Next in this series of posts is the 28 year-old Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado. Since making his debut in the sport in 2011, Maldonado has developed into a consistent performer and while his early season issues were not a reflection of this, his fortunes have certainly taken a favorable turn in recent races. Williams may be a team suffering from an insufficient and ineffective development programme in 2013, but both Pastor and Valtteri are certainly performing admirably. Here’s the review of Pastor’s season so far.
Maldonado has been a victim of the “Pay Driver” stereotype since his arrival on the F1 scene. Undoubtedly, his multi-million pound sponsorship connection with the Venezuelan government, through the state-owned PDVSA oil company has been the catalyst for his rise through the ranks. While diminishing this assumption that Pastor has simply bought his seat in F1 would have been a fundamental goal for him this season, the car has not allowed him to comfortably demonstrate his ability. Initial winter testing suggested that the team had built on their strong 2012, with an excellent exhaust package, (similar to technological pioneers Red Bull), all seemed to be well. However, speculation of fundamental design flaw was evident at the final test, as the team failed to correlate their R&D work to the on-track performance. These fears were realised in Australia – Valtteri Bottas finished only P14, while Maldonado suffered a gravely end to his race, signifying the lack of downforce in the FW35.
In fact, Pastor failed to finish for a second week in succession as an electrical glitch suggested that the latest incarnation of Williams car was not only slow but unreliable as well. While Pastor finally finished a 2013 race in China, P14 was the disappointing result. Unfortunately, this has been the story for the vast majority of the season, as both Pastor and Valtteri have struggled to unlock pace on both Saturday and Sunday. However, the Hungarian Grand Prix suggested signs of recovery for the team. Throughout the weekend, Pastor demonstrated unprecedented speed from the FW35 and while a Nico Hulkenberg drive-through coupled with a Nico Rosberg retirement aided his progress, Pastor was able to claim the team’s first point of the season. Despite a tricky season so far for the team, this has not been Pastor’s only positive.
Maldonado has seemingly moderated the controversy surrounding his seat within the sport. Categorizing Pastor as the typical “Pay Driver” is not a feasible option at this current moment, as he has fully justified his standing within the sport. The irresponsible and hot-headed tendencies are now firmly in the past for him and despite his excursion at the opening round of the season, Pastor has been dependable throughout the year – certainly not something which would have been suggested in 2011 nor 2012. This has been recognised most notably at Lotus, as he is being tagged as a possible replacement for either a departing Kimi Raikkonen or Romain Grosjean in 2014. In Pastor and Valtteri, Williams have a solid line-up, which I would rank as possibly the fourth best, (pound for pound) partnership in the sport at this moment. Who would have imagined reading that at the start of this season.
Regardless of the point, this has still been Williams’ worst start to a season in their history. However, Claire Williams and company have expressed their full trust in both Maldonado and Valtteri, to deliver the best job that they can and these statements seem to be sincere. The quantity of positive review’s that the pair have been receiving at this half-way point of a difficult season is credit to their strength as a driver line-up and Williams will surly hope to hang onto both. Pastor Maldonado could be a key asset in the future – with on track and off track benefits considered.