Should we thank Maldonado for Bahrain drama?

Saturday 12th April 2014, 10:41 by Ernie Black 

Pastor Maldonado causes Esteban Gutierrez to flip

Let us take a moment to quickly recap the desert scrap which is being billed as one of the greatest races in F1. Everyone will have a different view point on this stance and this note is only meant to spawn thought and introspection. The least obvious view point might all be thanks to Pastor Maldonado.

As the lights went out, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg lead from the front row as expected. Felipe Massa makes a cracking start to propel himself into third from seventh. Nico Hulkenberg overtakes Fernando Alonso just a few laps before Jenson Button and Hulkenberg both slip passed Valtteri Bottas. Segio Perez takes third place from Massa like snatching ice cream from an unsuspecting child. After twelve laps, it’s obvious that it is now a race for “best of the rest”.

Rosberg keeps Hamilton honest staying just one second or so behind the punchy Brit for 19 laps as if stalking his prey before pouncing on him for the lead. They tussle side by side with Rosberg eventually giving up the chase before Hamilton pits from the lead on the following lap.

With Rosberg some 32s ahead of the pack, he’s told to pump in some hot laps in order to keep the lead ahead of team-mate Hamilton as he rejoins. After the young German makes his first stop, he exits the pits but it becomes apparent that he didn't build enough of a cushion as he emerges behind Hamilton.

Just before the half-way marker, there are some battles between Bottas, Massa and Hulkenberg. Perez is nearby, carefully studying his unsuspecting team-mate and takes the place like a mate swooping in at a bar to snag the cute blonde from his flat-mate’s grasp.

With just over 30 of 57 laps run, there seems to be a fair amount of overtaking and action on track. Hamilton continues to increase his lead and by lap 34, Mercedes makes a very loud statement without uttering a single word. At this point, seven of the top ten competitors are running Mercedes power.

The next few laps are relatively uneventful until lap 42 when Maldonado jets out of the pits and forks Esteban Gutierrez causing his Sauber to roll, drop and stop like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in one of his drunken stoopers. Gutierrez climbs out of the cockpit of his car which conveniently lands right-side-up, shaken but not stirred like a good Martini. The harpooning incident causes a safety car which sets up the final ten laps of the race to be perhaps some of the most exciting racing in the modern Formula 1 era.

From this rather brief and let’s face it, rubbish recap of the Bahrain Grand Prix, even a casual follower of the sport might be able to conclude that it was more than a typical and common F1 procession. While most of the feedback I’ve observed over the last few days has been positive, there have been some that have not seen it as such.

Dr. Helmut Marko, consultant to reigning champions Red Bull Racing, believes that the race was not really the “great” race some claim it to have been, until after the safety car bunched up the field. At first I pondered his stance and thought to myself that he was just bitter because his team has gone from dominant to dormant. A stark disinterest and disapproval of the new regulations along with Ferrari’s Luca Di Montezemolo have made both underachieving teams vocal and negative.

It is true, if I put myself in their positions, figuratively speaking, I can certainly understand how difficult it must be for them to admit Mercedes simply has done a better job (by leaps and bounds). Mercedes has the most powerful, efficient and reliable power plant on the grid and the team has done a remarkable job to solidify their place at the front of the pack.

But does Marko have a valid point? Was it truly the last ten laps which made this the great race which most fans are raving about? I think he might. Firstly, everyone’s definition of a “great” race will be different. Were the first 47 laps “great” or were they “good”?  Has the previous Red Bull domination and recent processional style races desensitised the viewing public where we believe that any action on track is “great”? Or was it well and truly worthy of being considered epic? After the desert sands settle and the bright night lights in Sakhir tick and click as they cool, I find myself in unfamiliar territory agreeing with the Dr. Marko. I also find myself wondering if this is the ultimate contradiction for those who considered this an epic race and yet claiming the sport is full of gimmicks and artificial passing with DRS and ERS etc… Marko’s concern stems from the current formula which he claims is damaging to the sport. Though I believe it might just be because of his team’s inability to adapt to it. As I get on with age, I fail to remember things such as Marko or Di Montezemolo making similar plights of concern when their respective teams were dominating.

The fact remains that Mercedes has not been challenged for the lead nor will it, in the “not so distant” future. Paddy Lowe and Mercedes should be applauded for the radio message given to both drivers which allowed them to both race each other and bring both cars home. The philosophy of allowing the drivers to battle for position may well have been the key ingredient. As Marko suggested however, had the safety car not played a role in the race, we would not have been treated to the wonderful finale. I wonder how many of us might have had a different opinion on the race had neither the safety car nor Lowe’s instructions been factors. In the end we can thank Maldonado for creating the situation which ultimately lead to us discussing the “greatness” of an F1 race.

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