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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Jerez testing – Day two analysis

Day two of pre-season was only slightly more useful than day one in terms of getting any idea of a pecking order ahead of the new season.

One thing we can be fairly sure of is that Lotus are looking good. Romain Grosjean followed up his strong pace from Tuesday with a time much quicker than anyone else today. While it doesn’t give much of an indication of how quick they will be when the teams arrive in Melbourne, they look likely to be there or thereabouts at the start of the season.

Another team that looks in good shape is Force India. For the second day in a row the Silverstone-based outfit set more laps than anyone else without incident and they look to have a reasonable package underneath them, which should give them confidence as they look to reclaim sixth place in the constructors’ championship from Sauber.

There’s no way of knowing which of the top three teams is looking strongest at the moment. Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari have all made positive starts to their testing campaigns, with few problems (Jenson Button’s fuel pump failure aside) to report at the moment. It certainly appears that any repeat of Ferrari’s situation in pre-season testing last year is off the cards, with none of the top teams clearly struggling at this point in time.

It was a different story for Lewis Hamilton on his first outing for Mercedes after he suffered a brake failure at the end of the back straight, resulting in a brush with the tyre wall from which he was always coming to come off second best. It has been a difficult test for the Silver Arrows so far, with Hamilton’s crash coming off the back of Nico Rosberg’s electrical problem yesterday. As a result, Mercedes have been restricted to just 26 laps in two days. As a comparison, Force India have managed 203.

Tomorrow sees world champion Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen on track for the first time this week, whilst rookies Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas will also get their first taste of pre-season action.

Timesheets
1) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:18.218 (95 laps)
2) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – 1:19.003 (95 laps)
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:19.134 (83 laps)
4) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – 1:19.338 (101 laps)
5) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:19.502 (99 laps)
6) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – 1:19.519 (15 laps)
7) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:19.572 (81 laps)
8) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – 1:19.914 (78 laps)
9) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – 1:20.623 (71 laps)
10) James Rossiter (GB) Force India-Mercedes – 1:21.273 (19 laps)
11) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:21.311 (88 laps)
12) Luiz Razia (Bra) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:23.537 (31 laps)

Stephen D’Albiac