Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg jumped ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton with a great start at the Austrian Grand Prix. Hamilton tried catching up with Rosberg, but Rosberg kept his lead, with no threat of either Mercedes being wiped out by Pastor Maldonado. Seriously, Maldonado, what’s happened with you?

Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, a driver who was once so crashy that he inspired his own personal crash counter as well as numerous fan-made movies of “Maldonaderp,” hasn’t been the cause of an accident in over 98 days. We’re concerned that he may have been brainwashed by Scientologists, replaced with a robot, or perhaps learned how to behave himself and only take appropriate risks.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson came the closest to carrying on Maldonado’s grand tradition of borking something unnecessarily, as he jumped the start and was forced to serve a drive-through penalty during the race.

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The Austrian Grand Prix also started off with a bang, with a collision between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen being entirely unaffected by Maldonado’s presence. This early safety car alleviated many teams’ worries about the need to conserve fuel later in the race, yet somehow, this ability to burn fuel faster later in the race didn’t provoke Maldonado to drive at twelve-tenths to far exceed his level of talent later in the race.

Regardless, several cars came in for repairs and retirements shortly afterwards, despite being completely unaffected by Maldonado’s presence on track. Daniil Kvyat replaced his nose after an early scrap with a car that was not Maldonado. Will Stevens retired shortly thereafter, followed by Jenson Button. Both of which retired after running poorly due to issues which in no way, shape or form were Maldonado’s fault.

Later, the wrong Lotus of Romain Grosjean had a clash with Carlos Sainz. As you can see, both cars narrowly avoided the certain disaster that would have happened had Pastor Maldonado appeared out of thin air to spin out into them as they touched tires.

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Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas was working his way through the midfield like a madman, artfully avoiding any conflict with Pastor Maldonado whatsoever.

Ericsson’s string of Maldonado-like luck continued when his Sauber nearly slowed to a halt on the main straight, but in a stroke of good fortune, the car fired right back up and he avoided a very Maldonado-of-2015-style fate. Miraculously, Maldonado did not hit Ericsson’s slowed car, either. Ericsson was able to get his Sauber back up to speed without ever being derpishly rammed from behind from a Maldonado who wasn’t paying enough attention.

It was Carlos Sainz, not Pastor Maldonado, who then received a penalty for speeding in pit lane before having to retire with a dead Toro Rosso. Pastor Maldonado doesn’t even have to be anywhere near the Renault engines this year for them to be a recurring problem. They’re too good at failing on their own. (Renault Engine Death Watch Update: No, neither Red Bull nor Toro Rosso have found a new engine supplier yet.)

Lewis Hamilton channeled his inner Maldonado when he accidentally crossed the white line at pit exit. As the white line separates slower traffic coming onto the track from cars running at speed, Lewis got a five-second penalty. Maldonado was nowhere to be found near Lewis’ moment of derp, but rather, was quietly lapping away in the race.

Vettel experienced his own bout of misery, no thanks to Maldonado. It was a stuck wheel, not contact with an out of control Lotus, that cost him a podium finish. Massa was able to slip past Vettel for third place, behind the processional of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton out in front. Vettel tried to make up time at the end with some ludicrously fast laps, but could not get back around Massa.

Finally, tragedy struck Lotus, but not the Lotus we’d expect this season. Romain Grosjean pulled into the pits to retire, with no indication that his teammate had anything to do with his retirement.

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Pastor got an opportunity to shine in his usual way when he came upon Daniel Ricciardo in eighth place on lap 50. Ricciardo hadn’t stopped yet and was on older tires, further increasing his odds of continuing Maldonado’s streak of terrible luck this year due to his own lack of grip. Miraculously, both drivers held it together, avoiding any semblance of a collision or a spin. Maldonado made the pass in turn two on lap 51, and Ricciardo came in for fresh tires on the next lap.

With two laps to go, Maldonado got one more chance to prove that he hasn’t been secretly replaced with an alien life form that was capable of performing a clean overtake, and failed miserably. Maldonado pulled off this incredible pass of Max Verstappen to claim seventh place, getting a little loose upon pulling out of Verstappen’s slip-stream but ultimately holding it together.

This spark-laden overtake wasn’t the tidiest affair, but it demonstrated loads more car control than our favorite Venezuelan crash machine is usually known for.

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Verstappen, not Maldonado, then flew into the run-off area outside turn 1. Maldonado went ahead to claim his first consecutive points finish since 2012 with a seventh place finish, impressing everyone with his restraint and control throughout the Austrian Grand Prix.

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Who are you, mystery driver, and what have you done with our Maldonado?!

(Whatever’s afoot, be it a clandestine seat swap with Carmen Jordá or a simple change in heart, I welcome our new safer, in-control overlords. Don’t crash at the mid-season test and we’ll see triple digits on that crash counter.)

Photo credit: Getty Images


Contact the author at stef.schrader@jalopnik.com.

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