There were a few standout performances at yesterday’s British Grand Prix, drives that deserve recognition beyond that given to Mark Webber, though his excellent race was of course worthy of note.
For example, take Felipe Massa (and no jokes saying yes, please, take Felipe). Okay, his drive from fifth to fourth might not seem all that great but remember that this was the Brazilians best result in a year and a half, since Korea 2010 where he finished third. After a good race in Monaco, where he finished sixth, yesterday’s performance in which he passed Sebastian Vettel at the start and then made it impossible for the champion to pass him until the pit stops showed that there’s still a good racer inside Felipe, it’s just the F2012 and his discomfort with it in qualifying trim that’s keeping him from showing that every other weekend.
Or what about Romain Grosjean? His recovery from 22nd to sixth after a first-lap incident in which he clattered into Paul Di Resta was possibly the drive of the day, the Frenchman racing aggressively but still managing to keep two sets of hard tyres alive for 24- and 26-lap stints, three and five laps longer than Sebastian Vettel, who was on a similar soft, hard, hard plan. Having been down in 22nd and 30 seconds off the lead after two laps, Grosjean pulled the gap back to just 17 seconds by the end of the race and took eight points. And it was a race where there wasn’t a coast-to-the-line final stint from dominant leaders.
And then there was Sergio Pérez. Oh, wait, we’ll never know if he was about to deliver another stellar drive because after climbing from 15th on the grid to eighth in the opening 11 laps of the race he was unceremoniously punted off track and out of the race by Pastor Maldonado as he attempted to steal seventh place with an overtaking move around the outside of the Venezuelan’s Williams.
“First of all, before the race the FIA sent a bulletin saying you cannot defend your position twice,” Pérez said of the incident. “Once the car behind has a front wing on your tyres, you cannot move again. He did that before the braking.
“He has no respect for other drivers,” he continued. “It's not a racing incident. It’s just the way he drives. I did this manoeuvre to Button and to Hulkenberg and they fight very hard but they leave the room. You cannot fight [with Maldonado], you cannot do anything. He is a very stupid driver.”
The FIA stewards’ disapproval of Maldonado’s conduct didn’t quite match the white hot rage of Pérez but after the race they did hand the Williams driver a reprimand and a €10,000 penalty and stated that “in view of the serious nature of the incident the stewards have decided under Article 18.1 to apply two penalties”.
Neither of those penalties is likely to make Pérez feel any better about being dumped out of a race in which he was on course for decent points after a pretty poor qualifying the previous day.
“Just look at the last races,” he said of Maldonado’s conduct. “He ruined Hamilton’s race [in Valencia], he ruined my race in Monaco by doing stupid things. I don’t understand why the stewards don’t take a serious decision with him. With Pastor they’re not doing anything that will teach him a lesson.”
It is a valid point. Now, looking at the replays of the incident between the two at Silverstone yesterday it does appear that this time it was actually a racing incident rather than anything else, as, when Pérez made his move, Maldonado hugged the inside of the Brooklands corner in an attempt to maintain position. It failed and he simply ran out of grip, thus sliding into Pérez.
However, when taken in context, there is an argument that suggests Pérez is right, and that based on his considerable body of work, Maldonado now deserves a penalty stronger than a small fine and a telling off.
In Valencia, he took Lewis Hamilton out late in the race with an ill-timed move while battling for third. There he received a very mild 20-second penalty applied to his race time.
Before that, in Monaco, he got a 10-place sanction for colliding with Pérez in qualifying and also took five-place penalty for a gearbox change.
Last year, in an incident at Spa, he tangled with Lewis Hamilton and then seemed to deliberately swerve towards the McLaren driver in retaliation. He received a five-place grid penalty.
The bottom line is that Maldonado still has a few ‘rough edges’ that need to be knocked off before he can be deemed to be a driver others are happy to share a track with and that they can race against confident in the knowledge that tussles will be “hard but fair” as Pérez demands.
A minor financial penalty is not enough. Neither now is a grid penalty, as Maldonado has followed up the ‘sobering’ 10-place penalty of Monaco with misjudged moves in two of the three races that have followed.
So, the only thing that remains a temporary ban. Now, leaving out the revoking of Yuji Ide’s Superlicence in 2006, the last race ban I can remember was Jacques Villeneuve in 1997, for repeatedly ignoring yellow flags during practice for the Japanese GP. He was later allowed to race under appeal.
So, it's not a common penalty. It was so in the 1990s when Eddie Irvine, Michael Schumacher and even Mika Hakkinen were given bans for bad driving.
So why not bring it back in the case of a driver like Maldonado who carries on misbehaving despite attempts to rein him in with fines and grid penalties?
Perhaps it should be handed out in a similar manner to football match bans – two sequential grid penalties or a proscribed number of reprimands and you’re automatically banned for one race. Certainly, the thought of missing a grand prix would temper the worst behaviour of most drivers and it would massively inconvenience a banned driver’s team, so the incentives to behave would be clear.
Come to think of it, banning Maldonado for a race might actually suit Williams. In the wings they have the obviously very quick Finn Valtteri Bottas, who has impressed very time he has run in FP1 sessions. Maybe a one-match ban for the quick but very erratic Maldonado would suit Sir Frank down to the ground!