Pastor Maldonado’s victory in yesterday’s Spanish Grand Prix as well as strong showings from Grosjean in the last two races and from Sergio Perez in Malaysia is highighting an important point about F1 and the relative state of the drivers.
Do we often not give enough credit to the drivers in midfield cars?
For years F1 races have been won by an elite of drivers from top teams with perhaps only 7 drivers managing to visit the F1 podium in the course of an entire season. In five races this season, we’ve already had 9 drivers on the podium and five different winners.
But this year with the performance of a number of cars so close and with the way the Pirelli tyres work, it is offering an opportunity for more drivers to shine.
Traditionally when drivers arrive in F1 they have usually won races and championships in junior categories, but then they find that in midfield teams they struggle to shine. Fans dismiss them because they aren’t able to fully evaluate what they are able to do, as they are lost in the soup of midfield.
However in 2012 we’ve seen some stunning drives from the likes of Perez and particularly Maldonado yesterday, which makes everyone realise that success has been more about opportunity and car pace rather than elite driver ability. Of course the cream rises to the top and the leading drivers are in top teams with big salaries for a reason. They become the elite because of the consistently high peaks of performance from Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and other top stars.
They have always won because their teams build them fast cars, get them set up to maximise the tyres and then take advantage of the car pace to get the strategy right. That has always been the way of F1.
But the positive thing about the racing this year is that it shows that given a chance with a car which can use the tyres well, a wider range of drivers can shine.
It was a similar story in 2009 when Jenson Button showed that his poor results with Honda were to do with the car, not him and that he was capable of winning a championship.
Perez and Maldonado were dismissed as ‘pay drivers’ because they have strong sponsor backing from their home countries. But after Malaysia everyone was talking about Perez getting a Ferrari seat and Maldonado impressed even the most hardened F1 insider yesterday. Others like Di Resta and Kobayashi are surely capable of doing the same, given the opportunity.
The championship will be won by one of the elite, but it’s refreshing for the drivers deeper down the field to show that they should not be underestimated.
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