Formula 1 News

The Pressure Gauge: Malaysia Grand Prix

Maldonado and Grosjean may be on shaky ground in 2013 – Hamilton and Massa breathe easy after impressive starts.
Thursday, March 21, 2013

March 21st, 2013 (F1plus/J. Polychronis).- The Pressure Gauge is a segment conducted before every race weekend of 2013. It is designed to predominately assess the big name drivers in F1 and how their pressure mounts or diffuses, depending on their situation.

This time around, ahead of the Grand Prix of Malaysia, we have interesting readings. It's still early in the season, but those that needed to perfom and show a good form, have more pressure on them as a result of a poor performance in Albert Park. On the other hand, heat over the shoulders of people like Lewis Hamilton went somewhat cold after his good day last Sunday. 

The Pressure Gauge readings are: Ice Cold, Low, Medium, High and Extreme

Pastor Maldonado: Extreme

Pastor Maldonado experienced what was certainly a weekend to forget in Australia. After not carrying much promise during practice sessions, Maldonado succumbed to 17th position in qualifying. Sunday’s race allowed no relief from the Venezuelan’s miserable weekend, ending in the turn 1 gravel trap after a driver error.

Maldonado’s driving ability was heavily scrutinised last year for the amount of racing errors he made. It is safe to say that his 2013 season has started in a similar fashion, after he carelessly sunk his tyre into the grass under braking, causing his Williams to violently spin off the track. Maldonado wholly placed the blame on the car, saying after his retirement;

“It was so difficult, even to stay on the track. [I was] fighting with the car.”

While there is certainly some truth to this, considering the Williams package failed to meet anyone’s expectations, it is unlikely it was so horrific that four wheels could not remain on the track. Valtteri Bottas steered his FW35 to the finish line after all, albeit in 14th place.

No matter how poor Maldonado’s performances have been in the past, his seat has always remained safe considering his financial sponsor, PDVSA. Since the passing of the country’s president, Hugo Chavez, Maldonado is now unsure of the state-owned oil company’s financial backing. Should Maldonado require retaining his seat solely on merit, his performance will need to increase dramatically. 

Felipe Massa: Medium

Felipe Massa has been the first to admit to an increase in pressure for the 2013 season. Speaking to before the Australian Grand Prix, Massa said:

“Yeah, I think so (that the expectations are higher) When you put things in the right direction, for sure the expectation is higher over yourself.”

The added pressure on Massa comes from two sources: Firstly, the increase in personal performance. Massa was impressive in Melbourne, setting competitive times during practice sessions, out-qualifying Alonso and then going on to finish a solid 4th in Sunday’s race. Secondly, the improvement of car development compared to 2012. After experiencing the F138 for the first time under competitive circumstances, Massa was pleased with the improvement.

“Definitely [the car is more developed than last year]. I’m not comparing with the cars at the front like Red Bull for example. I’m comparing with the cars behind like Force India, Williams, and Mercedes. I think if you compare the last three races we were starting some behind Force India, some behind Williams. The difference between us and these teams in qualifying, for example, is quite good. So I think this shows that we stepped forward to last year.”

Although Massa is in a far more competitive position to last year, Ferrari typically has a culture of heavily favouring one driver. Therefore, pressure on Massa cannot be seen as overwhelmingly high.

Lewis Hamilton: Low

Lewis Hamilton was in fine form in Australia, exceeding expectations by qualifying 3rd and then going on to finish the race in 5th. Hamilton explained how pleasing the result was for the team, while speaking to media inside the FIA pen after the race:

“Absolutely [I’m satisfied]. It’s been a good race. It was a big step for us, we obviously didn’t expect to be as high as we are.”

Despite being a world champion, in 2013, Hamilton is not driving a championship winning car. Therefore we can expect Hamilton to find himself in an Alonso-esque situation. This is of course where the car needs to improve to meet the expectations of the driver, instead of the driver requiring meeting the potential of the car.

2013 is still very much a development year for Mercedes GP, however, with the vast wealth of funds available to the team, next year could be a different story. Hamilton is a world champion, and at 28, he is still very much at the top of his game. All that is required from the Briton this year is to continue aiding car development. He can expect the team to be built around him. This is, of course based around the common assumption that he will out-perform his German team mate, Nico Rosberg. Rosberg does have a point to prove so perhaps we shouldn’t speak so soon. 

Romain Grosjean: High

Some may suggest that Romain Grosjean’s worst fear was realised on Sunday: His car has potential.

This statement may initially seem somewhat contradictory, however, if Grosjean is piloting a car that is capable of winning a race, then this means one thing: Grosjean needs to win a race. Arguably, this is just something that he is incapable of doing.

Like Maldonado, Grosjean was heavily subjected to criticism due to racing errors in 2012. His errors were often far more recognisable though. Who could forget the Grosjean-instigated multi-car pile-up at La Source in Spa? A comedy of first lap errors from the Frenchman in 2012, earned him the label of a “first-lap nutcase” by his colleague, Mark Webber.

After his woeful performances in 2012, Grosjean is hard to envisage as a Grand Prix winner. Especially considering his team-mate has now fully engulfed Grosjean in his shadow after the Australian Grand Prix. Grosjean finished an under-whelming 10th, while Kimi Raikkonen claimed the maximum. Should the E21 continue to be competitive, and should Raikkonen continue to claim victories, Lotus may become impatient with Grosjean and seek a more competitive partner for the Finn.

This of course depends on finances though, as Grosjean has links with French oil company, Total. Such is the financial demands of the sport, that sometimes quality is sacrificed for money. 

Previous Pressure Gauge Readings:

  • Mark Webber: Low
  • Sergio Perez: High
  • Fernando Alsono: Medium
  • Nico Rosberg: High  

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