Pastor Maldonado tones down claims of sabotage after a poor qualifying display
Williams say driver failed to get tyres into the right operating window
By Mike Wise at the Circuit of The Americas. Last Updated: 18/11/13 4:30pm
Pastor Maldonado: Says his car had never felt that bad before
Two hours after accusing Williams of deliberately sabotaging his car in qualifying for the U.S. GP, it was a calmer Pastor Maldonado who faced the media in the Austin paddock. But only just.
Maldonado was earlier to be found spitting feathers having been knocked out of Q1 at the Circuit of The Americas, insisting to Sky Sports F1 that "somebody is playing with the pressures and the temperatures" of his car's tyres.
It was an unprecedented outburst from the Venezuelan and one that, it's reasonable to assume, had something to do with the sharply contrasting turn of pace shown by Valtteri Bottas.
While Bottas went fastest of all in Q1 and eventually qualified ninth, Maldonado languishes down in 18th place on the grid, 1.5s off his team-mate's pace. The team later put the difference between the two down to the Finn's ability to put his car's tyres in the right operating window.
It has already been announced that Maldonado is leaving the Grove team at the end of the season. But in a week that has seen the relationship between driver and team become increasingly frayed, the 28-year-old's conspiracy talk represented a new low.
"I drove for three years in the team and I never feel something like that," Maldonado insisted later on Saturday. "The car is nowhere, the car is undriveable and it's very clear on the on-boards and the data where and when I'm suffering on the track.
"The car was turning more to one side than the other."
Yes, but was it done deliberately?
"Maybe, maybe not, but I never feel something like that. I know very well how the car is; even from the beginning of the season it was quite tough for us but I never feel something like that.
"For sure, there is something quite big in the tyres - just because I've been doing this job for 20 years now and I know very well how the car is when the tyres are in the range.
"I've been super-quick in qualifying last year, always at the top, and I always achieved good temperatures and good pressures."
Maldonado might, to say the least, have been vexed by his performance but Chief Engineer Xevi Pujolar reckons the performance target Williams' drivers must aim for with their tyres is a particularly small one.
"The compounds are quite hard and the [track] temperatures are quite low and it's quite difficult to be in the right operating window of the tyres," he explained.
"We just managed to be there with Valtteri and struggled a bit more with Pastor."
Probably not helping Maldonado's cause either was the fact that he was impeded twice during the session, first by Esteban Gutierrez and then by Max Chilton.
"Here, everything is about the tyres and depending on how everything is happening on the out lap and happening on the run, it can go very well or you lose it because the grip is so low," Pujolar said.
"You only have to lose a bit of confidence and it looks much worse than it actually is. It's nothing else than that."
Pujolar added that Maldonado's outburst was in the heat of the moment. "I imagine," he replied, "especially because he's someone who's very good with the tyres normally. Last year, he showed that he was very good in getting that performance in qualifying with the tyres.
"Today it didn't go his way and I imagine he was a bit upset. We were upset as well because we wanted to have both cars there."