Pastor Maldonado has been reported as unhappy at the criticism he is receiving. He has said that the media are to blame for how he is perceived, and that his future in the sport is unclear because of this. He also states that if he were driving for a top team, like Mercedes, he would be fighting for race wins consistently. Are the media to blame for Pastor Maldonado’s image? Is he or is he not a bad driver, and what does his future in the sport hold?
Pastor came into F1 in 2011 on the back of winning the GP2 championship. He spent the first three seasons at Williams, and since then has been at Lotus. In his time in the sport he has been involved in several altercations. In Spa, of his rookie season, he appeared to intentionally hit into Lewis Hamilton coming out of turn 1. He did score his first and only point of that season in the race. In the penultimate race of that season, in Abu Dhabi, he was twice penalised for ignoring blue flags. He finished the season in 19th place, three points behind his team-mate Rubens Barrichello.
In the opening race of 2012, he was on for his best finish until he crashed out on the final lap. He scored an eighth place finish in China, and two races later went on to take his maiden victory in Barcelona. Starting off in pole position, after Hamilton had been demoted due to a fuel discrepancy, Maldonado impressively lead home under the pressure of crowd favourite, Fernando Alonso.
At qualifying in Monaco, he failed to make an attempt to avoid Sergio Perez and got a ten-place grid penalty as a result. In the race, he ran into the back of Pedro de la Rosa which put them both out. In Valencia, whilst battling Hamilton for a podium position, Maldonado went off track and came back onto it, colliding with the British driver. The result led to Hamilton retiring and Maldonando getting a 20-second penalty. At Silverstone, another collision with Perez resulted in a fine and penalties. In Budapest, a collision with Paul di Resta gave him a drive-through penalty.
In Spa, he obtained three penalties. One for impeding Nico Hulkenberg in qualifying, and the other two in the race. The first was for a false start, and the second was for colliding with Timo Glock. He finished the season strongly by scoring three times out of the last six races. He finished 15th in the championship, with a points total of 45, 12 points ahead of his team-mate, Bruno Senna.
After the drama-filled season of 2012, 2013 was much calmer, if not as successful for the Venezuelan. For the third season running, he would be partnered by a new team-mate, this time in the shape of Finnish rookie Valtteri Bottas. Maldonado only claimed a single point, in Hungary, and ended up 18th in the championship standings, three points behind Bottas. It was announced before the United States Grand Prix that he wouldn’t be kept on at Williams. Near the end of November, it was announced that Maldonado had signed for Lotus, where his team-mate would be his former GP2 rival of Romain Grosjean.
Into the 2014 season and at Bahrain he crashed into Esteban Gutierrez, flipping over the Mexican’s car which resulted in a penalty and grid drop for the next race. In that next meeting, he crashed into a wall in the pit lane. In Spain, he crashed into Marcus Ericsson, resulting in a stop-go penalty. He crashed into Gutierrez again, this time at Silverstone, which launched the Venezuelans car. In Budapest, he lost control of his car heading to the grid, and then crashed into Jules Bianchi. In Austin, he was twice penalised for speeding. First behind the safety car, and then in the pit lane. His only points finish came in Austin, with a ninth place. He finished 16th in the championship, six points behind Grosjean.
This year as seen the continued run of penalties getting dished out to the Venezuelan. In Malaysia, he was speeding behind the safety car. In Bahrain, he placed his Lotus onto the wrong grid slot – and then collided into Felipe Massa. The last race before the summer break saw the Venezuelan at his worse. Maldonado ran into Perez at turn 1. He then got penalised again for speeding behind the safety car, and then again for speeding in the pit lane later in the race.
So is it really the media to blame for his reputation? Pastor says that there is not much news today in F1, like there was 10 or 15 years ago when there was more racing. Maldonado has a point, as in this new era of efficiently does bring a lot of conservative races with not many incidents. A crash now is deemed more rare than it was a number of years ago, as they not pushing as hard. He also notes the emphasis on the fact he is financially supported by the Venezuelan government. It true that he is not the only “pay driver” on the grid, but it does seem only him that it gets mentioned that he gets financial backing.
Both these arguments could be turned the other way too. In today’s F1, the sport is more professional, and the drivers are seen to and be expected to be near flawless. A driver who gets in multiple incidents nowadays is going to get more attention, as it simply not the way the drivers are expected to perform. Even when there is wheel to wheel racing, the battles are usually clean, and most of the time no incidents occur. This is the opposite for Pastor. In the incidents that are mentioned in this article, there are many more that could be highlighted. The media are only talking about him in this way, as he himself is giving them something to talk about. That is what brings to attention his financial backing also. With every incident that occurs, more and more gets said about his ability in a F1 car, and therefore the fact he gets healthy financial backing draws media scrutiny more than it does to other drivers on similar sponsorship.
Is Pastor a bad driver then? His GP2 championship, and that win in Spain points to that there is some talent there. He is also enjoying one of his most successful points scoring seasons to date, with already two seventh place finishes giving him 12 points. He could have even more points if it wasn’t for some bad luck in earlier races, which were not of his doing.
So where does his future lie in F1? This is Maldonado’s fifth season in the sport, and even though he is a race winner, and has some good moments, his form has been mostly poor compared to his team mate. With Lotus possibly preparing test driver Jolyon Palmer for a seat in 2016, the Venezuelan is under pressure to show in the second half of this season that his talent – and not his financial backing, merit him a place in the sport. He is the enigma of F1, and until he can be decoded, then he will never reach the heights that he thinks his talent merits.