Maldonado out, Magnussen in: A refreshing change…

Untitled design

A growing poison within Formula One in recent years has been the way in which able talents have been so readily cast aside for no other reason than the lack of contribution they have been able to make in the funding department.

Since 2010, no fewer than nine drivers, all of whom had proved themselves worthy of a place in the cutthroat world of Grand Prix racing, have been left unceremoniously dumped from the sport.

The sole reason? Simply that their pockets were not deep enough to satisfy a litany of teams who are struggling to survive in this age of rising costs, declining sponsorships and an ever-growing calendar.

Although some of these drivers list fell victim to the ruthless world that is the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, that the likes of Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Eric Vergne were unable to find drives at other outfits after they were culled by Toro Rosso had little to do with performance.

Similarly, Kevin Magnussen did little at McLaren to show that he could not cut it in the pinnacle of motorsport.

And yet, of these ‘cast-offs’, only Nico Hulkenberg managed to get a proper second chance en route to becoming arguably the best racer on the grid currently plying his trade outside a top team.

Instead, the volume of money is only increasing when it comes to earning a place in the promised land. Forgetting Pastor Maldonado, and the likes of Marcus Ericsson, Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton – among others – can all claim to have bought their way onto the grid at one time or other at the expense of their more talented companions.

That is why the news that Maldonado is to be replaced at Renault by Magnussen comes as a welcome relief.

In five seasons of broken front wings, rebuilt cars and a permanent pass to the stewards room, only the odd flash of brilliance prevents the Venezuelan’s CV from amounting to nothing more than a high-speed dodgem.

motor_maldo

The sight of Pastor Maldonado in a barrier became an all-too common one during the Venezuelan’s five years in Formula One.

It is easy to look no further than the PDVSA petro-dollars that have funded Maldonado’s career and forget that he was more than deserving of a Formula One drive when he made his debut for Williams in 2011.

An inconsistent yet occasionally brilliant junior career that earned him a reputation as a specialist around the fabled streets of Monte Carlo and culminated in the GP2 Series crown of 2010 would have made Maldonado a candidate for graduation to the top tier, even without his grotesque level of backing.

His second season in 2012 that saw the still scarcely fathomable win in Spain and a number of top three qualifying performances showed that he had the speed to survive in Formula One, if not the temperament.

And that was always Maldonado’s problem. A driver who earns his staying power in Formula One on merit cuts out the silly collisions, reckless petulance and embarrassing prangs by the time he enters his second season, but far from honing his speed and developing into the well-rounded midfield runner that he had the potential to be, he became little more than an imitation of a Wacky Races character.

It was why his move from Williams to Lotus in 2014 was met with indignation by most, why a website charting his every collision in exquisitely humorous fashion continues to flourish, and why his continued presence in a team famous for its true racing spirit has become little more than a frustration.

But where one door closes, another one opens, and Maldonado’s demise now looks set to give Magnussen a refreshing opportunity to revitalise a stalled career.

Cut adrift at McLaren for the sole reason that Fernando Alonso became available, the Dane should have had teams queuing up to secure the signature of a man who bagged a remarkable second place on his Formula One debut and proved more than an able foil for Jenson Button.

Kevin_Magnussen_2014_Jerez_test_(28-31_Jan)_Day_3

Kevin Magnussen spent 2015 on the sidelines through circumstance more than any lack of performance.

Yet until Maldonado’s funding dried up, he was left high and dry and faced with a switch to IndyCar or the World Endurance Championship just to get some racing under his belt.

Thankfully, the buyout of Lotus by Renault has turned the financial situation at Enstone into one of rude health, and means that placing a driver of Magnussen’s quality alongside Jolyon Palmer, himself a beneficiary of high value backing, is now a reality rather than a far flung dream.

Once the transition season of 2016 is done and Renault prepares its first fully-fledged manufacturer entry since 2010, one can only hope that a second opportunity for an established driver will arise at the team.

Although not a necessity, the prospect of a French driver delivering the goods at a French team would do Renault’s image across the Channel no harm. Of the talented cast-offs, Jean-Eric Vergne, a man who proved more than a match for Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso, is another, like Magnussen, just crying out to be given a second opportunity.

Just imagine, a year down the line, the prospect of Renault signing Vergne to partner Magnussen, and in so doing securing one of the most exciting young driver line-ups on the grid.

If so, it would make a welcome, and refreshing change.

Stephen D’Albiac

Advertisements

Why Force India have messed up with their second driver

With just four weeks remaining until the start of the new Formula One season, testing has begun and the teams and drivers are preparing for the first race of 2013 in earnest.

The one exception in all this is Force India. The first pre-season test finished over a week ago and yet with just 26 days until first practice gets underway at Melbourne, Paul di Resta is still the only race driver to be confirmed at the Silverstone-based team.

It is a situation that is as farcical as it is baffling. For a midfield team like Force India, who have had no problems building their car and – despite team owner Vijay Mallya’s ongoing problems in India – no immediate financial problems heading into the new season, it is ridiculous that at this late stage of proceedings nobody has been confirmed to be driving the team’s second car.

Ferrari academy driver Jules Bianchi had seemed to be the frontrunner to drive alongside di Resta. The Frenchman was the team’s reserve driver last season and it has been reported that Ferrari want him to be promoted to a race seat this year, possibly in return for a cheap engine supply starting in 2014. Bianchi impressed in testing at Jerez and had looked to have given himself a great chance of landing the drive.

But then last week came the news that the team’s former driver Adrian Sutil had had a seat fitting and is expected to test in Barcelona next week. Sutil, who was dropped by Force India at the end of 2011 after the German driver’s well documented brush with the law, was said by AUTOSPORT last week to now be the favourite for the drive, which would then leave Bianchi out in the cold.

Now it’s possible that this could all be part of a political game to try and persuade Ferrari or Bianchi to stump up some extra cash and take the seat, but all it does is further complicate a frankly ridiculous situation.

Whatever the motives behind this delay, there has been plenty of time for Force India to sort out their plans and reveal the identity of their second driver. The team has known since last October that Nico Hulkenberg was leaving them to join Sauber. It wasn’t as though he just decided to walk out on them at the 11th hour. That is way more than enough time for the team to find someone to replace Hulkenberg.

If Force India wanted a pay driver to fill the second seat it’s hardly like there’s a shortage of them floating about at the moment, whereas if they wanted to sign a driver based purely on talent the likes of Kamui Kobayashi and Heikki Kovalainen were both available and would have both been perfectly good signings for them.

It’s also not as if it was ever going to be difficult to sign up any of the drivers that were linked to the second seat. Both Sutil and Jaime Alguersuari did not drive competitively last year and (any possible visa issues for Sutil aside) would not have taken much persuading to put pen to paper, Bianchi has the support of Ferrari in finding a seat on the grid and was the team’s reserve driver in 2012, whilst Bruno Senna was released by Williams at the end of November.

Whoever ends up getting the drive, the only losers out of this situation will be Force India themselves. Whoever gets the seat will be thrown in halfway through pre-season testing, possibly with no mileage and be expected to play catch-up with every other driver on the grid. As a result, the team’s second driver will have less time to adapt and get to grips with his new car, and is therefore likely to turn up at Melbourne without the correct form of preparation.

To put no finer point on it, Force India have shot themselves in the foot. It is a problem entirely of their own doing and one that could, and should, have been so easily avoided.

Will it cost them? Only time will tell.

Stephen D’Albiac