Getting away with it...
There’s just no place for it. Petulant, arrogant and ignorant professional sportsmen really should be held to account when they behave in such an irresponsible way.
Pastor Maldonado’s deliberate smash into Lewis Hamiton’s McLaren on Saturday afternoon at Spa-Francorchamps represented just about the worst example of on-track behaviour one can witness in motorsport.
Of course I’m fully aware that emotions run hot in the heat of battle, but we can reasonably expect our weekend heroes to show some responsibility: to their fellow competitors; to those watching; to those working; and to those who may be influenced by how they see their idols behave.
For three corners and a couple of straights Lewis Hamilton and Williams’ Venezuelan pilot Maldonado argued over track position as qualifying session two came to a close. The upstart rookie and the 2008 world champion engaged in a little steering wheel jinking so as to make a point. Matters got a whole lot more serious when Maldonado swiped his FW33 into the side of the McLaren as the two cars headed downhill towards Eau Rouge.
The knuckle-headed South American’s car hit so hard that it ricocheted onto the grass, leaving Hamilton’s MP4-26 with a broken front wing and sizeable scuff marks on the right-hand sidepod.
Lengthy FIA stewards’ meetings ensued, with the final decision being a paltry five-place grid penalty for Maldonado. Hamilton received a reprimand for his part in the affair.
As is so often the case in sports of all types, the powers that be – after talking tough – deliver wretchedly poor punishment for crimes committed.
If a deliberate shunt into a competitor is the motor racing equivalent of a professional foul in football, why is it treated with such leniency? A footballer can expect a straight red card and a subsequent three-match ban as punishment for his crime. A Formula 1 driver, it transpires, gets to race on Sunday with no more than a slap on the wrist – and yet, when one weighs up the risks involved as a result of his actions and the possible consequences, he really should have been banned for a race or three at least.
What are the young stars of the future to make of behaviour such as Maldonado’s? I’m sure most would reason that a little on-track bullying is worth the risk: if F1 drivers get away with it, why shouldn’t they? The attitude of the FIA to these smash-and-crash tactics is baffling, especially since the much-trumpeted ‘Action for Road Safety’ campaign is the cause celebré of the governing body’s president, Jean Todt.
‘Please drive safely on the roads but don’t expect our drivers to behave the same’ might be an appropriate mantra.
An example should have been made of Maldonado’s reckless abandon, so others both within and without the sport know what to expect as a consequence of their hooligan actions.
A race track is no place for revenge and retribution.