The team stated that the identity of Barrichello’s team-mate “will be confirmed before the end of the year”.
The announcement gives the strongest hint yet that the Grove outfit will sign the well-financed and newly-crowned GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado.
Williams’ media statement praised the “convincing performances” of Hülkenberg in the German’s rookie season, adding that he has “an undoubtedly bright future in the sport”.
Hülkenberg – a championship winner in virtually every category he has contested on the path to his Formula 1 debut – achieved the outfit’s first pole position since 2005 at the penultimate race, the Brazilian Grand Prix.
“We are convinced that Nico will go on to great things. We wish him well and hope that our paths will cross again in the future,” team owner Sir Frank Williams added.
It is believed that this final statement may actually ring some truth, with the outfit believed to have Hülkenberg locked in on a longer-term contract to call upon his services in later seasons when the squad’s financial position has improved.
The team’s hand has largely been forced to take on a pay driver due to the departure of five key sponsors – Philips, McGregor, AirAsia, Ranstad and the Royal Bank of Scotland – at the end of the current season, leaving the outfit with a massive financial black hole that (should the rumours be true) Maldonado’s $15 million in backing from the Venezuelan state-owned PDVSA petroleum group will go some way to filling.
With Williams having recently announced it will supply its gearbox units to Hispania Racing, there is speculation that Hülkenberg may be deployed to the Spanish squad as part of the supply deal.
[Original image via LAT]
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