Maldonado out, Magnussen in: A refreshing change…

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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.

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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.

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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

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Glock the latest pay driver victim

The news that Timo Glock had left the Marussia team for money reasons came as a huge shock to most people. Despite three fruitless years racing towards the back of the grid, Glock is still widely regarded in the sport for his performances while at Toyota in 2008 and 2009, when he regularly troubled the frontrunners despite having an inferior car at his disposal.

It would appear that Glock’s fate was sealed by Marussia’s failure to secure tenth place in the constructors’ championship last season. By losing out to Caterham in the final race the team lost an estimated $10m in prize money, which for a small privateer outfit like Marussia is a significant amount of their operating budget, which meant they had to find the funds from somewhere else. With Glock being paid a salary by the team, and the team’s second driver Max Chilton bringing sponsorship, the German driver was the only candidate for the chop.

The timing of this does seem incredibly strange given that the season ended almost two months ago now. If Marussia had made the change straight after the final race of last year it would still have been harsh on Timo, but it would have been understandable given the money the team had just lost by losing that all important tenth place in Brazil. To do it with just two weeks until the launch of the new car not only gives Glock next to no opportunity to find a seat with another team, but also allows any replacement precious little time to fully integrate before the first race.

It would seem therefore that another driver has gone to Marussia and offered them significant funds in exchange for a race seat, the funds they lost out on by failing to finish tenth last year. It seems the only logical explanation for a change of driver at this stage of the game.

Given the team’s Russian connections it’s reasonable to assume the driver in question could be Vitaly Petrov. Petrov’s seat at Caterham is not secure and despite rumours towards the end of last season that he had lost his funding, more recent stories seem to suggest that he has now found backing. Furthermore, with Russia set to host a Grand Prix from 2014 it would make sense for this move to happen, not only to guarantee there’s a Russian driver on the grid for that race but the only Russian team in Formula One also becomes more financially secure with it.

It’s an ever increasing and depressing trend in modern Grand Prix racing that we are seeing hugely talented racing drivers losing their drives in favour of those whose main gifts are in the art of fundraising. Glock is just the latest driver to join the list of names on the sidelines for the pure reason that his pockets aren’t deep enough. Kamui Kobayashi and Heikki Kovalainen are just other names to fall victim to the same thing over the winter, with Nick Heidfeld another man who has been forced out for a driver with dosh.

Pay drivers aren’t as big a problem as they were 20 or so years ago. The dark days of Deletraz and the ineptitude of Inoue are long behind the sport, and this new breed of racers who are buying their way into F1 do at least have a modicum of talent, Messrs Perez and Maldonado being good examples, but Formula One is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. It should be about the best drivers, in the best cars, built by the best designers in the world. It shouldn’t be about how much money Daddy’s got or whether you’re best mates with Mr. Telecommunications, it should be about talent. Nothing more, nothing less.

As for Glock, he looks set to spend the year racing in DTM. It may not be the summit of his sport, but it’s a highly competitive series that will allow him to show his talent. Something that Formula One failed him on.

Stephen D’Albiac

The top ten of 2012: Part One

The 2012 Formula One season was one of the most competitive seasons the sport has ever seen, with more drivers fighting for wins and podiums than at any time over the past few years.

With so many standout performances over the year, it was incredibly hard to come up with the top ten drivers. In the first of two parts, here are the drivers who ranked between sixth and tenth over the 2012 season.

10) Felipe Massa
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The first half of 2012 was a nightmare for Felipe Massa. The Ferrari was uncompetitive and difficult to drive at the start of the year, and while his teammate Fernando Alonso led the championship going into the summer break, Massa had only a fourth and a sixth place to show for his efforts, with his seat at Ferrari coming under serious threat.

However, Massa returned from holiday a changed man. A solid fifth place at Spa was followed by a front row start and fourth place at Monza, and a superb drive to second place in Suzuka sealed the Brazilian’s first podium finish in two years and confirmed his return to form.

A succession of consistent points finishes then followed, with Massa regularly matching the pace of Alonso, and a tremendous third place on home soil in Brazil after he selflessly backed his teammate’s title challenge put the lid on a fine second half of the season, with Massa fully earning a new one-year contract with the Ferrari team.

9) Kamui Kobayashi
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Kamui Kobayashi had the strongest year of his career at Sauber. Despite being edged in the points battle by teammate Sergio Perez, the likeable Japanese driver showed his talent with some impressive performances.

Some of Kobayashi’s qualifying results were particularly strong, with a third place in China and a front row start in Spa impressing hugely. He backed this up with some good race performances, with fourth in Hockenheim and fifth in Barcelona giving himself crucial points. But the undoubted highlight was his stunning drive Suzuka when he held off the much quicker Jenson Button to claim his first podium finish in Formula One in front of his adoring home fans.

Despite this, Sauber have decided not to retain Kobayashi for next year, leaving him with the possibility of not having a drive next year. If Kamui is unable to find a seat it would be a massive shame, as he has shown himself to be worthy of a place in Formula One.

8) Mark Webber
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After a difficult 2011 in which he was comprehensively beaten by Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber had a better time of it in 2012. Despite having to drive a Red Bull that was built around Vettel, Webber was much closer to his teammate, especially in qualifying where there was little to choose between the two drivers.

Two brilliant wins in Monaco and Silverstone gave the Australian a genuine chance of challenging for the title, but some difficult races, notably in Monza and Suzuka, saw him fall out of contention for the championship and slip down the standings.

Despite ending the year only sixth in the points, Webber can be pleased with his overall performances after a year in which he proved himself to be much closer to Vettel than in previous years.

7) Sergio Perez
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If this list had been compiled after Monza, Sergio Perez would have been in contention for the top spot. The Mexican driver was incredible in the first part of the season, demonstrating an uncanny ability to make his tyres last longer than his rivals, with brilliant podiums in Malaysia, Canada and Italy making him stand out as a star of the future.

They were performances that convinced McLaren to sign him up to replace Lewis Hamilton next year, but the announcement that he was to join the Woking-based team in 2013 coincided with a downturn in form for Perez, with the Sauber driver making a series of mistakes and failing to register a single point in the final six races.

With his move to McLaren on the horizon, Perez will need to perform the same way he did in the first half of the season as opposed to the second half as he looks to cement a reputation as a potential title challenger in the future.

6) Jenson Button
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Although in some ways this year was a disappointment for Jenson Button, the Englishman still showed how good he was with some top drives. Button began the year in fine style with victory in Australia, but things went downhill for the McLaren driver soon after, with tyre warming issues blighting his first half of the season.

A return to form came with second at Hockenheim, before a first pole in three years and dominant victory at Spa put him back on track. Although he never seriously challenged for the title, Button produced a series of consistent points finishes towards the end of the year, culminating in a brilliant win in difficult conditions in Brazil.

With Button entering 2013 as the team leader at McLaren, he will be confident of mounting a challenge for the championship as he looks to win a second world championship.

Stephen D’Albiac