Photo: Alastair Staley/GP2 Series Media Service
Johnny Cecotto has been suspended and will miss the GP2 sprint race in Monaco as punishment for causing a pile-up at the start of the feature race.
Starting from pole position, Cecotto was beaten off the line by Arden team-mate Mitch Evans and then out-braked himself while battling with Fabio Leimer for second. This triggered a pile-up behind, which took a number of drivers out of the race and caused a red flag.
Cecotto will now sit out the sprint race after “stewards judged that he failed to negotiate turn 1 and caused a collision”. He would have been due to start 18th.
Cecotto has been on the receiving end of heavy criticism for his driving on two previous occasions this season. In Malaysia he ran Sam Bird off the track in qualifying after being held up, being excluded from the session, while in Barcelona he swerved across on Sergio Canamasas while defending his position, but escaped a penalty.
Given Cecotto’s previous two incidents this year saw people call for race bans, it’s hard to imagine anyone complaining that he has to sit out the sprint race. And yet, some feel it is harsh that he has been penalised for what they are calling a ‘simple mistake’.
Granted, unlike in Malaysia and Barcelona, there was clearly no malicious intent from Cecotto this time around. But there is a middle ground between an innocent error and something intentional, and that is dangerous driving.
The tight confines at Sainte Devote make the start in Monaco by the most difficult on the calendar. It requires drivers to be cautious and not do anything overambitious, and to make sure they avoid contact in order to get up the hill towards Massenet.
But Cecotto was not cautious. Obviously frustrated that he threw away the superb qualifying effort that gave him pole position with a bad start that dropped him behind his rookie team-mate, Cecotto was determined to get into the corner before Leimer. Given he had the inside line and a significant overlap, he probably could have managed to hold on to second anyway. But on cold brakes and cold tyres he clearly braked far too late. It wasn’t even a slight error – he hit the barriers straight-on, didn’t just run wide.
At a circuit that offers space to push the limits, braking late at the first corner would be acceptable. But it shouldn’t be in Monaco, where any mistake can cause a serious accident. Cecotto’s misjudgement caused a significant collision and was deserving of a penalty.
A great frustration of the way penalties are handed down in GP2 is the fact that someone who failed to finish the feature race – and will therefore start from towards the rear of the sprint race – can be handed a grid penalty that carries very little in the way of punishment. One way of improving this is to just stop the driver from starting the sprint race at all.
Cecotto will have to watch from the sidelines a race in which he would have struggled to have an impact on from the rear of the grid anyway, so it is not really that much of a loss for him. He could have been given a penalty for Silverstone or banned from that whole meeting.
Hopefully this ban, together with the public criticism, will be enough for him to realise he needs to rein in the aggressiveness. But a harsher penalty might still be necessary.