Has Simona Gotten Spooked?
One of those nasty little whispers going around the blogosphere is speculation that Simona de Silvestro has gotten spooked. Many readers here and countless other places have wondered aloud if her frightening crash at Indianapolis has gotten to her. It’s a fair point, given her recent body language and some of her comments.
Last month, for the second time in less than a year, Simona found herself trapped inside of a burning racecar. This time the car was upside down with burning fuel pouring all around her. A month later, her hands are still not healed from the burns they suffered in the incident. It was enough to convince many drivers to never climb into a racecar again – ever.
But as she did after her fiery crash at Texas last year, she somehow managed to put it all behind her. Just a couple of days later, she climbed into her old, heavy backup car that is affectionately known as “Pork Chop” and put it into the Indianapolis 500. Still, she made some comments about wondering if she really wanted to get back into the car. Although they were completely understandable, given the severity of the crash – they still raised a few eyebrows and started people wondering.
Her race at Indianapolis never got going. She brushed the wall in the first few laps and seemed to pit almost every other lap. She and her HVM crew finally called it a day after forty-four laps and settled for a thirty-first place finish. Her interview on ABC showed a rightfully frustrated driver who also looked a little relieved to be off the track.
At Texas, she said all the right things about being glad to be back in the car. But there was something missing in her voice. After being trapped in a burning car at Texas a year ago, she seemed unflappable as she continued to smile throughout her interview and act as if it were no big deal. That night was probably when her popularity soared. She had just been trapped inside a burning car, where the safety crew had difficulty getting her out as the flames grew – yet she treated it like it was nothing more than an annoying hangnail. After watching drivers put themselves on pedestals while blaming their crew for their poor results, Simona de Silvestro was a refreshing change.
Fast-forward to Texas this year, and her demeanor was different. Her spirit seemed dampened and justifiably so. Simona and “Pork Chop” were not a factor at the Texas Twins – finishing twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh respectively. Her crew was overheard telling her to just take care of the car and don’t put it in harms way. Speculation grew that HVM had decided to soldier on through the rest of the season with the 2003 Dallara, rather than buy a newer, lighter version that would be obsolete after October.
From a financial point of view, you can’t blame the struggling team. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to buy a new Dallara for about ten races, and then have to turn around and buy a new chassis for 2012. But try explaining that rationale to a promising racer that had her sights set on a good season.
When the IZOD IndyCar Series arrived in Milwaukee last weekend, Simona de Silvestro and her HVM Racing team were slow. On Friday, she was only twenty-first quickest. On Saturday, things got worse. On her qualifying run, Simona spun in Turn Four, hit the outside wall and then hit the inside retaining wall with no SAFER barrier. To say she was banged up is an understatement. She was removed from the car, placed on a stretcher and was transported to a local hospital where she remained until late Saturday night. Her crew rebuilt the overweight “Pork Chop” without knowing if their driver would even be out of the hospital on Sunday.
Simona did make it to the track on Sunday and did race. But the team made the decision to park the car after only eleven laps. When she climbed out of her car and pulled the sock from her head, her face and body language said it all. This was not the same driver that had shown so much promise a few months ago, when she opened the season with a fourth in St. Petersburg and followed that with a ninth at Barber. Her best finish since then has been two twentieth place finishes at Long Beach and Brazil. This has quickly turned into a nightmarish season for Simona, and it was plainly written all over her face as she sat on the pit wall Sunday.
Her comments afterwards were a little telling, as well. She thought she felt fine on Sunday until it was time to race. Later she explained: "Throughout the day, I thought I was ready to get out there, but it only took a lap or two to realize that I wasn’t.”
So is Simone de Silvestro spooked? Personally, I don’t think so. I think she is physically beaten up. She reportedly broke a rib in Saturday’s crash, required six stitches in her knee and had an extremely sore back. This was on top of the burned hands, which still have not healed. It would be very easy to come out of the hospital and say “We’ll see you in Iowa”, but she gave her best effort, but finally realized the pain was too much to overcome.
My own personal opinion is just that – an opinion. I have nothing to base this on and I could be dead wrong. But I think that Simona has reached a point of frustration with her team. By choosing to stick with the old car, it sends a message that they have already written off the 2011 season, which is not even to the halfway point. She is expected to give her best to drive over the edge and risk even further injury to an already aching body, yet they are not doing all they can do to put her in the best position possible. If I were in her shoes, I would be asking myself why I should be expected to put my life at risk, when the team won’t put their balance sheet at risk?
You can analyze all the bad body language and questionable comments, but what is most telling to me is that the team tells her that her top goal in a race is to take care of the car. That says they are not committed to try and win, they are only committed to showing up at the next race.
There have been some drivers in the past that probably would be OK with that philosophy – but not Simona de Silvestro. She has a proven history of winning. She drove for three years in Atlantics, winning races in her last two seasons and finished third in the overall championship her final season. Before that, she won in Formula BMW and finished fourth in the 2006 championship. She is a gritty driver who has shown talent that outruns her equipment.
So, no – I don’t think Simona has been spooked at all. I think she is growing tired of getting her body banged up in an old, slow car that has no shot at winning. I think she now realizes that her talents are more suited for a team higher up the food chain. I don’t think she is ready for Team Penske, as some fans have suggested – but I think her talents could be a good fit for a team like KV Racing Technology – Lotus or Andretti Autosport, if either team were to have a shakeup in their driver line-up for 2012.
Again, this is just one observer’s opinion. I’m sure someone will correct me in short order if I am way off base. In the meantime, it looks as if we are going to spend the rest of the summer watching an aching Simona continue to struggle in a car that simply can’t get up to speed. I only hope that she’s able to keep it off the walls and can make it through the remainder of the season with her body and mental psyche intact.