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Maldonado: Hero or zero?

Laurence Edmondson June 26, 2012
Pastor Maldonado is undoubtedly talented, but had made several mistakes this year © Sutton Images

We all like to put Formula One drivers into categories. To some people Sebastian Vettel still can't overtake, while Jenson Button will always be considered smooth and easy on his tyres. Many reputations are based on correct observations, but the complexities of running a Formula One car can mean some drivers get incorrectly categorised.

One category that is all too easy to fall into is that of the "crasher". No driver wants to be tarred with that brush, but when the DNFs and repair bills start to stack up it's hard to shrug it off. Unfortunately, Pastor Maldonado's results since his sublime victory in Spain are leading him towards that label, and after his accident with Lewis Hamilton in Valencia he's running out of defences.

There's no doubt that he's got immense talent - more than he was given credit for when he first arrived in F1 with PDVSA's oil money behind him - but he's always been considered a bit of a wild man behind the wheel. The hope was that his win in Spain would settle him down a bit, but at the past three races he's been involved in incidents that have cost him in excess of 25 points.

In Monaco he had the pace to be well inside the points but got involved in an unnecessary skirmish with Sergio Perez in final practice and was rightly penalised. In Canada a bid to get into the top ten in qualifying, which was an achievable goal with his talent and the FW34's pace, ended against the wall of champions. Then in Valencia he threw away a near certain 15 points with an entirely unnecessary and misjudged overtaking move.

After his most recent indiscretion, Maldonado tried to shift the blame to Hamilton, but it's hard to agree with his version of events: "He tried to put me out of the track and he didn't leave any room for us to do the corner side-by-side. I jumped over the kerb and couldn't avoid the accident. I don't know why he drove like that, he was struggling too much with the tyres, he was completely lost and at that moment I was gaining at a very good pace."

It's true that Hamilton tyres were shot, but surely that should have prompted Maldonado to avoid diving around the outside and over the kerbs to pass. Hamilton's angle of attack into the corner meant he was always going to run a little wide and his old tyres would not have made it any easier to leave space. Maldonado had a car park-sized run-off area to his left, but instead he took to the kerbs, lifting his front wheels off the circuit and causing him to slide ungracefully into the side of Hamilton. The stewards applied a penalty accordingly, their reason was simple: "The driver failed to rejoin the track in a safe manner."

It's a great shame because Maldonado's race up to that point had been hugely impressive. Before he caught Hamilton he set 15 laps consistently in the low 1:44s and still had his rear tyres in good shape when he arrived on the McLaren's gearbox. Add that to his qualifying lap on Saturday and most onlookers would have awarded him 15 points at the end of lap 55 of 57, but sadly he could not finish the job.

Had he not had his mishaps at the last three races - not to mention the one in Australia - he could easily have over 50 world championship points to his name. That would have placed him above Jenson Button in the drivers' standings and rather than slipping into the category of "crasher" he would likely be heralded as a future champion. His win in Spain helped him shed his "pay driver" label, what a shame it would be if he took on an equally derogatory label due to a few hot-headed moments.