He might be known more for accidents than for his good on-track results, the Formula 1 fans might have nicknamed and parodied him more than any other driver but Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado doesn’t appear to be bothered by any of these. He is either a very good actor or he just has a strong self-esteem.
His reputation didn’t come out of nowhere. A junior career littered with victories and accidents meant he already had something of a tag. If we look back at his move on Lewis Hamilton at the 2012 European Grand Prix, or his collision with Esteban Gutierrez in Bahrain last year it’s easy to understand the criticism. The Lotus driver knows very well the incidents where he was at fault or where he pushed the boundaries a bit too far, but even his biggest detractor has to admit that sometimes the Venezuelan only found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, this is also the driver who soaked up pressure from Fernando Alonso to win a race.
Maldonado has collected six penalties so far this season yet through all of the sideways snipes, just one sanction has been handed for a collision. One. So has Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. And both of them are World Champions.
It’s a matter which had to be brought up when chatting with Maldonado, even though he’s probably spent hours answering questions on this matter and knew his speech very well; “I’m not having more incidents than the other drivers,” was Maldonado’s initial reaction during an interview with F1Zone.net.
Prejudice or not, the subject doesn’t make him nervous. He believes in his approach and always finds something positive to rely on. “I think the prejudice is even pushing me on. But this is something that doesn’t affect me because my team is happy with me. I’m always trying to do my best, always trying to gain places, fight for better positions. This is a competition not an endurance race. I’m not here only to start and finish the race.
“Most of the drivers here are very quick but they don’t risk. This is a sport where you need to risk sometimes. Maybe in my early career I risked too much but with the years I’ve become more experienced.”
“Hamilton was the same in the beginning of his career. [Fernando] Alonso was the same. It’s part of our knowledge and we need to pass through this. Formula 1 is completely different to any other championships. In GP2 you need to explore your potential immediately just to show your talent. Here, no. Sometimes you are more aggressive, sometimes you don’t need to race because it will look like you’re taking stupid risks and sometimes when you don’t race you also look stupid. So it all depends on the situation, on the team strategy, targets.”
The Venezuelan also points that the criticism doesn’t have any impact on his relationship with Lotus, which he joined ahead of the 2014 season, having spent the first three years of his Formula 1 career with Williams. They discuss all the details from a race or a specific incident and everything is done in order to learn from it and not to point fingers. It’s maybe his ‘fighter’ attitude that brings him into trouble most of the times: “I like to gain places on the track, I like challenges. When I have a challenge in front of me, I go for it.”
“After a race we review all the scenes and we try to improve if we make a mistake, not only from my side but also from the team’s side. When we are on the track we are all together. If we miss, we miss all together. It’s not an individual sport. You see only one person driving the car but behind that driver there are thousands of people working very hard.”
The reality behind numbers
Maldonado has finished just four of the 10 races this season. With six retirements to date it wouldn’t normally be called a good first half of a campaign. But in his case it can be as he has already scored more points (12) than three of his previous seasons combined (4 points across 2011, 2013 and 2014). It is, statistically, his best season after 2012, when he finished in the points on five occasions, including that famous win in Spain.
“As a driver you always want more. In the previous years we were not in the points just because the car was not good enough.”
“This year we have a good car but unfortunately we are having all the problems together. This is part of Formula 1, we know, it’s part of the competition. I think I’ve been quite strong to stand above the problems. I work together with the team to try to improve our performance, to improve our mistakes. I did some good races and I’m ready to keep fighting until the end of the season.”
It is rarely easy for any driver to retain motivation when going from one retirement to another, especially when they were not at fault. Despite being so hard, the Venezuelan admits he likes it when results aren’t coming easily.
“That’s why we are Formula 1 drivers, because we can manage the situations and fight against the problems, the other drivers and teams. It’s not easy to be a Formula 1 driver but it’s something that I really love. It’s a real challenge against yourself, always trying to improve, to get better and better.”
“Maybe tough times put pressure on me to deliver my best, not only on the track, also off the track, to help my team so we can get better and better. To give them confidence and gain their trust. It’s never easy to have tough time but is part of life. For sure I want to have a Mercedes car and win all the races but we don’t have that car. We need to race with what we have and do our best every time.”
Let the game resume!
Formula 1 will return to action next weekend at Spa Francorchamps, following the sport’s summer break. Maldonado sits in 14th position in the Drivers’ championship, while his team-mate Romain Grosjean is 10th.
Even if his first half of the season wasn’t as good as he hoped it will be, Maldonado doesn’t plan to make any change for the second part of the championship: “I will approach it the same: trying to be more often in the points, to prepare the races very good. I think we have good potential to fight for points each race until the end of the season.”
“It doesn’t depend only on me. You must have a bit of luck as well to not have any problems, the team needs to do their best to solve the reliability problem, I will do my best not to make any mistakes and to push very hard. Everything must come together. The level around us from other teams is very high, very close so we will try our best to try to beat them.”
The upcoming Belgian Grand Prix will present a new challenge to drivers due to the starting procedure modifications, which places more control in their hands, rather than on instruction from the pit wall. “It’s not harder than now,” Maldonado says. “But the car not being designed to do this, it’s not fair to change the rules during the season. In my opinion it can be dangerous because we don’t have any experience on it. But it’s the same for everyone so we need to accept that, work around and try to get used with it.”