The Williams team has announced that it will give GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado a test drive at the season-ending test session at Abu Dhabi for up-and-coming drivers.
The announcement will only serve to heighten speculation that the Grove squad – which last won a Grand Prix at the end of the 2004 season – will look to secure the services of the heavily-backed Venezuelan in place of Nico Hülkenberg.
The outfit will also test Dean Stoneman, who was this year’s winner of the Formula 2 championship. Williams is the chassis builder for the championship managed by its former driver, Jonathan Palmer.
Maldonado has previously tested in Formula 1 with Minardi in 2004.
Meanwhile, Hülkenberg’s manager, Willi Weber, has played down suggestions that his young charge will be out of a race drive if not retained by Williams next season.
With Maldonado having heavy backing from state-owned petroleum giant PDVSA to the tune of a rumoured $15 million – and Hülkenberg seemingly bringing little, if any, sponsorship to the outfit himself – Williams co-owner Patrick Head admitted during the Korean Grand Prix weekend that economic factors would be a determining factor in driver selection next season.
“Nico is not ‘out’ already, as has been speculated,” Weber replied, in the wake of the recent speculation dogging the German, who has won multiple championships in the junior categories.
“The talks with Williams are continuing, but there are obviously alternatives,” he added, although he would not be drawn on what those ‘alternatives’ might be.
However, Weber seemed to acknowledge the Williams team’s financial position – with it facing the loss of five key sponsors at the end of 2010 – in its decision-making.
“[Williams Chairman] Adam Parr has a great responsibility to hundreds of employees and as the highest priority he must consider the welfare of the team,” Weber added.