Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez Crash: Were Stewards Right to Punish Mexican?

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2014

Associated Press

When a group of cars is separated by less than a second for an extended period of time—as Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa were in the latter stages of Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix—a collision is almost inevitable in modern Formula One. 

Perhaps it is because the safety standards of the sport are so high nowadays and therefore encourage drivers to take greater risks, placing their cars in positions that would have been unthinkable in previous eras.

Perhaps it is due to the psyche of the modern F1 driver: his aggression, his recklessness, his clumsiness.

Whatever it is down to, you just knew whilst watching Perez, Ricciardo, Vettel and Massa fight for the same piece of asphalt that at least one of those drivers would make some sort of mistake and that at least one of those drivers would not make the chequered flag.

In the event, it was Perez and Massa—the most likely pairing of that particular train of drivers to have an accident—who ended up in the wall on the very final lap of the race.

The incident itself, which saw both cars plough into the tyre wall after the front wing of Massa's Williams made contact with the rear-left tyre of Perez's Force India on the pit straight, was among the most violent crashes in recent history. 

Sky Sports' James Galloway and William Esler described how Ted Kravitz revealed the true scale of the accident, claiming that Massa experienced "a force of 27G" when the Brazilian's car slammed to a halt in the wall.

And Massa was convinced the blame lay at the feet of Perez, with the Williams driver quoted by ESPN F1 as stating:

I talked to him from the hospital to the track. I was so disappointed with him. He needs to learn and I wanted him to be in my position, because I had a huge crash and I wanted him to be on my page to see if he learns.

It's not the first time he turned on someone under braking. It's not the first time, he's done it many times. He said nothing, he just turned and he laughed.

Honestly, I thought it was going to hurt. The impact was very strong so I'm really happy that nothing happened.

The FIA stewards agreed with Massa and handed Perez a five-place grid penalty for the next round in Austria, citing Perez's change of line as the reason behind their decision.

Yet Massa, having being cleared of any blame after initially appearing to plunge into the rear of Perez, called for a stronger sanction, adding to ESPN F1:

They [the FIA] have rules for every accident and the positions, I don't know how it works. But for me it's not enough. What can I say? We were doing 300 km/h, and if you do that on 300 km/h and you have another car in front it could be a very serious accident. It's dangerous, you know. For me five places is not enough, but he was dangerous because Vettel was in front, so it could have been worse.

I had the DRS and I managed to put the car on the inside, he had no tyres left and I was going to brake on his inside and pass him easy. I think it was not a risk, I think it was an opportunity after Sebastian had passed him. Ricciardo took the risk to pass him [at the same corner] and he won the race, so it was not anything crazy. I just put it up the inside and if he braked later than me that would have been fine and I'd have stayed behind.

Perez's decision to move over on Massa, as highlighted by the video below, was the latest in a string of incidents that have involved the Mexican edging towards or making contact with his rivals at high speed.

Like a footballer with an unsavoury habit of diving to the floor after the slightest of touches from an opposition player, Perez the driver has gathered a reputation among his competitors for being unnecessarily and sometimes dangerously robust in both defence and attack.

Perez's over-excitement in the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix saw him make contact with then-McLaren teammate Jenson Button on two separate occasions, which led to the 2009 world champion calling for the team to reprimand the Mexican via team radio.

Just two grands prix later in Monaco, the Mexican's punchy overtaking attempts led to world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen ganging up on Perez, with the Finn being quoted by Andrew Benson of BBC Sport as stating "someone should punch him in the face."

And in last year's Belgian Grand Prix, Perez was given a drive-through penalty for needlessly forcing Romain Grosjean off track, below, whilst passing the Lotus driver into Les Combes. 

Given Perez's previous indiscretions, there is an argument to be made that the stewards were not only right to hand the Mexican a penalty but should perhaps have enforced a far more meaningful punishment.

Perez, after all, has had to contend with accusations of arrogance since he graduated to Formula One with Sauber in 2011.

In the immediate aftermath of Perez's release by McLaren at the end of 2013, Jo Ramirez, formerly the manager of McLaren and an ex-advisor of Perez, was quoted by Motorsport.com as telling Mexican newspaper Cancha that the driver's attitude had prevented him from fulfilling his potential, with Brazilian journalist Livio Oricchio echoing Ramirez's claims.

With those critics, the scenario of Perez—who is, in 2014, competing for his third different team in four years—turning away from Massa and laughing as the experienced Brazilian gave the 24-year-old a piece of his mind was very sadly believable.

That lack of willingness to respect and learn from an older colleague played a role in McLaren's decision to shred Perez's contract only one season into a three-year deal last November.

And the Mexican's decision to laugh at the fury of Massa, a man who knows the dangerous side of Formula One more than any other driver on the current grid, displayed a disappointing disregard for the safety of his fellow professionals.

Perhaps a race ban—forcing him to watch someone else drive his car—will knock the sense into Perez that a high-speed crash into the wall clearly did not.