It was interesting to speak to a few of the drivers privately after the race in Belgium and to hear that some of them welcomed the stewards’ tough stance on Romain Grosjean, banning him from the next race in Monza. One or two said that the ban should have been longer.
Clearly there is a problem here with two drivers in particular: Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado. Their fellow drivers are upset with their repeated incidents involving other drivers and don’t feel safe racing against them.
Grosjean has been involved in incidents at the start in Australia, Malaysia and Monaco among seven in total and, like Maldonado, has clearly been punished by the stewards this weekend as a way of making them take a long hard look.
A racer’s instinct is one thing, but it’s costing their teams valuable points and is a concern for other drivers.
Maldonado was handed a five place grid penalty at the next race in Monza for jumping the start today and another 5 place penalty for causing an accident with Glock at the restart. This was on top of a three place grid penalty yesterday for blocking Hulkenberg. He has had quite a few run-ins with other drivers, particularly Lewis Hamilton.
An hour or so before the stewards’ decision was announced, Fernando Alonso was asked whether he felt that the stewards should take some decisive action with Grosjean. Alonso was almost taken out by the Frenchman at the start in Monaco and was taken out by him today. He said,
“It may be a good opportunity. It’s true that we saw some repeat accidents for the same people and maybe a different approach from the Federation can be the solution. But it’s not easy; all the incidents are different. F1 with the speed, with the time, the distance, it’s difficult to combine these three elements and sometimes something that looks spectacular on TV is not so easy to avoid in reality.
“(At the start) The first thing was Maldonado; it was still the red lights and he was already P3 or P2, ” said Alonso before turning attention to Grosjean.
“I’m not angry,” he said of being knocked out of the race. “No-one does this on purpose. I think they were fighting and they are two aggressive drivers on the starts, Lewis and Romain and this time it was us in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It’s true also that in 12 races he (Grosjean) had seven crashes at the start…
“The drivers need to have common sense, to have respect for the others.”
Ironically the driver steward in Spa was Eliseo Salazar, the Chilean driver who caused an accident with Nelson Piquet in Germany in 1982, which led to Piquet attacking him in the famous “punch-up” incident.
A further irony is that the last time Grosjean raced an F1 car at Spa in 2009, he crashed into Jenson Button on the opening lap, eliminating the then championship leader!
Lotus can replace Grosjean for Monza and Eric Boullier has indicated that the likely replacement will be Jerome D’Ambrosio, the reserve driver. A decision will need to be made quickly to allow time for the replacement to get up to speed in the simulator.
Grosjean was apologetic about triggering the accident at the start, when he swerved across the road towards Lewis Hamilton, giving him nowhere to go and causing a four car pile up which also eliminated Sergio Perez and Alonso.
“I did a mistake and I misjudged the gap with Lewis,” said Grosjean. “I was sure I was in front of him. So a small mistake made a big incident. I didn’t change my line, I went from left to right. I was not really wanting to put anyone in the wall – I’m not here to stop the race in the first corner. I’m very, very sorry and I’m glad that nobody is hurt.
“But I have to say it is a very, very hard decision to hear.”
Eric Boullier, the Lotus team boss defended his driver, once again,
“He was not responsible for seven incidents. He was involved in seven incidents, which is different,” said Boullier. “But obviously being in the wrong place is not good; and that means we have to keep working and talking, which is more talking I think, about the reason why he is in the wrong place. He will learn even more if he does not put too much pressure on himself at the start of the race.”
Meanwhile Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali believes that the FIA should be tougher on drivers in the junior categories so they have more respect when they reach F1. Many in F1 noticed the number of accidents this weekend in GP2 and GP3; there is a kind of desperation about many of these young drivers who know that their chances of progressing into F1 in this economic climate are virtually non-existent and who are so desperate to catch the eye and impress and to get results.
“I can only say that the judgement falls to the FIA,” said Domenicali. “What is certain is that, it would be better if, starting with the junior formulae, rules relating to on-track behaviour were enforced in an inflexible manner, so as to have drivers as well prepared as possible when they reach this, the highest level of motor sport.”