty from the stewards.
At Silverstone, Maldonado crashed again, and again he cost another driver a race finish. This time the driver on the receiving end was Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who Maldonado slid in to as the Mexican attempted to pass him around the outside of Brooklands on lap 12, in a very similar overtaking manoeuvre as proved to be so successful for Mark Webber when he took the lead from Fernando Alonso. Where Alonso and Webber showed each other the sort of respect that you expect from the world’s top racing drivers racing in the premier racing class, the same cannot be said of Maldonado, who looked like he lost control in a forlorn attempt to keep Perez behind him.
Maldonado and Perez have a previous history. It was Perez that Maldonado appeared to deliberately drive in to in Saturday free practice at Monaco, receiving a 10 place grid penalty from the stewards for the incident. Perez branded Maldonado “crazy” as a result, while the Venezuelan insisted that the incident wasn’t his fault claiming “I was trying overtake him and I lost the car…Maybe I was too optimistic on the throttle on cold tyres”. According to Maldonado, cold tyres were again to blame for the crash at the British grand prix. The Williams driver also argued that he was just trying to defend his position.
It may well be the case that Maldonado was trying to defend his position, that much was obvious, but Perez, for one, was far from happy. The Sauber driver was scathing in his assessment of the Venezuelan’s driving when interviewed by the BBC. Perez claimed that “Pastor is a driver who doesn’t respect other drivers” and went on to argue that he “was already in front, and if not he should have given me enough space not to crash, but he tried to push me all the way to the outside”. The Mexican further claimed that Maldonado is “a very dangerous driver and he can hurt someone”.
Perez was also clear that he was not the only driver that is of this view, stating that “Everybody has concerns about him. He is a driver who doesn’t know we are risking our lives and has no respect at all. It is not a matter of close or not. He has no respect at all”. If it’s true that the rest of the F1 drivers are of this view it is a pretty damning indictment of the Venezuelan. As for this particular clash, the stewards launched a post-race investigation and determined that Maldonado was indeed guilty of causing a collision, issuing the Williams driver with a reprimand and a 10,000 Euro fine. Given that Perez thought that Maldonado’s penalty for his crash with Lewis Hamilton in Valencia – a post-race 20 second penalty – was not severe enough, I think we can be fairly certain that he won’t be happy that Maldonado has gotten away with a fairly minimal punishment on this occasion.
So, while one previously lacklustre performer had a dramatic upturn in fortunes at Silverstone, another continued his poor form. Also worthy of a mention, though, are the McLaren team – another of the competitors that I suggested need to up their game – who will have been delighted that their pit stops were fast and trouble free for both drivers throughout the race, but extremely concerned that their pace seems to have evaporated like the rain from the track. Hamilton finished a distant eighth – the same position in which he qualified – while Jenson Button at least managed to move forward from his 16th place grid position, finishing 10th. McLaren and their drivers continue to lose ground in the championship and they, along with Pastor Maldonado, will be hoping to emulate Felipe Mass’s upturn in form in the next race; round 10, the season mid-point, in Germany.