Blog: There’s nothing new about Maldonado
“We know we’ve got quality at the front, but I just still think there’s the swing of the financial drivers [into F1], who are coming to basically decide what teams they want to go to, and also if they’re going to stay there”.
“Pastor [Maldonado], for example, saying ‘I haven't made my decision yet where I'm going’. What other sports work like that? If you're not performing, mate, on your bike, get out of here.”
And more recently when asked who was the ‘worst driver he’d ever shared a track with’, he answered in a similar vein. “Probably Maldonado” he said. “He’s out of his depth and just shouldn’t be there. He’s making up the numbers basically.”
You may recognise these words as those of Mark Webber, from late last year and early this. And you won’t need me to tell you what the reaction was to them either given Pastor Maldonado’s prevailing pariah status. Rather a lot of seal-like whooping and clapping. To revise the adage, no one’s ever gone broke by telling people what they want to hear.
But the reasons for this ire went deeper, and Webber’s words appear to confirm as much. Maldonado it was thought encapsulated something far from flattering about F1’s modern age in the broadest sense. The feeling that things are not what they once were is everywhere you go in F1 right now and Pastor was viewed as an embodiment of this. That the requirements of an F1 driver have dipped, and that the sport’s warped finances mean many teams discriminate on finances rather than talent when choosing drivers. Pastor notoriously of course brought a particularly bulging briefcase from the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, and in his five-year stay in F1 was distinguished mainly in the popular consciousness by his tendency to crash.
“There have always been commercially-driven drivers on the grid in F1, don't get me wrong”, Webber went on indeed, “but in ‘02 when I started, or 2010, even mid-90s, I just think there was a sniff more depth in there because there were more chances for the guys who have got the runs on the board [in the junior categories] to get in there purely on results and not with a government behind you supporting you.”
And given money had been ensuring Maldonado’s continued presence on the F1 grid when that money dried up – a combined consequence it seems of the world’s lowering oil price and apparent economic chaos in his native Venezuela – the outcome was inevitable. Pastor as confirmed in recent days is out, at least for now, and plenty didn’t regret the fact.
While of course Maldonado has undeniably his well-publicised problems I have found much of the criticism he gets exceedingly over the top, and for a number of reasons. I won’t reiterate these here though this article I wrote last year for Grand Prix Times outlines most of them: http://www.grandprixtimes.com/news/id/10155. Quintessentially over the top the BBC Sport Twitter account described Maldonado recently as “the driver who couldn't drive”.
But to pick up on the view outlined by Webber above, he and those who agree with him need to brush up on their history. Look back to F1 past without the aid of rose-tinted specs and you’ll find before you know it that Pastor’s sort are far from unheard of.
The first point to make is that whatever you think of Pastor he’s infinitely better than plenty of the pay drivers who used to stalk the F1 grid in the “mid-90s” that Webber referred to reverentially. Giovanni Lavaggi anyone? Hideki Noda? I could go on for a while too.
More broadly the sport’s tradition of fast but wild pilots of which Pastor is one is as old as the sport itself (Vittorio Brambilla, Eugenio Castellotti…). It’s pretty much a constant in F1’s thread of drivers. Furthermore if we go back to the 1980s and early 1990s – often viewed these days as a driving talent heyday – we find something close to a Pastor parallel.
It was something noted by Nigel Roebuck recently. “On his day Maldonado can be blindingly quick, as we know, but too often this is immediately preparatory to leaving the road, in the manner of the late Andrea de Cesaris. Andrea never lacked for charm, and neither does Pastor, but in both cases Formula 1 came their way only because major companies forked out to facilitate the opportunity.”
Ah, Andrea de Cesaris. Like Pastor notorious in his time for the reasons Roebuck lists. A pariah. The parallels indeed are uncanny. To the point that he just like ‘Crashtor’ got his own crash-themed moniker, in his case ‘de Crasheris’.
Like Pastor too he had a tendency for false dawns, in which you’d start to consider a tentative venture that he’d finally found a new maturity, only for him to do something to send everyone’s views straight back to base camp. In de Cesaris’s case the dawns sometimes lasted a season or more, such as with a fine 1983 campaign of measured driving where he twice finished second and might have scored many more points with better technical reliability. But come 1984 and a Ligier move he returned to his old ways, to the point that the famously combustible Guy Ligier fired him mid-1985 after one crash too many.
But just as with Pastor the prevailing predispositions meant de Cesaris didn’t get the credit he was due for what he did bring to the table. Upon the Italian’s untimely passing in 2014, Edd Straw said in this regard that “Andrea de Cesaris had a reputation for crashes that unfairly clouded judgements of his ability as a Formula 1 driver. The Italian…has to be ranked among the quickest drivers never to have won a grand prix.”
In the case of both drivers one cannot deny their tendency for error which undermined their efforts; neither can one deny that they didn’t manage to iron that tendency out despite plenty of time to do so. In neither case could it be denied either that their F1 careers lasted longer than they would have done as they brought cash with them. But both had a lot going for them also, and not just raw pace.
This was reflected on by ex-Jordan designer Gary Anderson, of when de Cesaris was brought in as driver for the squad’s famous debut season in 1991. “When Eddie [Jordan] told me he was signing Andrea, I thought he was mad,” said Anderson. “But I was completely wrong. We needed an experienced driver and Andrea became an integral part of the team thanks to his knowledge, experience, speed and enthusiasm.
“With the responsibility of leading the team, he matured and was a huge part of Jordan’s success in 1991.”
The next year too at Tyrrell de Cesaris also won over the not-necessarily easy to please Uncle Ken. “Andrea has been a revelation as far as we are concerned” Ken Tyrrell said. “He is an excellent test driver. He is always keen to do things: any sort of testing, even though some of it may be boring. The feedback we have had from him has been excellent and, in the races, he looks after the car very well indeed. His experience just shines though. He never over-revs and he never damages the gearbox with hasty gear-changes. He really has done a fantastic job for us”.
As if to provide a fitting postscript to his career though, in 1993 he started shunting again which he continued rather into his final half-season in the sport in 1994. Thus ensuring his 1991-92 improvement was a rather typical false dawn.
As for Pastor we can turn to the recent thoughts of Lotus’s (now Renault’s) Alan Permane. Permane is one, as Kimi Raikkonen discovered, who is more likely to call a spade a f*****g shovel (he’s not one to sugar-coat his communications in other words). Yet he reckoned Pastor like with Andrea at Jordan was set in 2016 to rise to the challenge of leading a team. His words have an uncanny echo with those said of Andrea.
“I think he will enjoy the responsibility,” Permane said. “I don't see why he wouldn’t. He is very capable of doing that [leading the team]. He is an excellent test driver, he is very good at sitting in a car all day and just trying new stuff and giving good feedback and that sort of thing. That is one of his upsides, he is very good at that side of the job.
“Let’s load him up with a bit of that [team leader responsibility] and see if he rises up to the occasion. He is definitely capable of it.”
As with de Cesaris, indeed possibly slightly more so, there have been signs of improvement for Maldonado over time, signs that aren’t too readily acknowledged more widely.
“Pastor is Pastor, someone who is phenomenally quick. I just wish he could do it every weekend,” Permane went on. “Towards the end of last season he strung points finishes together, which was great, and he does seem to be making progress on that side of things. The wild side seems to have calmed down a little bit.”
And this isn’t mere wishful thinking, the facts back him up. Certainly from 2013 onwards Pastor did a lot to keep a lid on his antics, and a fact that may surprise is that after 2013’s season-opener only once has Pastor retired from a Grand Prix due to his own error – when he damaged the car on a kerb in Spa last season. While many made mirth at his accidents in 2015 by my reckoning just two of them – colliding with Sergio Perez in Hungary and with Marcus Ericsson in Brazil – were unequivocally his fault.
“Pastor Maldonado may have had incidents, but several weren’t his fault. I think he had a much better 2015 than most people noticed...” noted F1’s stats guru Sean Kelly lately.
But Pastor, like Andrea, isn’t one to get benefit of the doubt. Plenty also like to point and s******* at the qualifying match-up score between the Venezuelan and his (highly rated) Lotus team mate Romain Grosjean, and another thing that can’t be denied was that Pastor often made mistakes on quali ‘hot laps’. But come the races he often was the quicker of the two, thanks in part to his excellent ability to coax life out of the Pirelli tyres. Another skill of Pastor’s that is not often acknowledged.
De Cesaris unlike Pastor never did win a Grand Prix as mentioned (indeed he holds the record for most F1 starts without a triumph), but that was down to sheer misfortune. On more than one occasion too. Had his car not run dry of fuel on the final lap of the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix he’d have won that, plus the following year at Spa he led the first half of the race like one born to do it, only for a botched pit stop to sink him to second and before we could find out if he could get the lead back his engine failed. While in the 1991 Belgian race in that famous green Jordan 191 he was bearing down on leader Ayrton Senna late on only again for his car to fail him.
Like Pastor he had his foibles that he never was able to eliminate. But like Pastor too he was never as bad as people liked to make out.
Author: Graham Keilloh
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