Stress in Austin



This was the weekend when underlying stresses between F1 teams and the drivers came to a very public head.

McLaren were under the spotlight with the announcement that Kevin Magnussen was being brought into to replace the dumped Sergio Pérez and the outgoing Williams driver Pastor Maldonado accused the team of not supporting him after his qualifying went wrong.

Lotus third driver Davide Valsecchi spent the entire weekend lurking in the garage behind the newly recruited Heikki Kovalainen looking like he was going to stab him, feeling that he himself had been stabbed in the back for not being given the opportunity to replace Kimi Rӓikkӧnen for the final two races of the season.

McLaren’s decision on Pérez

McLaren’s timing was very odd. The USGP is effectively the Mexican drivers’ home race and the Circuit of the Americas was positioned in Austin to attract as many non-American fans as possible. McLaren had a special range of ‘Checo’ merchandise and according to the driver in Abu Dhabi, signing the contract was a mere formality and everything had been discussed with Martin Whitmarsh.

By the Thursday afternoon in Austin, Pérez was out. He didn’t know the reasons why and hadn’t heard from Whitmarsh.

Young drivers who didn’t work out at McLaren
Jody Scheckter (1972-’73)
Gilles Villeneuve (1977)
Bruno Giacomelli (1977-’78)
Patrick Tambay (1978-’79)
Andrea de Cesaris (1981)
Sergio Pérez (2013)

Martin’s version is slightly different in that apparently he had always kept Pérez up to date with the situation and says he was never under threat from anybody in F1; the only threat was if they decided to use one of their young drivers. There is no doubt that Magnussen is very talented and his signing is not the issue. It’s just been handled in a strange manner and the timing soured what should have been a huge weekend for Checo and the legion of Mexican fans at the track.

As for Whitmarsh, he was the one who backed Pérez and brought him to the team! Not to have spoken to Sergio until almost 48 hours after he was told was not great.

Checo out qualified team-mate Jenson Button for the ninth time this season and finished ahead of him in the race for the sixth time. Not a bad record for a driver in his debut and now only year with McLaren, who in turn is having its worst season since the 1970s after designing a less than decent car. Hopefully it’s not too late for Pérez to get a drive for 2014 as, while he might not be a great, he does deserve his place in Formula 1.

Bottas and Maldonado heading in different directions

Williams is also wallowing in its worst season ever. Valtteri Bottas is the hero though, after scoring his first points of the season and saving a little face for the historic team. He remains with Williams for next year and has Felipe Massa joining him.

According to deputy team principal Claire Williams it was Pastor’s decision not to stay with Williams so why he’s now accusing the team of not supporting him is anybody’s guess. After his outburst on Saturday when he failed to get out of Q1, he apparently addressed his side of the garage and said he didn’t mean them, he meant the team! Maybe it’s a second language mix up but it all sounds very fractious.

Then comes Davide Valsecchi, who came to the Grand Prix this year with Lotus as its third driver, presumably supportive and yet desperate for his big chance to come along should Rӓikkӧnen or Grosjean not be able to race. When that chance arose, Lotus tried for Michael Schumacher and Nico Hülkenberg before settling on Kovalainen.

More on the United States Grand Prix
Race report

Day two report
Day one report


Understandably Valsecchi was aggrieved but there is a bigger problem here. What’s the point of having a third driver if they’re not in a position to race? Valsecchi is a GP2 champion, having beaten several of the drivers who are on the F1 grid week in, week out.

Pedro de la Rosa driving for Sauber in Montreal, 2011

We saw a similar situation in Canada in 2011 when Pérez wasn’t fit to race for Sauber – instead of using Esteban Gutiérrez, who was the third driver at the time they opted to bring in Pedro de la Rosa from McLaren, who had to do FP2 in a McLaren race suit!

Some third drivers don’t even have a super licence. At least they know they won’t get a chance but it’s not easy for those who are waiting for that big break.

Anyway, as we head to Brazil for the final week of school, that is exactly what it feels like. Some people are starting to misbehave, others can’t wait to leave, and others only have a few days left to prove they should be allowed to come back next year. There may be less than a week left but there is still an awful lot to sort out in F1.

Click here to read more from Lee McKenzie

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