Does Jolyon Palmer Deserve the Criticism he gets?

The pressure on the shoulders of any athlete in the spotlight must be immense. Bagging a silly amount of money for competing in the higher echelons of sport usually makes the athlete an easy target for scrutiny and unyielding judgement from fans, is this level of criticism justified?

Palmer’s accident with Romain Grosjean at the Russian Grand Prix was an unfortunate racing incident, but Palmer had another difficult weekend overall, with little running in FP3 and 17 less laps that Nico Hulkenberg in FP2 – Arguably the most important Practice session of the race weekend.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Daniil Kvyat of Russia driving the (26) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 leads Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari and Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia on April 30, 2017 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA – APRIL 30: Daniil Kvyat of Russia driving the (26) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 leads Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari and Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia on April 30, 2017 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

It’s worth bearing in mind that it isn’t uncommon for discontinuity to exist in the resources  a team distributes to its driver line-up either. The record and reputation that Nico Hulkenberg brings to the team justifies this, and his performances so far have meant that the works team have some championship points in the bag.

After four races in 2017, Jolyon Palmer has had a nightmare start. Is it due to bad luck on the attrition front, or has he not been delivering as a driver?

His weekend in Melbourne highlighted the fine margins in Formula 1, and how one mistake can write off an entire weekend. His crash in FP2 was his own doing, a costly mistake on entry to the final corner. He completed less running than any other driver, and something was amiss on the rebuild of his damaged RS17. The direction on set-up following the crash didn’t help either, his Qualifying lap was seven-tenths slower than what he’d managed on the shake-down laps at the start of FP2.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 24: Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

That sort of drop off in performance is definitely down to the disrupted balance of the rebuild following the crash, but Palmer did make the mistake in the first place.

In China, the practice running was disrupted due to severe weather until FP3. Palmer had some surprising pace in this session, clocking a time that put him into 9th, and finishing the session quicker than Hulkenberg, who ended up 11th. It set up an optimistic qualifying session for the Brit, but this time, poor luck rather than personal errors cost Palmer and other drivers a shot at a good qualifying result.

When stand-in driver Antonio Giovonazzi put his Sauber into the wall at the end of Q1, Palmer, Ocon and Grosjean were on much quicker laps, but had to abandon them due to the double-yellow flags in the final sector.

F1 Winter Testing In Barcelona - Day Three

Palmer and Grosjean were later given a grid penalty for failing to slow down sufficiently in the double-yellow area. This doesn’t show that Palmer was going flat out, merely that he didn’t slow sufficiently enough. His race showed character though, despite starting from the back, he finished 13th just behind Nico Hulkenberg.

For Bahrain, Palmer had his smoothest Friday of the season so far, with a lot of running and lap times that put him firmly in midfield, although Hulkenberg was doing a better job, getting as high as 6th in FP2, half-a-second off the leading Ferrari of Vettel. In FP3, the wheels of momentum fell off of his weekend, after MGU-K problems earlier in the day and some bad decisions on setup. Palmer said,

“I made some changes for the supersoft and the car was an absolute nightmare [in FP3] – I was 20th and the car was all over the place and then Nico has just been on a really steady but really quick weekend so we tried to see what they were doing a little bit on the other side of the garage and it certainly helped.”

– Jolyon Palmer

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - APRIL 15: Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during final practice for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 15, 2017 in Bahrain, Bahrain.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN – APRIL 15: Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 on track during final practice for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 15, 2017 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

In qualifying, Palmer put in a strong performance and got into Q3 for the first time in his F1 career. With both Renault’s in Q3, the team looked like they would be on for a good points haul. Hulkenberg was able to convert the performance over a single lap into 9th place and two-points. Palmer’s race was a below-par performance, after the race he said,

“It was a tough race; I had a good fight with Alonso and Kvyat after the safety car bunched everyone up, but the couple of touches with Kvyat didn’t help things.

I didn’t really have the pace to get further after that and the degradation seemed to be more for us than the cars around.”

– Jolyon Palmer

Another weekend passed and Palmer was yet to have an incident-free weekend. The same can be said for Sochi, in which the contact at the first corner has again put Palmer into the spotlight despite it being a sloppy incident involving several drivers.

JPhaas

Many question whether Palmer has a right to be in Formula 1, with some critical of the fact that his father, Jonathan Palmer, has financially assisted his son’s progress in the lower Formula, where Jolyon eventually found success on his own merit.

There are a lot of very wealthy people around Motorsport, but it isn’t a majority who invest back into grassroots racing. It’s worth noting that Jonathan Palmer does this with MSV, maintaining circuits that may not have been maintained and investing in championships that give younger drivers the platform to grow. Tracks like Donington Park, Snetterton, Brands Hatch and Oulton Park, tracks that are hidden from the global following of F1, but are a big part of British Motorsport and host many events. It’s too easy to label Palmer as a “pay” driver because of the fortunate background he has, but you don’t win the GP2 title driving around in a wallet either.

April 16th 2017, Derby, England; British Touring Car Championship, Donington Park; The spray into the first corner  (Photo by Tim Williams/Action Plus via Getty Images)
April 16th 2017, Derby, England; British Touring Car Championship, Donington Park; The spray into the first corner (Photo by Tim Williams/Action Plus via Getty Images)

We’re going to reserve our judgement on Jolyon Palmer until he has a complete, hassle-free weekend in 2017. It hasn’t happened yet, so our “Maldonado seal of Approval” will have to wait until then. Renault head to Barcelona with ground to make up in the midfield. Getting consistency between both cars will boost their chances of catching Toro Rosso in the standings.