The Inside Line #88: A magic bullet, or more of the same?

TILI Logo PrintIf there’s someone who had a worse year than Pastor Maldonado did in 2014, I’d like to meet them – and perhaps buy them a beer to cry into. The facts, for those of you keeping score at home: he left a team that scored five points in 2013 in Williams to move to Lotus, which managed 315 points the same season. In 2014, Lotus scored 10 points – and Williams managed 320. In those two seasons, Maldonado scored three points, finished in the top 10 twice in 38 attempts and caused $233,376,291 worth of damage to his machinery [1]. Yet hope may be just around the corner, or more specifically, underneath his right foot.

It would be simplistic and inaccurate to pin Williams’ resurgence in 2014 solely to its move from Renault engines to Mercedes powerplants as the new V6 turbo hybrid era kicked off, but it was a significant advantage for the team from Grove last year – just as having a Renault engine was a significant impediment to success in 2014. Sure, Red Bull won three races last season, but all three of Daniel Ricciardo’s victories owed something to a Mercedes’ misfortune, and that Red Bull finished second in the constructors’ championship had plenty to do with the aerodynamic brilliance of the RB10 and not a whole lot to the engine powering it. Mercedes – as the works team, Williams and even Force India showed on occasion last year – was clearly the three-pointed star of the season [2].

So what does this all mean for 2015? Will a switch to Mercedes engines be Lotus’ salvation? Can Romain Grosjean be his old cheery self over the team radio rather than ranting about his car this season? Can Maldonado stop hitting things? [3] The early signs are promising – at least Lotus participated in the first test this year and already look far more ready for Australia than the rabble that turned up at Albert Park last March – but there appears little doubt that it’ll be Grosjean leading any comeback should it happen. Contrary to popular belief, Maldonado isn’t a slow driver – the onboard of the lap that saw him qualify second in Singapore in 2012 was awesomely committed and precise in a Williams that had no business being on the front row – but he remains as erratic as when he came into the sport four years ago.

Sometimes in this business, you read something you wish you’d written yourself, and tip your hat to the person that did. Andrew Benson’s description of Maldonado in the 2014 Australian Grand Prix official program – “Maldonado’s day of days, his victory at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, looks increasingly like some kind of miracle, a day all the stars aligned and the 29-year-old was able to be quick, reliable, consistent and error-free; since then, those characteristics have rarely coincided on the same day” [4] – is an apt description of a driver that, because of his financial backing and a CV littered with one incident after another, makes him perhaps the most derided driver of the current generation.

The chances of Lotus returning to the sharp end of the grid with Mercedes power in the back of the E23 are the main focus of Episode 88 of ‘The Inside Line’, while we also hear from Fernando Alonso on how he’ll get along with new teammate Jenson Button, and reflect on Williams’ stunning turnaround in 2014 with the key players inside the team. Probably not something a certain Venezuelan will want to watch.

Check out ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports 5 (9pm AEST Wednesday) and ESPN this week if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching elsewhere.

– — —- —-

[1] I may have made up one of those stats.

[2] See what I did there? Sorry. It won’t be the last time though.

[3] A wild guess? No.

[4] One of the best parts of looking after the editorial in the Australian Grand Prix program – no, not that part – is reading the raw copy of the world’s big-name journos as it’s filed, and wondering how good the sub-editors are at the various outlets they work for. Andrew’s stuff – absolutely top-shelf. One of the best operators in the business.

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